TV Dungeon: Deadwood

(2004 – 2006, USA)

Creator: David Milch
Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Brad Dourif, W. Earl Brown, John Hawkes, Paula Malcomson, Powers Boothe

3 Seasons (36 Episodes)

’Some Fortunes Are Better Left Unclaimed’

Sheriff Seth Bullock, pimp and saloon owner Al Swearengen, prostitute Trixie, and alcoholic Calamite Jane. Just a handful of the colorful characters that inhabit the raw and lawless frontier town of Deadwood. In the midst of Indian land, the late 18th century laws don’t apply. The power lies with Al Swearengen and his cronies. Through deceit, intimidation and murder he controls the town. Al Swearengen is Deadwood. But new opportunists arrive that all want their share of the wealth that the trade and the earth in Deadwood generates.

This is certainly one of the most ambitious productions ever by HBO. Not only ambitious in scale but in storytelling as well. These characters are not your average gunslingers. Creator David Milch wanted to show the west as it really was; dirty and corrupted. Filled with people scheming, swearing and double-crossing their way through life. There were no gunfights every ten minutes. Entrepreneurs operated sneakily to be able to fully profit from the rising economy. Although the show reminds of Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller, it is something we haven’t quite seen before.

Deadwood breaks with the typical western tradition. Vicious killers dominate the setting and famous western figures such as Wild Bill Hickok and Wyatt Earp are not the legendary characters they are generally made out to be. They are as human as the rest. Plagued by faults, addictions, self-pity and regrets. Despite their raw nature, the characters talk in very complex Shakespearian dialogues (filled with lots of cuss words) which makes it hard to understand their motivations at times. Figuring out the function of some characters in the main storylines is equally challenging. This, and the fact that there are quite a lot of uneventful episodes, could be off-putting for some viewers.

But those willing to invest their time will be rewarded with beautiful art-direction, cinematography and lighting. Not to mention a few shocking surprises and some monumental performances. The most intriguing (and humorous) character by far is Al Swaerengen, wonderfully portrayed by Ian McShane. He can cut a throat without blinking an eye, but is also able to show mercy and understanding to those in a weaker position. Because of his witty lines, amicable moments, and because of the constantly disgusting behavior of Swearengen’s rival Cy Tolliver, one can easily forget that this is an evil man. The frequent reminders of his ambiguity are among the most powerful moments of the show, as well as other character revelations that often occur in the form of extremely violent outbursts or other displays of ugliness.

Besides McShane, the other casting decisions have turned out very well. Timothy Olyphant is in his element as the frustrated lawman Seth Bullock, and Powers Boothe is utterly hideous as the gambling house owner Cy Tolliver. Then there is Molly Parker as the opium addicted Alma Garret, a widow due to Swearengen’s lust for gold. Her character as well as Calamite Jane’s show the independent spirit of the female, since most other women in the town are ruled by men like Swearengen and Tolliver.

The rise of a civilization is shown in many forms. Business opportunities are exploited and political alliances are formed. In the course of the series Deadwood sees the establishment of a hardware store, a school, a theatre and a bank. Also represented is healthcare (Doc Cochran) and the media (the Deadwood Pioneer). The primary human needs in Deadwood seem to be booze and prostitution though. Swearengen and Tolliver are more than willing to provide the people in that department. The church is only present in the form of one reverend who suffers from a brain tumor. Ironically he gets mercy-killed by Swearengen at the end of the first season.

Deadwood is based on real historic persons and events. Although I doubt that they exactly spoke like these characters, the series feels like an authentic vision of the west. Unfortunately it was cancelled after three seasons. 10 years later it was concluded in a TV-movie.

To those who have seen it already, re-watching the show is recommended. Where the first viewing requires concentration, the second time around more subtle things will come to the surface. You got that, you cocksucker!

TV Dungeon: Spaced

(1999 – 2001, UK)

Writers: Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Jessica Stevenson, Simon Pegg, Julia Deakin, Nick Frost, Mark Heap, Katy Carmichael, Aida the Dog

2 Seasons (14 Episodes)

Before they conquered the world with Shaun of the Dead, Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, Jessica Stevenson and Nick Frost made the small, low budget sitcom Spaced, which is loved in cult circles and became known to a wider audience after the creators’ international breakthrough.

