Friday, July 25, 2008

the titans GATHER!


Lately it’s consumed more of my life than I care to admit. I’ve mused on the world ­David Milch has created so much as to treat the inhabitants of the filthy Black Hills town like gospel. I’d been watching and grappling with the show since the beginning. It’s brutal, overflowing and bears repeated viewings cause there’s so much absurdist, laugh—or-you’ll cry poetic brilliance in almost every scene. I've never had cable, so I spent a lot more time at the folks' place (how my mom can hate so many of the violent movies I go for and still watch this show is beyond me) than usual. If not to see the season as it played, it was to catch a re-run. Stacks of tapes (disordered due to missing a few here and there) are rifled through on a pretty regular basis. As with The Sopranos, I'd implore parties (interested or not) to take the trouble to rent the show. Having caught an episode of Sopranos on Bravo, I have to say it's a lousy way to watch the show. Not just because of the distractingly idiotic profanity substitutions, but due to the fact that commercial interruptions pretty much destroy the carefully constructed connective environments of the show. The profanity being rampant as it is in Deadwood, the thing would likely never be considered for network syndication. That, and the show obviously didn't find a wide enough audience. This is a big part of why I'm writing this.

Twin Peaks, as good as it was, never had the freedom that this show does. Chances are, some nitwit was tapping those writers on the shoulder going - hey, let's have more people talking about “ooh boy, that pie”. How bout that wacky old log lady. She tested very well! Like many HBO programs, there's a signature quality to Deadwood -- one that dismisses any inkling that you're a target audience. Though, I suppose, you are. However, I'd like to hear just what the target audience is for a show like Deadwood. Western fans? They're few and far if current trends are to be considered, and the ones that are left are likely not thrilled with the unusual levels of Shakespearean talkiness, depravity and general weirdness of the series. So… Open-minded western fans? I guess so. That's me more or less. So there you go. Anyone wondering why the show won far more critical than popular acclaim, perhaps this is why. It was too damned particular!

Uniqueness being a dubious gambit to begin with, there's no use in trumpeting this as one of the major reasons to watch. The show's backwards sort of hook may be the very thing that makes us so damned fickle in the first place -- simple comings and goings made agonizingly complex by over-thinking. The show is chock full of this kind of stuff. Every character, no matter how insignificant to the ringmaster Al, is given their turn to expound on their lot and the lots of their chosen companions. If this sounds tedious, I might suggest you reconsider just how enticing the mundane can be. Like when you say "bike" and suddenly it's just a meaningless sound that drops out of you. It's important that we don't close our minds to things just because they don't manipulate us in a way that popular entertainment traditionally dictates. Though the show does uphold this tradition, it also subverts it beautifully. In time you'll find yourself fascinated at something startlingly un-immediate in its appeal, like a boney preacher bending at a crazy angle and proselytizing to a horse's ass. The bizarre fact of the scene is that it's not obviously played for laughs. As with The Sopranos, you'll find plenty of moments that are as confounding as they are enticing.

Fiction loves itself -- above all things it must. So when I start to feel like the Deadwood camp has gone a little Fraggle Rock with its clannishness, I don't balk. When I consider how much of a dark, fragile place it is, sometimes I feel I wouldn't mind if they all had a big group can-can in the thoroughfare to the tune of "Hog of the Foresaken." I find myself wanting certain villains squashed and certain characters avenged, despite the show's insidious subverting of these pleasures. Yet, for every god-awful thing that the camp exposes us to, we get a little hope and illumination.

