Recently, I have been watching a show called Deadwood. The series, which aired on HBO from 2004 to 2006, features a stellar cast that will change the way you think about a western...and I know that you’ve heard that before. I put the DVDs on hold only after finishing another HBO series called John From Cincinnati. Both of these shows were created by David Milch, who also created NYPD Blue. Deadwood follows the story of a camp located in the Black Hills of what is now South Dakota. The show begins after Custer’s last stand in 1876. Before his death, Custer announced the finding of gold near Deadwood, which triggered the Black Hills gold rush.
The most interesting thing about the show, is its telling of a true story. All of the main characters are real, historical figures and the events of the show are only somewhat fictionalized to enhance dramatic themes. The language is a difficult part of watching the show. Constant cursing from the owner of the Gem Saloon, Al Swearengen and most of the other prospectors, starts out seeming like an unimportant addition meant to make the show more appealing to a younger audience. In the end, the language becomes a poetic truth, revealing that those with the power of words are the ones who run the Old West.
The sense of reality that this series brings to what many consider to be a dried up genre restores your faith in the humanity that comes through a tale set in the days when gunslingers made their own laws. The acting is so fine that you often forget that the images on screen are not from some sort of time-traveling MTV reality series. The reality that comes through the words and actions of these characters is unforgettable and this is all due to the writing.
While watching a feature focusing on the writing techniques of Milch, I was astonished to hear that it sometimes takes him three hours to cover two pages worth of dialog. “He dilutes the dialog so that it’s true and in its purest form.” said actor W. Earl Brown (Dan Dority). “It’s as if David is taking all of these words that are coal and squeezing them together until they come out as a diamond.” What a great way to describe the rough beauty that is revealed in this true tale of the real Deadwood.