Tag Archives: DEATH

SHARP OBJECTS – HBO TV REVIEW – absorbing self-hating misanthropic, Southern Gothic tale!

SHARP OBJECTS – HBO TV REVIEW

Created by: Marti Noxon

Based on: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée

Writers: Marti Noxon, Gillian Flynn, Alex Metcalf, Vince Calandra etc.

Editors: David Berman, Maxime Lahaie, Émile Vallée, Jai M. Vee

Starring: Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, Chris Messina, Eliza Scanlen, Matt Craven, Henry Czerny, Taylor John Smith, Sophia Lillis, Elizabeth Perkins

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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As is often the case when a writer has a big hit producers and studios look at their back catalogue to see if there are any apples in the shade ripe for plucking. Thus, following the cinematic success of her book adaptation Gone Girl (2014), Gillian Flynn’s debut novel from 2006 is given a stylish, small-screen HBO treatment. The story concerns crime reporter Camille Preaker – Amy Adams on stunning form – who returns to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to investigate the murders of two girls. There she confronts a personal ordeal from the past, clashes with her mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson) and attempts to bond with her precocious, teenage sister, Amma (Eliza Scanlen).

Firstly, I must say Amy Adams is one of my favourite actors. Her performances in films such as: The Fighter (2010), American Hustle (2013), Arrival (2016), Nocturnal Animals (2016) to name but a few, have demonstrated what a striking screen presence she has. Furthermore, she is able to illuminate a character’s emotion through sheer being; it’s almost effortless. But while she excels in serious roles, displaying both inner strength and vulnerability, she also has a sense of mischief and humour. Indeed, who better to evoke the pathos required to portray a character like Camille Preaker? Adams nails the alcoholic, self-harming, ex-psychiatric hospital patient role, refusing to suffer fools and using mordant wit to hide her pain.

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Camille’s assignment takes her back to a place she never wanted to go back to; drinking even more to further block out her inner turmoil. But, she has a vested family interest to find the killer of two missing girls, as her sister, Amma, knows the victims. Her inquisitive nature finds her locking horns with local cop played by Matt Craven; and forming a dysfunctional liaison with out-of-town investigator, Chris Messina. Being a small Southern town everyone has secrets to hide and out-of-towner Camille is not actually welcomed with open arms; not so much the Prodigal’s daughter but the outsider’s insider come to poke her nose where it doesn’t belong. Conflict further derives from external and internal grief that drives a feeling of gothic dread throughout. This is a story about abuse and neglect and the need to dominate through an overpowering sickness and poison. Dysfunctional humans harm others and themselves in order to get through the day.

Having watched a number of films and programmes dealing with the death or taking of children, this harrowing subject is becoming a real go-to for filmmakers and writers. Over eight episodes such crimes are melded with themes relating to: family secrets, mental illness, grooming, mutilation, addiction, suicide and sexual assault. As with Gillian Flynn’s aforementioned Gone Girl, the setting is not a happy place. Human beings do not come off that well either and are presented as very damaged personalities; or controlled and bullied by even more fucked up parents. However, as a brooding psychological thriller Sharp Objects is utterly absorbing and well worth a watch.

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I would argue that it moves too slow for eight episodes and is on occasions slightly repetitive, but Jean-Marc Vallee once again proves he is one of the best directors around gaining brilliant performances from Adams, Patricia Clarkson and Eliza Scanlen especially. The editing also is very poetic, shifting beautifully from past to present and in between, charting a series of chilling, violent events. So, while it does have filler moments in the middle it is worth sticking with. Indeed, the end contains a great twist, which in my opinion, was delivered with way to much subtlety. Ultimately, if you like your dramas dark, elegant AND brutal then stick with it; because Sharp Objects cuts deep, way after the end credits have rolled.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

THE HANDMAID’S TALE (2018) – SEASON 2 – TV REVIEW

THE HANDMAID’S TALE (S2) – TV REVIEW

Based On: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Writer(s): Bruce Miller, Dorothy Fortenberry, Yahlin Chang, Kira Snyder, Eric Tuchmann

Director(s): Mike Barker, Kari Skogland, Jeremy Podeswa, Daina Reid etc.

Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Joseph Fiennes, Yvonne Strahovski, Alexis Bledel, Madeline Brewer, Ann Dowd, Max Minghella, Samira Wiley

Release: Hulu (USA), Channel 4 (UK)

** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS **

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Misery, fascism and oppression have never been so stylish as in the Margaret Atwood televisual adaptation of her famous novel The Handmaid’s Tale. If you haven’t seen it then the story finds a major part of the U.S.A in the grip of a new, militarized and hierarchical regime following a brutal civil war. This new totalitarian state is called Gilead and is led by power-mad men who utilise religion, torture and weaponry to invoke their barbaric laws. Hang on, that sounds quite familiar!!  Could the show be quite close to real life? From a certain perspective there is indeed more reality here than allegory.

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At the centre of the drama are the Handmaids.  Due to falling fertility rates only certain women can give birth. Those that still can and considered to be dangerous to the Gilead hierarchy are imprisoned to the leaders’ houses and raped in a ritualistic monthly ordeal. The narrative focusses on the plight of June Osborne – now known as Offred / “Of Fred” – as she deals with having everything stripped away from her. She has no name, no identity, no freedom and above all else has been ripped away from her husband and child; only to be treated no better than a battery hen.

Elisabeth Moss gives an incredible performance as June / Offred. A versatile performer she imbues the complex pathos, strength and fragility required to convey the emotion of events within the story. The second season begins with a now pregnant June escaping from her captors. However, as the series progresses we know that she is not going to get away that easily. Because, this is a harsh drama. It doesn’t just smash home the viciousness of a society which oppresses women, it also illustrates the dangers of allowing fundamentalists to take total control. Executions by hanging and drowning are commonplace; and if you perpetually rebel an individual can be sent to The Colonies for a fate worse than death.

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While the themes and events are sometimes difficult to stomach The Handmaid’s Tale is compelling viewing. Be warned though when one is close to a sliver of light at the end of the tunnel, that light is extinguished as darkness pervades. With a brilliant cast that includes Yvonne Strahovski, Joseph Fiennes and the always-excellent Ann Dowd, this is not just powerful storytelling, it’s incredibly interesting to look at too. The maroons, greens, greys, blacks and whites in the colour scheme create a poetic sense of beauty and doom. The direction, editing, lighting and soundtrack serve the narrative expertly as Margaret Atwood’s dystopic future is illustrated skilfully.  Ultimately, in Elizabeth Moss’ portrayal of June Osborne we have a heroic and resilient character; one who, amidst all the suffering, is determined to survive and save those she loves. Praise be!

                     Mark: 9 out of 11

CORPORATE (2018) – COMEDY CENTRAL TV REVIEW

CORPORATE (2018) – COMEDY CENTRAL TV REVIEW

Created by: Pat Bishop, Matt Ingebretson, Jake Weisman

Directed by: Pat Bishop

Starring: Matt Ingebretson, Jake Weisman, Anne Dudek, Adam Lustick, Aparna Nancherla, Baron Vaughan, Lance Reddick

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Have you ever had a job where during your employment you literally just wanted to die?  It could be for a number of reasons: you hate your job; you hate your boss; you hate your work colleagues; you hate yourself; you’re bored with the tasks; the endless meetings; a hangover from hell; your pen broke and leaked all over you; the girl from Accounts doesn’t fancy you; you hate the customers; or you feel so existentially empty and having realised the pointlessness of living in a cruel, heartless and soulless vacuum of a world you see no alternative but to commit suicide. Or is that just me?

Of course, many of the above are the irrational emotions of a spoilt Westerner and can be firmly filed under first world problems. Because in a thriving and greed-driven capitalist society which is destroying the environment and Earth, making the rich richer and the monetizing and exploiting the poor for the continual gathering of wealth, what alternative is there? We can protest and sometime things change but most of us have the fight kicked out of our guts or never had it to begin with. So we have no choice but to punch the clock, get our money, go out and get drunk or high and play Xbox, have miserable children, watch a movie, watch Netflix, buy crap we don’t need, over eat and drink; and then go back to work on Monday, deluding ourselves we are living valuable lives.

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Comedy Central’s under-the-radar black comedy satire Corporate encapsulates much of what I’m talking about above. My attitude is nowhere near as bleak anymore as the opinions stated above and come from emotions of when I was much younger and cynical. However, there remains a truth to these feelings and Corporate – in ten very funny episodes – captures that negative truth very well. It also captures the existential dread of working in an office for a diabolical corporation, hell-bent on fucking the world while chasing the: Dollar, Pound, Yen, Rupee, Renminbi etc.