It revolves around two twenty-something flatmates – immature skateboarding wannabe comic artist Tim Bisley (Pegg) and moody, responsibility-shy writer Daisy Steiner (Stevenson) who navigate through various weird adventures along with their assortment of strange friends and neighbors.

Spaced is not an ordinary sitcom with canned laughter and static camerawork. It is a true original. What is especially lovely about it is the recognizable situation. It really reminds of the student days of drinking, smoking weed, playing videogames and watching movies. Life can be that simple when you don’t have a (real) job or own family yet. Flatmates are the closest thing to a family in these days and the joystick is your other best friend.

Edgar Wright directs the ultra low-budget concept like it is a movie – full of innovative camera and editing tricks – and the writers throw in more movie references than any sane person can take notice off. Most importantly,  Spaced is genuinely funny. Every episode features at least a dozen good jokes.

If you like dry British humour, loads of pop culture references and a flashback to the good old days, then Spaced is definitely your fix.

Deadwood: The Movie (2019)

Director: Daniel Minahan
Writer: David Milch
Stars: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker

Modern days are coming to Deadwood! A telephone for every business, keeping up with the times. But is it less savage than 13 years earlier (in 2006 the show was cancelled after three seasons)? Not a chance. Like the fairly satisfying El Camino is now doing for Breaking Bad, this TV-movie gives us (more) closure on one of the great HBO-shows of the early 2000s. It is sure good to be back in this South Dakota town in the 1880s. I didn’t know how much I missed those inhabitants! Especially Al Swearengen, the greatest TV-character since Tony Soprano, formidably played by Ian McShane. Good old Marshal Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) is back as well. The two opposites clash with the murderous and power hungry senator George Hearst who is looking to purchase land around Deadwood. This leads to a satisfying finale to a monumental show. With dialogues composed of old English prose with hundreds of fucks and cocksuckers in between. This is the West how we’ve never seen it, but wished we had. It doesn’t go out with a bang, but with one of Swearengen’s finest fucking poetic lines yet. Time to watch the series if you haven’t seen it, and re-watch it if you have. It’s glorious.

‘The Sopranos’ Turns 20: Celebrating a Classic

20 years ago the pilot of The Sopranos aired: the beginning of a total classic and still my all time favorite tv show. It was followed by many greats, such as The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and Westworld. What was that first episode about that started it all? Looking back at the beginning of a golden era of television.

Episode 1: Pilot

Directed by: David Chase

Written by: David Chase

Regular Cast
James Gandolfini … Tony Soprano
Lorraine Bracco … Dr. Jennifer Melfi
Edie Falco … Carmela soprano
Michael Imperioli … Christopher Moltisanti
Dominic Chianese … Corrado ‘Junior’ Soprano
Vincent Pastore … Salvatore ‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero
Steven Van Zandt … Silvio Dante
Tony Sirico … Paulie ‘Walnuts’ Gualtieri
Robert Iler … Anthony ‘A.J.’ Soprano
Jamie-Lynn Sigler … Meadow Soprano
Nancy Marchand … Livia Soprano

This is it. The first installment of a milestone in television history. Tony Soprano, family man and captain for the New Jersey Mafia, sits in the waiting room for his first therapy session with Dr. Jennifer Melfi. The session is a result of an anxiety-attack Tony had at his son’s A.J.’s birthday party.

Off course because of being a made man and all, it is only natural that Tony is at first reluctant to talk to Dr. Melfi. Tony feels that the whole world is seeing a shrink and he wonders what happened to the strong, silent type, like Gary Cooper. “He wasn’t in touch with his feelings. He just did what had to be done”, Tony tells the slightly intrigued Dr. Melfi.

After a while Tony starts to talk. About a family of ducks no less. These ducks landed in Tony’s swimming pool a couple of months earlier and seem to be influencing his moods. Then, Tony starts to talk about his own family. His uncle Junior, also a Jersey Mob captain who in Tony’s words adds to his general stress level. His nephew Christopher, a kid who just bought a 60.000 dollar Lexus and who’s “learning the business”. His wife Carmela, jealous at Tony’s goomars (girlfriends) and having problems getting along with their daughter Meadow.

