I purposely avoided watching the HBO series Deadwood (2004-2006) lest it influence my own fictional account of the South Dakota outpost’s goings-on in my 1876-based novel Bushwhacked! Now that I’m in the middle of season two, I bring high praise, albeit with one saddle sore.
Ian Shane, who plays the Gem Saloon owner Al Swearengen, is well-deserving of his 2005 Golden Globe award for Best Performance by an Actor in a TV Series Drama. His fierce tenacity and derogatory wit is the embodiment of pure greed and power in the lawless town. The Gem’s manager E.B. Fenton (William Sanderson) is comical in his penchant for speaking his thoughts aloud in near-Shakespearean rants. Trixie (Paula Malcomson) shines in her role as a prostitute with pride.
But while the show’s creator David Milch has done an admirable job of bringing the prim and proper Victorian-speak to the high brow folks, most notably, Alma Garrett (Molly Parker) and Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant), it’s the show’s profanity-laced dialogue that often threw me from the period piece.
While Deadwood puts the devil in Gunsmoke and Bonanza, the f-bomb was only a sexual reference until World War I. The 43 uses of it in the first episode are highly gratuitous. Robin Weigert, who played Calamity Jane, must still be cursing “c*cksucker!” in her sleep, it came every other word for her.
The profanity surely comes to contemporize and gratify today’s Walking Dead-proofed viewership. Apparently Deadwood’s minimal body count needed to be bolstered by f-bombs exploding throughout.
Potty mouths aside, the show is cut-throat gritty. It has a raw energy that plants you in the chuck wagons and chamberpots that were the wild west frontier. The story is reduced to the quick — bare bone elements of character and motivation sans technology in a wilderness environment where nerves of steel battle an itchy trigger finger and a man’s word is sealed with a spit-soaked hand shake.
Like getting thrown from a horse, the initial episode may shock you. But climb back in the saddle or step up to the bar … because there’s more drinkin’ than ridin’ in this blackest sheep of shows on the Black Hills of American history.