The first half-dozen years or so of the 21st century saw some of the strongest arguments that a Golden Age of Television had arrived. Many of those were produced by HBO, from the New Jersey mobscapades of The Sopranos to the sprawling social canvas of The Wire. While it was cancelled after three season, the Western series Deadwood stands tall among the standouts of that time. Even thirteen years after its cancellation, it’s difficult to find a series as accomplished, with an ensemble cast as strong, and with writing as distinct.Continue reading
Phew. Remember the first and second season finales of Deadwood? Basically happy endings, complete with mercy killings and stabbed Cy Tolliver?
Don’t expect that sort of cheery capper to season 3. Expect, instead, to curse and swear at your television – standing in, of course, for the Powers that Be at HBO. For cancelling a TV series intended to run for four seasons, and a brilliant written, acted, directed, filmed TV series at that, after it’s run for three of those seasons. In a world where another HBO series about old-fashioned romanticism dressed up as postfeminism gets a big screen outing, it’s more than just a shame that we’re not likely ever to see Deadwood end as would befit the series. It’s a crime. And it makes me think that Al Swearengen should be let loose with his knife in the dreams of those HBO cocksuckers (as he might put it if he was in a good mood) to put the fear of Al into them.
No, it’s not that Deadwood ends on an exclusively bleak, depressing note. There are lots of small moments that are beautiful, little smiles and touches that show some hope. Sol and Trixie. Richardson and Aunt Lou. Even E.B. standing on the roof of his hotel, bless his little cotton socks. But on the whole, the good (and not so good) people of Deadwood have been beaten, for the first time. They’ve been kicked in the kidneys. There has been blood, and for once, it’s less than clear whether any scrubbing will get rid of that blood.
So, until tomorrow I’ll try to get over my pissed-off-ness with the hoopleheads at HBO. Expect some lines on No Country for Old Men soon. At least that one’s got a two-time Deadwood veteran…
P.S.: Apparently, the person who was supposed to play Al Swearengen at first was one Ed O’Neill. Photo given below. No joke.
Even though Deadwood has some of the grimmest moments of any TV series I’ve seen so far (probably the top 5 series in that respect would be HBO, by the way), one of the reasons it works so well in creating credible, likeable characters is by infusing them with a sense of humour. This is rarely as obvious as in the scenes with Dan Dority and Johnny Burns – and in yesterday’s episode, the magnificently titled “Unauthorized Cinnamon” (you’d probably expect that sort of title more from some anime than from a gritty western series), there was a scene with Al’s henchmen that had me giggling madly to myself. I would quote it, but without the context and the acting it wouldn’t be half as funny. There’s also a priceless moment with a mad, effete tailor trying to convince Al to wear colourful swatches of cloth on his Heastified hand – good old Swingen has never looked quite that baffled. The tonal range of the actors on Deadwood is simply amazing… as the scenes depicting the growing closeness between Calamity Jane and Joanie Stubbs also show.
However, don’t take my word for it. If you’re in any way interested in good writing, characterisation and gorgeously cinematic television, and if you don’t mind the occasional throat-slicing, go out, get Deadwood season 1, watch, and then go and get the next two series. And then hunt me down and kick my ass for getting you hooked on a series that was cancelled before they could finish the story as written.
Okay, enough blather from me about my favourite series. So, even though it’s Sunday and we’re about to watch the penultimate episode of Six Feet Under, let me just add two YouTube trouvailles. The first is a trailer for David Cronenberg’s Videodrome that is so gloriously corny and ’80s weird that I, as an 1980s movie goer, would have expected the film to be a soft-porn retelling of Tron. The second is a six-minute short by Cronenberg called Camera, picking up some of the themes of Videodrome, just without the porn creepiness, the graphic bodily mutilations and James Woods sticking his head in a TV. Hey – whatever shoots water up his stick, eh?
Apparently, Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette was booed in Cannes. Now that I’ve seen it, I am tempted to say that French film critics are pretentious shrinking violets with an utterly neurotic attitude to their own past. It’s not a great film, and I would rank it lower than both The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation (both of which I liked a lot), but it’s a well made film with some good performances, and it’s definitely beautifully shot and edited. Frankly, I don’t know what les critiques Françaises are on about.
However, Marie Antoinette has one big problem: the beginning is by far the strongest, most subtle illustration of the film’s main motif – a young woman taken into a world that is foreign to her and that regards her as an alien intrusion into their rules and conventions – and almost everything that comes after is much more obvious, much less elegant. Coppola’s use of anachronisms, especially in her choice of music (but also in one semi-witty image of a Converse sneaker among the hundreds of Baroque shoes the young queen tries on), works well enough, but once you’ve seen one scene indicating that “she’s really just a lost, rich, poor teenager… and in the end, aren’t we all?”, you’ve seen them all.
In addition, the film does suffer from being under-plotted. This may be strange coming from someone who loves Lost in Translation, hardly the most plotty of movies, but because Marie Antoinette sticks pretty much to history, there’s little of the smooth flow that a well-told story has. There’s a sense that you could walk out for five minutes, to get yourself a drink or have a bathroom break, and come back without having missed much. I don’t think that films have to be plotted tightly, and in fact many of my favourite movies aren’t, but if you know from the beginning where the story will end – off with her head, and all that jazz – then the film can’t really afford to meander.
