Deadwood:The Complete Third Season + John from Cincinnati
David Milch's Western rides into the sunset as his surfing drama suits up.
Wed Jun 6 2007
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5
Deadwood, HBO Video, $89.98
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
John from Cincinnati, Sun 10 at 10pm, HBO
TURF AND SURF Deadwood's Olyphant hangs men
On the commentary track for the last episode of the third and final season of Deadwood—available on DVD Tuesday 12—creator and executive producer David Milch mourns the 2006 death of the Western drama’s cinematographer, James Glennon.On the Deadwood set, cast and crew talked like dime-novel characters even when they weren’t shooting. In that spirit, Glennon used to embolden Milch by telling him, “Do not weaken, young man. Think of commerce.”
While re-watching Deadwood on DVD, around the same time that Milch’s new HBO show, John from Cincinnati, premieres, it is hard to think of anything else.
Deadwood was a horse opera, a crime drama, and a weekly examination of morality, politics, capitalism and religion, delivered in obscenity-laced pentameter. It was supposed to run for at least four seasons. Milch, who fled to pay cable after many years as writer and producer on NYPD Blue, plotted season three accordingly, pitting his central characters, saloon- owning gangster Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) and sheriff Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant), against their first unbeatable foe, gold magnate George Hearst (Gerald McRaney), while introducing significant new faces (including Brian Cox’s theatrical impresario, Langrishe).
But the show’s run was derailed by a pissing match over international rights between coproducers HBO and Paramount. The upshot was the bizarrely abrupt cancellation of a critically acclaimed hit program, and a concurrent, unfair impression that Milch’s third season was unfocused and poorly planned (by the end of the season, Langrishe’s players had mounted only one major public performance, in the charming episode “Amateur Night”).
In Deadwood’s despairing sign-off, “Tell Him Something Pretty”—which finds Swearengen committing an indefensible killing to appease Hearst—Bullock excoriates the mogul as a bully, then surmises that Hearst has fallen silent because he’s scared. “You mistake for fear, Mr. Bullock, what is in fact a preoccupation,” Hearst replies. “I’m having a conversation you cannot hear.”
“That’s what Rupert Murdoch tells himself every morning when he shaves,” Milch says. “And he is not alone.”
John's Nichols hangs ten.
The stakes were so grave on Deadwood, the language so ornate and the sex and violence so nasty that watching John from Cincinnati (premiering Sunday 10 after the finale of The Sopranos) is a comparatively mild experience, like eating sorbet after gorging on bloody red meat. Set in and around a bedraggled beach community, this seriocomic drama focuses on a multigenerational family of surfers and their neighbors and hangers-on. We meet patriarch Mitch Yost (Bruce Greenwood of Thirteen Days), who supposedly retired after an injury, but still surfs in secret; Mitch’s loyal but contentious wife (Rebecca De Mornay, whose steely intelligence evokes Sissy Spacek); Mitch’s heroin-addicted son (annoyingly hyperactive Brian Van Holt), who squats in a motel run by NYPD Blue’s Luis Guzman; and Mitch’s grandson Shaun (Greyson Fletcher), a 13-year old prodigy who is seeking sponsorship from a sleazy promoter named Linc (Luke Perry).
In its own gentle way, John continues many of Deadwood’s themes-—the struggle between art and commerce, the grip of addiction, the formation of community and the longing for spiritual satisfaction, if not deliverance. This last element is embodied by the title character, John Monad (Austin Nichols), a Starman-like fellow whose dialogue consists mainly of sentences uttered by companions. (One exception is his introductory line: “The end is near.”) John’s arrival coincides with weird occurrences, starting with a moment in which Mitch seems to levitate. (He worries that he’s hallucinating, and that maybe he has a brain tumor.)
It all sounds unbearably precious. But Milch’s tone is so assured-—quirky but never self-satisfied—that the series grows on you even though the first three episodes are slow and quiet. The promise of revelation and the presence of several members of Milch’s floating repertory company (including Jim Beaver as a 'Nam vet and Garret Dillahunt as a doctor) should keep Deadwood fans- interested for a few weeks at least. But whether casual viewers will be entranced enough to assemble themselves into a community-—the kind of collective organism that wails in grief when a TV Western gets canceled-—remains to be seen.