Indeed, Hampton DeVille are a massive global company and completely ruthless in their business as the show reflects practices by such conglomerates as: Amazon, Apple and Google etc. Their CEO is the megalomaniacal Christian Deville (Lance Reddick) but the show focusses on the trainee executives Matt (Matt Ingebretson) and Jake (Jake Weisman) as they face the horror of: long pointless meetings; ridiculous away days; dress down days; pedantic HR policies; general boredom and ennui; and dealing with patronising middle managers and petty colleagues. With episode titles such as: Powerpoint of Death, The Void and The Pain of Being Alive, the show is pitch black in its outlook and themes; while the visual style is drained of colour with browns, blacks and greys dominating.

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Overall, I really enjoyed the absurd look at office life in Corporate. It takes risks because even the lead protagonists aren’t likable and the delivery is very deadpan. I especially enjoyed the skewering corporate business, as Hampton Deville is shown to be involved in: gun-running; starting civil wars; monetizing religion and art; over-the top technological releases; stupid jargon and sloganeering; plus it nails the horrific tedium of being trapped in a job you hate. But as I always say: there’s one thing worse that having a job you hate – having to look for a job you know you’re going to hate!!

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

THE LEVELLING (2016) – SKY CINEMA REVIEW

THE LEVELLING (2016) – SKY CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Hope Dickson Leach

Written by: Hope Dickson Leach

Starring: Ellie Kendrick, David Troughton, Jack Holden

Music by: Hutch Demouilpied

Cinematography: Nanu Segal

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I grew up watching visions of the English countryside as represented by television shows such as H.E. Bates’ The Darling Buds of May and James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. With such rural narratives you were never far from a beautiful landscapes, wonderfully sunny skies and country folk working together, on the main, as a community. Hope Dickson Leach’s independent British drama is an altogether different beast. It’s a muddy, grieving, bloody and filth-ridden exploration of how tough family and farming existence is.

Featuring some fantastic performances from Ellie Kendrick and David Troughton the story is very simple. Clover (Kendrick) returns from Veterinary College following the sudden death of her brother. While her father is steadily drinking himself to death, she tries to make sense of her sibling’s apparent suicide. Her father, an army man and farmer is living in a caravan next to the battered family home. The farm business is sliding to bankruptcy and their home has been rotting since the Somerset floods a couple of years before. All round their property and livestock are threatened by damp, disease and death.  In short: this is NOT The Darling Buds of May.

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Ellie Kendrick, who I recognised from several TV shows including Game of Thrones, absolutely owns the character of Clover. She is seen as weak and unreliable by her father but is in fact an intelligent and resilient character who is prepared to work hard and dig deep for some respect. The plot itself reminded me a lot of the Michael Caine gangster classic Get Carter (1971); accept with a female lead and more cows. As Clover attempts to steady the fortune of the farm, caused in part to mis-management by her father and brother, she also turns detective, stealthily delving into circumstances relating to her brother’s death.

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Overall, Hope Dickson Leach has made a really touching personal story of grief. This is a very emotional story about a family torn apart by death on personal and financial levels. I don’t know much about farming life, but while it may be idealized in certain books and films the reality is much tougher. Animals, while commodities are often culled because of disease and farmers are at the mercy of the weather. Moreover, it would appear to be much tougher for women too progress in a male-dominated world which favours sons over daughters.  What the film ultimately shows too, in many brilliantly acted and directed scenes, is we must transcend our differences and work together as one – as family – in order to survive.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

 

TV SHOW REVIEW – I’M DYING UP HERE (2017) – SEASON ONE

SCREENWASH TELEVISION SHOW REVIEW – I’M DYING UP HERE (2017) – SEASON 1

Genre: Comedy-drama

Created by: David Flebotte

Based on: I’m Dying Up Here by William Knoedelseder

Starring: Melissa Leo, Ari Graynor, Clark Duke, Michael Angarano, Andrew Santino, Stephen Guarino, Erik Griffin, RJ Cyler, Al Madrigal, Jake Lacy

Network: Showtime US / Sky Atlantic UK

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As well viewing loads of films I also block out the horrors of the world by watching lots of television too. With cable, digital, internet and terrestrial channels to choose from you will find some gems to stop you thinking about the end of the world; UNLESS, of course, it’s a show about the end of the world. Anyway, as the war-mongering governments plot and false flag and generate fear and murder innocents all around the world, comedy, as they say, can sometimes provide the best medicine.

