An old broadcast hand is taking Home Box Office's newest original series back to the Old West, with mostly good results.
— from executive producer David Milch of NYPD Blue
renown — is an interesting look at life in a Dakota mining settlement just beyond the reach of U.S. law. Set in July, 1876, the action begins just two week's after the Sioux scalped Custer's troops at Little Big Horn. That tension hangs over both the pilot and the series' first regular episode.
The film, combining fictional and real-life characters, at first centers around friends Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) and Sol Star (John Hawkes), who give up their lives in a less-lawless part of the West — where the former was a marshal — in favor of becoming hardware salesmen to Deadwood's fortune-panning miners.
At the same time, famed Wild West lawman Wild Bill Hickock (Keith Carradine), along with travel companions Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert) and Jack McCall (Garrett Dillahunt) also arrive.
Deadwood's big player is Al Swearegen, a brothel and saloon owner who has his hand in most of the town's illegal businesses. Played with menace by Ian McShane (Sexy Beast), he runs afoul of Bullock and Hickock on their first night in town. One of the locals rushes in the saloon announcing that a family of "squareheads" (Norwegian immigrants who were headed back to Minnesota) has been killed by Sioux.
Since there was doubt over whether one of the children survived, Hickock and Bullock volunteer to get together a posse to try and find her.
The two ex-lawmen soon come to the opinion that the family was ambushed by road agents, and the man they believe responsible is killed by either Hickock or Bullock or both in a shootout.
But the road agents turn out to be in Swearegen's employ, creating bad feelings that should set the tone for this gritty drama throughout the season. Gunsmoke it's not: Though the language is authentic for the 1870s, it's also as salty as anything that Tony might say to Silvio on The Sopranos. And it's also filled with other authentic, if brutal, touches: the corpses of shootout victims, and others who die in the camp, are fed to the pigs.
The swirls of intrigue and authenticity make Deadwood a compelling view. But there were too many characters in the first two episodes to keep track of. Hopefully, the stories will become more streamlined as the series marches further along the trail.
Deadwood premieres March 7 on Home Box Office.