Ah, the glamor of the Old West; it's been a tried and true staple of film and television since their inception, and that is rarely more enjoyable than when its traditional conventions are turned on their ears. (See: Unforgiven.) Leave it up to that seasoned mover/shaker of the small screen, HBO, to give us a Western like no other. About to enter its third season (which, according to recent reports, may be its last—damn!), Deadwood is just about the dirtiest, nastiest, most thoroughly engrossing show on TV, as evidenced by its sophomore year, which hits DVD this week.
As was the case with season one—based, to some degree, upon real people in the real South Dakota gold-rush encampment where, among other things, Wild Bill Hickok was gunned down—there are few more alluring prospects than being the big fish in a small pond. Unfortunately for them, Deadwood has numerous residents angling for that position of power; fortunately for us, they're played by what might be the best cast ever assembled for series TV. Spearheaded by the magnificent Ian McShane as ruthless and spectacularly potty-mouthed saloon owner Al Swearengen (who was a real person, and a real bastard apparently, though how fitting that surname actually was is up for debate) is an ensemble of tremendous players—character-actor heaven, including William Sanderson, Robin Weigert and the great Brad Dourif—who excel at getting us to care deeply for their characters despite the ongoing sagas of vile behavior and questionable morals. As outside parties vie for business interests and the threat of annexation continues to loom over the camp, Deadwood teems with a knotty tension while at the same time revealing all-new aspects of its inhabitants' desires and vulnerabilities. The seemingly impossible love affair between Sheriff Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) and the widow Garrett (Molly Parker) reaches a fever pitch, while Swearengen's arch rival Cy Tolliver (a very skeezy Powers Boothe) stoops to all-new lows. Many others, goodhearted and well-intentioned though they may be, struggle to keep from being swept up in the muck. (Kim Dickens and Paula Malcolmson, as enterprising prostitutes Joanie and Trixie, respectively, are standouts this season.)
Boffo extras on the Season 2 box set include select episode commentaries with cast members and series creator David Milch, making-of clips, and a historical featurette on life in the real Deadwood, circa 1877.
Also recommended this week: The Cecil B. DeMille Collection; The Dirty Dozen: Special Edition; M*A*S*H: Season 10; Patton: Special Edition; The Seven-Ups; Transamerica; Wings: Seasons 1 & 2.