Sunday, March 06, 2005


the limey you love to hate

And to think...I was bemoaning the end of The Wire, Season 3 only to forget that Deadwood, Season 2 was lurking right around the corner. I'll be plainspoken here: The Wire is the best show on TV for enumerable reasons...but if I had to account for them, let's start with the fact that over three seasons, the quality of its ensemble cast, scripting, story arcs and potential to surprise have never faltered. If Season 3 demonstrated anything, it was to expect the unexpected but never in a way that felt forced or contrived. To boot, it's one of the few shows to demonstrated a depth of understanding of America's urban, racial and class politics. That alone merits the show accolades.

This said, Deadwood is the best new show of the last year. Its strengths are shared with other HBO shows like The Wire and Sopranos - impressive ensemble cast, sprawlilng storylines that unfold patiently over the course of a season, and oh yeah, healthy doses of sex and violence. But to its own particular credit, what makes The Wire so strong is how well crafted its characters are - almost every single one of them men and women are flawed and contradictory but this only enhances their appeal.

The most obvious example is Ian McShane, who plays Al Swearengen. I can't think of a more magnetic character who is simultaneously despicable (in this regards, he's got it all over Tony Soprano). Though Sheriff Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) is the supposed "good guy" on the show, his repression is so tightly wound inward that he's a hard hero to like. His decency is admirable but he's also got a stick up his rear the size of a pine log. In contrast, Swearengen's a free-flowing stream of ego-driven impulse, Machiavellian ruthlessness and enough profanity to make a Marine barracks blush. You hate him but really, you love him.

Not everyone else is as charismatic but what makes the show so brilliant is that every character fits into the larger cast - nothing is wasted despite having to juggle a dozen or two people on any given show. Frankly, I'm surprised more actors aren't killing each other to guest on this, just to say they were on Deadwood. How many other times do you get to dress up in fancy Western duds and call people "c***suckers" like you're wishing them "good morning"?

Here's the sweetest part: unlike other HBO shows that take two years to come to DVD, Deadwood, Season 1 is alerady on DVD...which means, if you act REALLY fast, you might be able to watch the whole season and then catch the encore by next weekend. Seriously, do it.

And don't forget - speaking of insanely great shows on TV: The Shield, Season 4 is about to jump off. Network narrative drama is so anemic compared to cable, it's a joke. I like Lost as much as the next guy (hey, I can dig their new-found numerology) but it's like a pleasant jingle - not the full-blown aria.