I suppose this sort of alchemy is nothing new. Most every drama dealing with dark subject matter has used some measure of lightening the load to keep things from getting too overwhelming. Especially when we're talking television. It's rare shows like Twin Peaks, The Office or Deadwood that get the balance right -- as much as producers may have tried to nudge the series toward a more temperate clime. Sometimes, for the heights to be assured the lows have to be downright abysmal. Rather than striking an artful balance, other TV dramas suffer from too much having their cake and eating it. Hence the liberal use of benign ghosts (Six Feet Under) and predictably poignant moments punctuated by the invisible rumblings of a gazillion cliffhangers (Lost). Alan Ball likes to stroke his audience with self-involved, moody characters writ large. Milch slaps us around a good deal with crusty, belligerent sorts that test our ability to feel compassion when it seems most out of reach. Much like the characters in Carolyn Chute's The Beans of Egypt Maine, audiences likely find it difficult to see in them any kind of moral through-line, but that's just what saves us from our finicky 'ol selves. To see humanity flourish where it seems least likely should be a challenging process, and with Deadwood, it most certainly is.

I may've found myself at odds with the show's runaway verbosity for a good stretch there. It seemed so excessive that I lost patience trying to figure out everyone was going on about. The diction of the characters was so convoluted and pretentious. Then I began pushing myself to comprehend these various grandiloquent conversations and soliloquies and eventually came around. I now see that it is one of the show's greatest strengths. Because of this dialogue, the show is blessed with the rare distinction of being truly novelistic in scope. While It's tragic that the show is no more, when I think of how much is packed into the thirty-six hours that have come, I am thrilled with the achievement. No doubt, the indelible, unforgettable cast of people and places helped to seal this achievement. I can't say enough good things about every last actor in the series. Each one understood the deft direction of his or her role so admirably that the exceptionally lavish set pieces all around them became as natural as the drab cubicle landscape of The Office. To describe them meanly would be a disservice, so I'll use what poetic talent I have as a tribute that tries to do a few of them justice.

E.B. Farnum

That yellow on your ruffle?
That perpetual egg sting your face?
In a flinch you're the go to
And get away
You're the gunk slopper ev'ry day
Service with a smile
tear a hamfist swathe
off that awkard pause
then demure
scuttling off to indulge
in your giddy guile
your place is in question
eyebrow arch and forehead crease
at the faintest suggestion
the drab
the mundane
the half-taken pains
childish glee
at the yanking
of near-existent reigns
putting it strained
you're a fine example
of a sprightly stain.

Doc Cochran

Sawbones, clenched teeth
Constipated at the sight of it
No justice, nor peace of mind
Degraded by the self-righteous
And reluctantly wicked
A soldier of morbid focus
Hunched over the sick and
The dead with as much
Fascination as disgust
Sometimes the two become one
And your good heart smiles
Cracked on reflecting.


Had me a doggy
God bless 'im
God bless 'im
Thanks for the listnin
I told him, I told him
If I weren't somewhat civilized
By golly I'd kiss him
He's better than y'all
God bless 'im
God bless 'im
Doesn't vex me atall
No evil arrests him
There's a peace of my mind
Digestin', digestin'
In that doggy by my find
God rest 'im, god rest 'im!

Analysis, metaphoric readings, investigation into its creation be damned - deep down, all I want to do is share my love for a gorgeous, grandiose work of art. I mentioned some other shows before by way of showing Deadwood's superiority. That sort of exposition is either a necessary evil or a bad habit -- I haven't quite decided.

While HBO programmers may want to compartmentalize their viewers, I see no reason to suggest it's better than something you've already grown attached to. You could be a reality television obsessive, or a game show freak and still find much to love here. As for Deadwood, rest assured, once acclimated, there's something in this saga for any damned one of you out there. Don't let anyone say "It's not for everybody" to you. As far this show's watchability is concerned that's just another way of saying you wouldn't understand.

Part of the reason there are no "classics" any more is because the term itself has been bought and sold. Don't let marketers feeding into your knee-jerkingest inclinations dictate your tastes for you. Get defiant and get immersed -- you'll be happy you did. No matter how hard combing through the frustratingly cold machinations of fate can be, Deadwood shows how we can come through the process feeling somewhat enlightened. Did I mention the thing is a big ball of bawdy fun? Well it is. Take it to the bank, friends. The fact that it's more or less bereft of safety nets should only encourage you to make the thrilling jump.

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