On related news, I’m going to keep myself short on Deadwood and Six Feet Under. Just know that there are things more frightening in Deadwood than Al Swearengen on a good or bad day, Francis Wolcott, or even E.B. Farnum talking dirty to a leather bag…
P.S.: Brian Cox should be a fun addition to the citizenry of Deadwood… I wonder whether he’ll ever get that theatre built – I’d love to see auditions for amateur night!
Okay, I haven’t seen Rome yet, or The Wire (which is next on my list of “DVD sets I should bloody well get”), but in the HBO series I’ve been watching marriage pretty much seems to be a recipe for unhappiness of one sort or another. Nate and Brenda (although they did get along better than last week, and for a change Nate had a point under all his aggression), George and Ruth Fisher, Rico and Vanessa… The marriages in Deadwood are somewhat less unhappy and antagonistic, but the happiest couples are the ones that aren’t married: Trixie and Sol (and golly, aren’t they a lovely couple – the whore and the banker?), David and Keith (well, it took them long enough to get their act together!), Dan Dority and Johnny… Okay, that last one doesn’t really count – because we all know that Dan only has eyes for Al.
Today’s episode of Deadwood, “I Am Not the Fine Man You Take Me For”, made it clear that the town has been changed by the arrival of Hearst. People seem to be talking in more hushed tones and walking around on tiptoes. Even the sex and violence is no longer as carefree as in the good old days, when the guy shot dead in the saloon wasn’t part of an elaborate power game but just a symptom of Dan Dority having a headache. However, the episode had more humour in it than the season premiere, although some of it was of the “Did E.B. really just say that?!” kind. It’s amazing that the guy’s small intestine hasn’t jumped up his neck yet to choke his brain’s blood supply, to the service of all mankind.
We’re steadily getting closer to the end of Six Feet Under, and while I’m already sad about where the season will take us, I’m quite looking forward to getting started on a new series. We’ve got a couple to choose from: Rome season 1, Heroes, Carnivale (I’ve got both seasons), The West Wing, Dexter (you’ve seen him be neurotic and gay for five seasons – now see Michael C. Hall as a cop and a serial killer!). So many series, so little time…
Just in case you didn’t get the reference…
“Airborne”, yesterday’s episode of House, M.D., was fun. I like it when they shake up the format, even though the episode was a tad high-concept (“House on a Plane!” Well, you get it…) Seeing the doc try to deal with the situation without his lackeys was enjoyably snarky:
House: Can you say “Crikey Mate”?
12 year-old Boy: Crikey Mate.
House: Perfect. Now no matter what I say, you’ll agree with me, okay.
12 year-old Boy: Okay.
House: Nicely done. You, disagree with everything I say.
Foreign Man: Sorry, not understand.
House: Close enough. (to random woman) You get morally outraged by everything I say.
Sour Faced Girl: (about House writing on the movie screen) That’s permanent marker, you know.
House: Wow, you guys are good.
The editing between the two storylines kept the episode dynamic throughout – and I’ve started to feel sympathy for Chase since last episode (especially the glow on his face when he looked at Cameron’s photo). So far he’d been the blandest of the supporting characters, but there’s something genuinely sweet – if still not terribly deep – to his growing feelings for Cameron. She, on the other hand, is becoming somewhat grating: the combination of self-righteous and self-indulging may be credible, but I find myself thinking, “How about you keep your mouth shut and your pants zipped for ten minutes, girl…” (Yes, every now and then I guess I am a bit of a sexist. Sorry. Feel free to throw things at me.)
In other not-so-news: we started watching season 3 of Deadwood, and boy, is the air thick with ominousness… ominosity- ominiminy? Well, you know what I mean. Quite obviously, Hearst is not a good egg, nor is he the kind of moustachioed bad egg who keeps heads in boxes and whom we secretly like. I can’t really put my finger on it, but there’s something in the balmy frontier air, and it’s not Calamity Jane’s heady aroma. We’ll see where this’ll take us, but somehow I doubt it will be anywhere nice. Or perhaps the episode’s title was ironic: “Tell your God to Ready for Blood” might really be the prelude to a season of goodwill, cheer and fluffy bunnies in Deadwood (no state yet).
Yesterday’s TV evening was marked by a high number of funerals. The deaths I sort of expected – after all, we did watch Deadwood – but I could have done without the ominous onslaught of funerals. House, M.D. managed to do without a death, as it pulled off its last-minute Eureka! moment, House saving the hard-done by Marc Blucas at the last moment. (As if his breakup with Buffy hadn’t already done enough damage…) Then we zapped into some series with Craig T. Nelson (I don’t know what he’s doing on telly anyway – shouldn’t Poltergeist have taught him to stay away from the flickertube?) and an epic African-American funeral, complete with gospel choir. This was followed by the quite heart-rending Deadwood episode “Let the whores come” (and only Al Swearengen can pull off asking the whore who’s giving him his daily blowjob whether she’s dyed her hair and almost seem considerate).
But the whole thing was topped by the double-funeral, followed by double-death (très E.A. Poe) of Nikki and Paulo, Lost‘s most hated characters since… well, depending on who you ask, since Kate or Ana Lucia or Jack or Charlie or Boone or Shannon or practically anyone. Except Hurley. No one seems to hate Hurley. (Okay, not true. There are people who hate him – but there’s only one TV Hurley that everyone can agree to hate.)