Showtime’s1970s based comedy-drama is set in Los Angeles. It features an ensemble cast of wannabe comedians at various stages of their careers, which congregate at Goldie’s Comedy Club. Melissa Leo plays the tough-edged business woman running the show who can make a comic’s career by getting them on the Johnny Carson show. Because of economics and the desperate comedians’ desire for fame the acts will work as open spots until they get a break. Leo anchors the show with a ballsy performance, yet beneath her hard exterior there is much pain and vulnerability in her character. She fights and scratches and bites to stay ahead of her rivals as she’s consistently undermined by the sexist and patriarchy dominated show business ‘system.’

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The rest of the cast consists of an assortment of character actors, actual stand-up comedians and up-and-coming actors including: Ari Graynor, Jake Lucy, Andrew Santino, Al Madrigal, Clark Duke, Michael Angarano and RJ Cyler. Ari Graynor, as the Texan comedian fighting her way up in a male-dominated world; and, young, black comedian RJ Cyler especially stood out. I have seen Cyler in a number of shows and films now and I think he is a bona fide star in the making. The double act sparring of Clark Duke and Michael Angarano are also hilarious too as the lively, aspiring acts from out of town, so broke they have to rent a closet to live in.

The era, costumes and smoky settings of comedy clubs are fantastically evoked as is the characterisation of the comedians’ struggle. I mean these are intrinsically narcissistic individuals striving for fortune and fame yet many of them are self-hating, low-esteemed and bitter people just searching for a moment of adoration through the audiences’ laughter. Many of the characters are also deeply flawed and actually unlikeable, notably Andrew Santino’s Bill Hobbs. Moreover, while creating a sense of community with each other the comedians are also fiercely competitive and much humour is driven by their cutting barbs and scathing comments toward each other. Childish tit-for-tat battles rage too when things heat over between the acts; either because they have bombed or because they have been stitched up by another act. Lastly, the socio-politics of the era provide excellent subtext and much of the drama derives from: sexual politics; alcohol and drug addiction; comedy club rivalry; joke-theft; heckler-battles; career and actual suicide; race relations; the Vietnam War; and every day existential crises.

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Overall, I’m Dying Up Here may not be for everyone but it was brilliant viewing for me. I love stand-up comedy and I love television drama. I also thought the writing, direction, acting, performances, soundtrack and production design were excellent. The show’s strength is in the ability to balance drama and adult-based humour over ten fascinating episodes. It reminded me, most of all, of an extended series of the film Boogie Nights (1997) and the work of Robert Altman. Finally, I myself have written and performed stand-up comedy and, while there’s been little financial or cultural success, I have absolutely loved my time on stage. As a creative pursuit it can be both exhilarating when it goes well and completely devastating when you ‘die’ and NO ONE laughs. But hey, death on stage is far more palatable than the apocalypse! Indeed, it’s NOT THE END OF THE WORLD!

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

NINE REASONS WHY INSIDE NO. 9 IS ONE OF THE BEST TV SHOWS EVER!

NINE REASONS WHY INSIDE NO. 9 IS ONE OF THE BEST TV SHOWS EVER!

Having just finished watching Season 4 of the incredible anthology TV show Inside No. 9, I felt compelled to write why it is so good! So here are NINE reasons why it is one of the best TV shows I have ever seen.

 

  1. League of (Two) Gentlemen

Inside No. 9 is written by and stars Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. Both are brilliant comedic and dramatic actors having appeared in many TV shows and films down the years. They are arguably most famous for beginning their careers in cult comedic troupe The League of Gentlemen; however, their work on Inside No. 9 actually surpasses the ‘League’ in my view.

 

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  1. Cast

Shearsmith and Pemberton, along with themselves, are able to cast well-known actors from stage and screen in supporting roles. Part of the fun of many episodes is spotting such guest appearances with, in many cases, the ensemble brilliance of the actors bouncing sparks of each other. Inside No. 9 has featured talented performers including:  Timothy West, Fiona Shaw, Jack Whitehall, David Warner, Denis Lawson, Sheridan Smith, Rory Kinnear, Conleth Hill, Alison Steadman, Noel Clarke, Philip Glenister, Zoe Wanamaker, Keeley Hawes, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Derek Jacobi and many more.

 

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  1. Writing

Each episode is self-contained within a 30 minute one-off story. The challenge therefore is to create a compelling narrative which establishes: theme, character, setting and the drama quickly in order to draw the audience in and subsequently entertain. Like similar classic anthology shows such as The Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected the writers do this brilliantly and conversely, for me, every script is a joy to experience again and again.

