Column: “Deadwood” is a fantastic show and movie

Adam Tumino, Opinions Writer

HBO Max has been a near constant supply of great entertainment for me since I subscribed to it last December.

The most recent HBO original series I watched was the excellent “Deadwood,” which ran from 2004 until its abrupt cancelation in 2006 following its third season, likely due to a feud between the show’s creator David Milch and HBO executives.

Loose ends were left unanswered until “Deadwood: The Movie” came out in 2019.

Watching the entire package for the first time in 2021, I fortunately did not have to wait 13 years for some closure.

I am sure for fans of the show that watched it when it first came out, the movie was extremely satisfying. But even though I did not have this perspective, the entire “Deadwood” package is among the richest and most entertaining shows/movies I have seen.

It is set in the South Dakota gold-mining town of Deadwood in the 1870s, and many of the show’s characters and events are based on reality.

Throughout the three seasons and movie, familiar names like Wild Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane Cannery, Wyatt Earp and Geroge Hearst make appearances, some as minor characters and some as very important figures.

Many of the events in the series are either exaggerated or completely made up, but they all fit the spirit of the town and the era in which they occur. The show is basically the story of two characters: saloon and brothel owner Al Swearengen and hardware store owner/lawman Seth Bullock, played by Ian McShane and Timothy Olyphant respectively.

Although they are the two main figures, “Deadwood” is largely an ensemble piece, featuring many characters and storylines that are mostly given ample screen time.

There is not a weak performance on the show, despite the large number of characters, although a handful stand out above the rest.

McShane and Olyphant are both excellent, but McShane is the undisputed star of the show. He makes Swearengen into one of the most compelling characters I’ve seen in a television show.

Gerald McRaney is terrifying as the villainous Hearst, and Robin Weigert delivers some of the show’s funniest moments as Calamity Jane.

Among the gunslingers, killers and conmen in “Deadwood,” the characters that are genuinely good people are the ones I was drawn to.

Jim Beaver plays Whitney Ellsworth, who develops throughout the show from a simple prospector to one of the kindest and gentlest characters on the show.

Paula Malcomson and Kim Dickens play two very different prostitutes who are both trying to move on with their lives after being predatorily recruited into their professions at very young ages.

My personal favorite is Doc Cochran, played masterfully by Brad Dourif. Cochran is a Civil War veteran turned doctor, and he works more-or-less alone to treat the many problems of Deadwood’s residents.

Frequent gunfights and stabbings keep Cochran busy, and a smallpox outbreak, a horse trampling, kidney stones and opium addictions add to his workload throughout the series.

There are almost too many characters to name, and nearly all of them are interesting and well-acted.

Each of the three seasons is very good, but I felt like there was a slight drop off between each. The third season is the weakest.

There are some truly excellent episodes and moments in the third season, but a storyline involving a traveling theater group feels completely out of place and stops the show dead whenever it is on screen.

Another problem with the third season is the non-ending, which was not the fault of Milch or the writers but was a result of the show’s cancelation. It would have great nice to see what a fourth season would have been, and it is unfortunate that we never got one.

Luckily, the movie was able to give “Deadwood” a proper and well-deserved ending.

It is nearly perfect, tying up some loose ends and giving the rich cast of characters a great finale.

I even teared up a little bit at the end, which was certainly not something I was expecting to happen. It was probably a result of how deeply drawn the show’s characters are.

I felt as if I knew these people, who are fictionalized versions of people that died about a century before I was born.

The “Deadwood” collection is certainly worthy if the praise it has received over the years.