Thursday, March 24, 2005

Deadwood honors the past...the TV past...

As I’ve opined previously, one of the great things about DVDs is season sets of TV shows. It’s nice to own series you love in their entireties (Futurama). Even better, for those shows I merely want to watch, but not own, I can rent them from Netflix (like, say, all eight seasons of Homicide: Life on the Streets, perhaps the finest American dramatic television series ever.). This is especially true for cable series, since I don’t have cable TV. I’m a big fan of The Shield, for instance, and I just last week watched the third season on disc. Now I’ve just got to wait another year for the fourth season shows, in which Glenn Close has joined the cast.

I also have just recently watched the first season of HBO’s Deadwood. It’s terrific stuff, although (or more probably because) it’s a short slate of only 12 episodes. It’s definitely a modern show, chock full of graphic violence and sex, while its employment of the most profane language is so omnipresent that it becomes almost poetic after a while.

The greatest pleasure I’ve gotten from the show, however, is a throwback to the great Western TV series of old. Sitting down to watch any random episode of Have Gun Will Travel or Gunsmoke or Bonanza meant you were likely to see a guest appearance by some familiar character actor. Sometimes you knew their names—“Hey, William Schallert”, or “Cool, it’s John Dehner”—and often you didn’t, but knew exactly who the guy was and that you’d seen him a hundred times before. We don’t seem to have a pool of actors like that much anymore, who are constantly working in small parts in movies alternated with TV guest appearances.

Deadwood goes back to that tradition, however. Aside from many familiar faces in the regular cast, such as Keith Carradine, William Sanderson, Powers Booth (who now looks almost exactly like Cesar Romero, circa the mid-‘60s), Ricky Jay, Jeffrey Jones (although I’m having trouble getting past the pedophile thing) and most especially Brad Dourif, one of those great actors who gets stuck in so much crap that you almost fall to your knees in thanks when he’s given an opportunity to appear in something this good*. I also want to give a shout out to the little girl in the show, who is as cute as the dickens and who also gives a brilliant performance for someone so young.

[Last night I watched the first two episodes of Carnivale, and I can now say the same thing for Clancy Brown.]

Moreover, as in the great old Westerns, nearly every episode features a familiar face, if an unknown name, in some guest part or other. Sometimes you know who they are, as when Peter Coyote shows up. Other times, though, it’s one those actors you’ve seen a hundred times before, but most probably will never know the name of. Titus Welliver, for instance, has starred in a series of good but short-lived cop shows over the last ten years; Brooklyn South, Falcone, Big Apple, etc., as well as appearing in recurring roles in That’s Life and NYPD Blue. However, even if you know the face, you probably won’t know the name. I didn’t; I had to look it up.

Long may the show last. After all, it’s only a matter of time until Lance Henriksen appears on it.

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