At work Tony also faces problems. His uncle Junior is planning to whack Little Pussy Malanga (often confused with Tony’s associate Sal ‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero). The hit is to take place in a restaurant owned by Tony’s old neighborhood buddy Artie Bucco. Tony wants the hit to take place somewhere else or Artie will lose business. So he sends his associate Silvio Dante to go and blow the place up. And Artie can collect the insurance money. In the meantime there are problems in Tony’s waste management business. The Czechoslovakian Emil Kolar is moving in on one of Tony’s garbage stops so he has to be dealt with. The ambitious Christopher is more than willing to whack Emil in the hope that Tony can open up the books, and Christopher can finally become a made guy.

Could these problems be the reasons for Tony’s attacks or is there more to it than just stress? What for example has been the role of Tony’s borderline mother Livia? This will prove a challenge for Dr. Melfi to find out if she and Tony decide to continue the treatment. One resolution is made already however. When Tony’s ducks fly away his depression kicks in and he is put on Prozac. He also dreams that one of the ducks takes off with his penis which indicates his fear for losing his family (and the beginning of a period of impotence).

This introduction in the Soprano world is absolutely terrific. We are thrown into this entrancing, twisted, funny, mysterious and often violent world where ‘good guys’ are virtually non-existent. Even most woman in the series are often portrait as materialistic and hypocrite. There are many things to phrase this first pilot episode for, the magnificent cast, the casual and sometimes off-putting violence, the humor, the brilliant dialogues, the inspired soundtrack, the beautiful realism of Tony’s therapy sessions, the fantastic film references and the mystery by which it totally engages it’s audience. This first episode creates a thousand promises to come.

Gangster movie references in episode 1

Reference to The Godfather


CHRISTOPHER: Louis Brasi sleeps with the fishes.
BIG PUSSY: Luca! Luca Brasi
BIG PUSSY: There’s differences Christopher. From the Luca Brasi situation and this.

Reference to The Godfather Trilogy and GoodFellas


FATHER PHIL: Darn, these laser discs are incredible!
CARMELA: Tony watches Godfather II all the time. He says the camerawork looks just as good as in the movie theatre.
FATHER PHIL: Gordon Willis. Tony prefers II not I?
CARMELA: Yeah, he likes the part where Vito goes back to Sicily. With III he was like ‘What happened’?
FATHER PHIL: Where does Tony rank GoodFellas?
(Someone knocks on door)

Reference to GoodFellas


CHRISTPHER: You know my cousin Gregory’s girlfriend is what they call a development girl out in Hollywood, right? She said I could sell my life story. Make fucking millions. I didn’t do that. I stuck it out with you.
TONY(Grabs him): I’ll fucking kill you. What are you gonna do go Henry Hill* on me now?

* Henry Hill is a famous wiseguy who joined the Witness Protection Programme and gave up many of his former associates. His life story is told in the novel Wiseguy by Nicolas Pileggi on which the movie GoodFellas is based.

Dialogues in episode 1

TONY: A couple month before, these two ducks landed in my pool. It was amazing. They’re from Canada or some place and it was mating season. They had some ducklings.

LIVIA: And don’t start with the nursing home business again.
TONY: It’s not a nursing home! How many times have I got to say this. It’s a retirement community!

TONY: Hey all I’m saying is no marriage is perfect.
CARMELA: Well having that goomar on the side helps.
TONY: I told you I’m not seeing her anymore. How do you think I feel with having that priest around all the time?
CARMELA: Don’t even go there alright. Father is a spiritual mentor. He’s making me a better Catholic!
TONY: Yeah well we all got different needs.
CARMELA: What’s different between you and me is you’re going to hell when you die!

HESH: So ehh…I hear that junior wants to whack Pussy Bompensiero?
TONY: Pussy Malanga.
HESH: Oh Little Pussy.
TONY: Yeah Little Pussy. What? You think he’s gonna fuck with Big Pussy? My Pussy?