Ask Polly, by Heather Havrilesky,1 is surely one of the best advice columns out there. In yesterday’s installment, Havrilesky adopted the voice of Deadwood’s Al Swearengen to answer a letter about a boyfriend’s troublesome relationship with a married woman.
It sounds like you’re feeling less than your full fucking self, and for good reason! The hour requires some unvarnished words and since you made mention of your passion for Deadwood, David Milch’s brilliant portrait of the Wild West (largely unsung and partially unfinished thanks to some big-city cocksuckers at HBO, who’d sooner brand their own foreheads with a flat iron than allow a man of the pen to complete the masterpiece for which his name will henceforth be praised), I’d like to sally forth in a style befitting the scoundrels, whores, dirt-worshippers, and hoopleheads of that melancholy town. Be forewarned, though, the language herein might lead some to imagine that yours truly has been pillaging Doc’s stash of chloroform, more typically reserved for offering animals a merciful exit from this mortal plane. Suffice it to say that skeptical cocksuckers and those with delicate sensibilities might be well-advised to seek respite elsewhere. You can help your delicate sensibilities by turning the fuck away.
Now that I’ve caught up on True Detective, I have to agree with Emily Nussbaum’s take on the show and finale: a stylish well-acted show with a “hollow center”.
To state the obvious: while the male detectives of “True Detective” are avenging women and children, and bro-bonding over “crazy pussy,” every live woman they meet is paper-thin. Wives and sluts and daughters — none with any interior life. Instead of an ensemble, “True Detective” has just two characters, the family-man adulterer Marty, who seems like a real and flawed person (and a reasonably interesting asshole, in Harrelson’s strong performance), and Rust, who is a macho fantasy straight out of Carlos Castaneda. A sinewy weirdo with a tragic past, Rust delivers arias of philosophy, a mash-up of Nietzsche, Lovecraft, and the nihilist horror writer Thomas Ligotti. At first, this buddy pairing seems like a funky dialectic: when Rust rants, Marty rolls his eyes. But, six episodes in, I’ve come to suspect that the show is dead serious about this dude. Rust is a heretic with a heart of gold. He’s our fetish object — the cop who keeps digging when everyone ignores the truth, the action hero who rescues children in the midst of violent chaos, the outsider with painful secrets and harsh truths and nice arms. McConaughey gives an exciting performance (in Grantland, Andy Greenwald aptly called him “a rubber band wrapped tight around a razor blade”), but his rap is premium baloney. And everyone around these cops, male or female, is a dark-drama cliche, from the coked-up dealers and the sinister preachers to that curvy corpse in her antlers. “True Detective” has some tangy dialogue (“You are the Michael Jordan of being a son of a bitch”) and it can whip up an ominous atmosphere, rippling with hints of psychedelia, but these strengths finally dissipate, because it’s so solipsistically focussed on the phony duet.
I enjoyed the show and am seated in the McConaissance cheering section, but True Detective is far from TV’s best thing evar. And Nussbaum hits the nail right on the head: the lack of good women characters is to blame.
Something I’ve noticed about my favorite TV shows: they are mostly testosterone fests where the women are more interesting than the men. Mad Men is the perfect example. Game of Thrones is another. And Six Feet Under. Even in Deadwood, which I am rewatching now and is loads better than True Detective, women more than hold their own against the men. It’s fun to watch the men on these series generate bullshit, but it’s much more interesting to watch the great actresses who play these women navigate and elevate through the predictable male privilege.
For the show’s 10th anniversary, a video essay about Deadwood, perhaps the best three-season show that’ll ever be. Written and produced by Matt Zoller Seitz for RogerEbert.com.
Deadwood the series is a whole heck of a lot of things, in no particular order. And it’s that “in no particular order” part that makes it so rich.
In a segment for the upcoming Deadwood DVD box set, series creator David Milch talks about the abrupt end of the show and some of the plans he’d had for season four:
Milch does say that he had hoped to introduce a couple of new characters in the never-made fourth season, one of which was based on the sojourning father of John D. Rockefeller who passed himself off as a medicine man who was both a fraud (dispensing mostly alcohol as medicine) and bigamist. He’d be accompanied by a native medicine man whose tactictics were about the same. As it was it could only introduce a bit of their stories in season three.
