TV on Blu-ray Review: Deadwood -- The Complete Series

Now Available to Own 

Before the publisher of my previously all-encompassing annual go-to manual by film scribes Mick Martin and Marsha Porter simply surrendered to the Leonard Maltin monopoly of his movie review reference guide, I turned to Martin and Porter's clever critiques that encompassed theatrical and television releases alike.

Yet because the hardworking team of contributing writers and editors poured so much data into a book that was roughly the width of two bibles, it's understandable that occasionally, a few typos and mix-ups would make their way from rough draft to published manuscript. Case in point: Martin and Porter's DVD and Video Guide, 2005 got their facts wrong where Deadwood was concerned.

In an otherwise stellar review of Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue innovator David Milch's heavily researched western drama Deadwood, Martin and Porter referred to the show's twelve episode first season as a miniseries rather than anticipating the addition of twenty-four installments that formed the entirety of the HBO original series' three season run.

Nonetheless after settling in for HBO's picture-perfect high definition unveiling of the channel's wickedly entertaining, alternately beautiful and brutal Deadwood, I actually realized that in retrospect, had the network only served up the original dozen pieces alluded to in Martin and Porter's erroneous description, then Deadwood may have fared infinitely better overall.

Unapologetically gritty, disturbing and hard to shake, fortunately Milch's otherwise masterful, modernized existential look at the collision of civilization, corruption and character in South Dakota still had its occasional moments after rounding the bases in two additional meandering seasons. Yet tragically, Deadwood's quality declined rather significantly following its first finale which would've served as not just a pitch-perfect coda but an ideal series stopping point.

Bolstered by an incomparable band of character actors from Golden Globe winner Ian McShane to Timothy Olyphant, William Sanderson, Molly Parker, Kim Dickens, Powers Boothe and more, this largely fact based saga chronicles the evolution of the wild (mid)west from a lawless camp ruled by bullets, gold and vice to its beginnings as a capitalistic town where power-hungry players bend the law to their liking.

Uncompromising, unflinching and unpredictable, much like Sons of Anarchy, which intriguingly has inherited some of the dynamic actors in this award-winning ensemble cast, it's safe to say that Deadwood isn't for everyone given its unwillingness to censor human behavior at its most depraved.

And this is immediately evident in the series' in-your-face graphic nature of animalistic violence, rough sex, and over-the-top anachronistic profanity employed to add a sense of urgency to what otherwise would've showcased a style of slang completely out of conversational circulation.

However, if you're able to get lost in the epic storylines that feature dozens of fascinating characters and subplots, you may be surprised to find yourself growing increasingly riveted by the HBO creation.

Yet Milch's style threatens to get the better of him at times as we're left remembering the outrageously gruesome gore rather than a subtle double cross between characters that plays out unpredictably as an example of the type of high caliber screenwriting we then take for granted by comparison due to Milch's unparalleled and powerful penchant for shock.

Thus, overall, when it came to the success of Deadwood, less at times maybe would've been more in the long-run to aim to win us over as much intellectually as it routinely did viscerally.

Likewise, truncating the freewheeling narrative as stellar guest actors arrive to embody legendary old west personae like Wild Bill Hickock, George Hearst and Wyatt Earp among others may have prevented Deadwood from feeling episodic or repetitive.

And this is particularly and slightly painfully apparent where the brutality of Ian McShane's maniacal character is concerned. For sometimes and especially beginning in season two, in spite of how interested we are in Plots B and C, it's hard to overlook the repulsive events of McShane's Plot A, which ensured that unlike other HBO series, Milch's Deadwood would be the one least likely to demand or inspire repeat viewings.

While unfortunately the series' events careened to an abrupt halt in the thirty-sixth episode since HBO never did make good on rumors to produce two special two-hour concluding movies, this sweeping presentation of the complete collection on Blu-ray offers fans an interview with the creator, who sheds light on what would've been next for the folks of Deadwood had the cameras rolled once more.

And had Milch taken reviewers Martin and Porter's analytical error as a hint, then perhaps Deadwood would've struck a resonant chord with the same cross-cultural, multi-generational audience that embraced HBO's epic historical miniseries including John Adams, Band of Brothers and The Pacific.

Irregardless of format, it's ambitious, passionate and filled with cinematic production values and technical specs that rival the admittedly more sanitized, modern big screen westerns made by Hollywood and released at multiplexes across the country.

For if you do make the journey to head to South Dakota, you'll find there's a whole lot to both admire and recommend to others about Deadwood. And likewise, even if you don't have the stamina or stomach to absorb the second and third season since they're all here for you to explore at will, in the end, the exquisitely crafted opening dozen hour-long episodes are sure to appeal to the inner history buff in those who pick up this set.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.