I don’t watch much TV and almost none on the traditional broadcast networks. I find the vast majority of what is put on to be tiresome, repetitive, predictable and worst of all manipulative. I find most so-called reality programming to be especially loathsome. There is nothing particularly real about reality programming. The producers pick pick a selection of stereotypical characters and put them into situations specifically designed to produce something vaguely corresponding to drama. They may not provide a full script, abut they do produce an outline and then cut together the resulting footage into some kind of narrative, that appeals to viewers voyeuristic tendencies. The television networks have largely given up on producing original scripted dramas and most of what passes for those now are the 16 Law and Order and 14 CSI variations.
The exception to this has been HBO. While HBO has produced some stinkers like Entourage and Mind of the Married Man, and head scratchers like Carnivale they have also produced some of the most amazing original series ever, including the old Larry Sanders Show, the first few seasons of The Sopranos, The Wire and Six Feet Under. This spring has unfortunately produced a couple of duds , with the latest installment of the Sopranos and Big Love. While the Sopranos has shown flashes of the old brilliance this year, it has largely been a confused mess as though the writers weren’t really sure how to wrap the thing up. Maybe the last eight episodes next winter will tie it all together. Big Love on the other hand had some interesting possibilities, the subject being a polygamist family in Utah, it seemed to be largely a pretty conventional soap type show.
By far the most brilliant show on HBO in the last few years has been Deadwood. Deadwood was a gold mining camp in the Dakota Territory in the 1870’s. The series was created by David Milch who wrote for the amazing Hill Street Blues, and later co-created NYPD Blue. Deadwood is a western unlike any before. The scripts are all written in iambic pentameter which is a rhythm in poetry. All of Shakespeare’s work was in iambic pentameter. It makes for a very distinctive sound. The characters are unbelievably rich complex. All people are multi-dimensional, almost no-one is all good or all bad. People have internal conflicts over what to do and so do these characters. These characters clearly have some kind of back story that makes them who they are just like you and I. From the tormented Dr. Cochran (who must have seen a lot a soldiers that he couldn’t save die during the civil war) to sheriff Seth Bullock torn between the woman he loves, Alma Garrett and the woman to whom he is married, to owner of the Gem Saloon Al Swearengen played by the great Ian McShane. There is also no shortage of great full fledged female characters including Trixie the whore, Calamity Jane and the aforementioned Alma Garrett. The show is definitely not for the faint of heart and those opposed to profanity. The language is real and raw, but the patterns of speech are nonetheless eloquent and complex. The dialog and monologues (of which there are quite a few) extremely well written. The photography on the show is amazing, from the lighting to the angles and framing. The whole show has a very Shakespearean flavor to it even though it is set in the wild west, a place where even the heroes are villains, where no one is perfect and no one is all bad.
Season three of Deadwood starts this Sunday at 9 on HBO. Unfortunately it appears that this may be the last season of the show, as the ratings have apparently not been great and production costs are high. If you have HBO please be sure to check it out and if you missed the first two seasons, they are replaying them regularly on all the HBO channels. If you don’t have HBO you can find Deadwood on the torrent sites. It is well worth the download.