Milch also says that he’s currently working on another show for HBO about New York City police in the 70s called Last of the Ninth. (via house next door)
As rumored yesterday, the iTunes Store has added some HBO shows to their lineup. The initial offerings are the first seasons of The Wire, Flight of the Conchords, Rome, and Deadwood, as well as seasons 1 and 6 of the Sopranos and all of Sex in the City. Prices are between $2-3 per episode. (thx, dhrumil)
Long long but good good roundbrowser** discussion about which is the best TV drama ever: The Wire, Deadwood, or The Sopranos.
MZS: And I would be, frankly, stunned if, as great an actor as Ian McShane is, he ever did anything that was as demanding and as complex as what he did on Deadwood. Same thing for Gandolfini. And there are even smaller players I think that’s true of as well. Molly Parker, you know, my God, look at all the things she got to do. When is she going to be able to do all those things again?
AS: A lot of that comes from the fact that these people were doing series, and now they’re trying to move on to movies, and no movie part will ever be as complex as Tony Soprano or Al Swearengen or Bubbles.
MZS: Is that an inherent strength of the medium, then, as opposed to movies?
Obviously, there are spoilers here if you haven’t seen all three shows in their entirety.
** A roundbrowser discussion is a roundtable discussion that takes place online. Ok, yeah, I didn’t think it was all that clever either. Oh well.
Bad news, Deadwood fans. Ian McShane says that the two Deadwood movies are not going to happen. Cocksucker! (via david)
Update: Here’s a letter from HBO dated 9/27/07 that outlines their decision to not go forward with Deadwood and John From Cincinnati. (thx, marshall)
What with the newborn taking up much of my days, I didn’t have too much time to watch TV this summer. I did catch a few shows, however.
Ninja Warrior. This is my new favorite show to truly zone out to. It’s an obstacle course competition program from Japan called Sasuke, repackaged by the G4 network for an American audience. This YouTube video — featuring my favorite Ninja Warrior competitor, fisherman Makoto Nagano — should provide you with a decent taste of the show. Wikipedia has more information than you probably want to know about the program. Time/place: G4, all hours of the day (but officially 6pm & 10pm ET).
Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? See Idiocracy. See also Miss Teen South Carolina. I couldn’t click away fast enough. Time/place: not even gonna tell you.
Deadwood, season one. Finally got around to checking this out after many recommendations from friends. Big fan so far, through 10 episodes. Gem Saloon owner Al Swearengen is one of the best TV characters in recent memory. Aside from the obvious — Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, and Deadwood itself — I was surprised to learn that many of the characters, events, and establishments in the show actually existed and took place, including Swearengen, E.B., and the Gem. I imagine there’s an extensive discussion on the web somewhere about how much the show deviates from recorded history, but I’m staying away for now for fear of spoilers, having already made the mistake of learning of Wild Bill’s story arc in a book about the Wild West. Time/place: HBO2 is currently rerunning season one at 8pm ET. Also available on DVD, anytime.
The Wire, seasons one, two, and three. Everyone dogs on season two of The Wire (relatively speaking), but after a second viewing, it’s right up there with one and three for me. Collectively the best program ever shown on TV, case closed, next topic, I’m not even gonna discuss that with you. G.O.A.T. However, up for debate: despite being everyone’s favorite character on the show (but not mine), Omar Little is actually the least realistic character on a show defined by its realism. A gay thief/killer/felon who doesn’t swear and adheres to a personal code of conduct? Come on! Time/place: BET is showing episodes of season three on Thursdays at 9:30pm ET, but edited for content and with commercials. Which is like viewing Titian’s nudes with all the naughty bits pixelated out and a “Sponsored by AXE Deodorant Body Spray” banner draped over it. Just get the DVDs…beg, borrow, or steal if you have to.
Planet Earth. A highly recommended nature series that originally aired on the BBC in early 2006 (with David Attenborough narrating) and jumped to the Discovery Channel earlier this year (with Sigourney Weaver narrating). We caught several episodes on Discovery HD, which is a spectacular way to watch the series. My favorite scenes depicted the symbiotic relationships that develop in the wild: snakes and fish hunting together, dolphins and birds herding fish, spiders diving for prey trapped by pitcher plants. NY Times review, Washington Post review, detailed Wikipedia entry. Time/place: Not on TV in the US anymore, as far as I know. Your best bet is on DVD or, if you have an HD player, get the full effect on HD DVD or Blu-ray. Get the Attenborough-narrated version if you can. Oh, it looks like there’s a few highly pixelated complete episodes of Planet Earth on Google Video…get ‘em before they get taken down.