 

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  1. Genre

Shearsmith and Pemberton are experienced actor and performers with great range. They initially worked in comedy, however, The League of Gentlemen and Psychoville contained heavy infusions of horror and grotesque which scared and disgusted amidst the laughter. Inside No. 9 could be described as comedy but it crosses many other genres too. Episodes such as: The Harrowing (Season 1) and Séance Time (S2) and Devil of Christmas (S3) are firmly fixed in the horror genre; Tom and Gerri (S1) and Diddle, Diddle Dumpling (S3) and Nana’s Party (S2) are contemporary domestic dramas; The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge (S2) evoked historical dramas; and silent and slapstick comedy is represented by the sublime A Quiet Night In (S1). Every episode is beautifully devised within its set milieu and genre creating a rewarding viewing experience.

 

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  1. Number 9

During the whole four seasons, as well as the writing being spot on, there is much imagination in the details. For example, the No. 9 is not just the house number of the story location it is also a: dressing room, sleeper car, barn, call centre, shoe-size, study, karaoke booth, gallery space and church hall. Such locations show the diverse imagination of the writers and various spaces of these wonderful stories.

 

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  1. Emotion

Stories are nothing without compelling characters. Amidst the gags, one-liners, horror, drama and clever writing you have to care about what happens to the characters. Indeed, Inside No. 9 also delivers some compelling stories which contain much emotion and pathos. The 12 Days Of Christine (S2) is one of the most blistering dramatic arcs I have seen within a short form TV show. Similarly, Tom and Gerri (S1), Diddle, Diddle Dumpling (S3), To Have and To Hold (S4) and Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room (S4) contain very powerful endings that shock the heart as well as the mind.

 

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  1. Form and Style

Shearsmith and Pemberton are not only great actors and writers; they are also drenched in film, TV and cultural knowledge. As such, their work on Inside No. 9 is consistently reflexive and inter-textually referencing pop culture. In the: The Devil of Christmas (S3) they reference DVD commentaries and 1970s horror TV; in Once Removed (S4) they do a Memento (2000) and tell the story backwards; while in Zanzibar (S4) the characters deliver lines in iambic pentameter. However, stylistic or formalistic devices do not impinge on the narrative polarity but enhance the viewing experience.

 

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  1. Twists in the Tale

Ah, I love a good story twist as I grew up watching shows such as: Hitchcock Presents, Tales of the Unexpected, The Twilight Zone, Armchair Theatre and The Outer Limits to name a few. Inside No. 9 follows in the tradition of these classic programmes by often flipping narrative expectations with delicious results. Much fun can be derived trying to work out the twist too and even if you can see it coming that still adds to the entertainment factor to me. But WHEN YOU DON’T see it the programme becomes something else altogether!

 

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  1. Favourite Six Episodes

Tough one this but if I had to choose my favourite six episodes (out of 24 so far) I would go with the following (in production order):

  • A Quiet Night In (2014) – two burglars try to steal a painting in silent comedy classic.
  • La Couchette (2015) – a train sleeper car provides the setting for a hilarious night of comedy chaos.
  • The 12 Days of Christine (2015) – Sheridan Smith shines in this haunting and beautiful character profile of a young woman.
  • The Riddle of the Sphinx (2016) – ultra clever crossword dominated thriller set in a University study.
  • Diddle Diddle Dumpling (2017) – Shearsmith and Keeley Hawes excel as a couple whose lives are impacted by obsession and a lost shoe.
  • Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room (2018) – two failed TV entertainers bicker as they prepare to perform their act one last time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HBO’S DEADWOOD (2004 – 2006) – CLASSIC TV REVIEW

HBO’S DEADWOOD (2004 – 2006) – CLASSIC TV REVIEW

ORIGINAL NETWORK: HBO – CURRENT NETWORK: SKY ATLANTIC

CREATED BY: David Milch

STARRING: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Powers Boothe, Dayton Callie, Kim Dickens, Brad Dourif, John Hawkes, and Robin Weigert etc.

SEASONS: 3 – EPISODES: 36

ORIGINAL RELEASE: March 21, 2004 – August 27, 2006

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The blood and sweat and liquor seep into muddy earth as wood creaks, leather cracks and barrels roll within the midst of morning in Deadwood town. Horses cry readying themselves for the work ahead as the hangover of alcohol, greed and necessity fill men, women and children’s hearts not knowing how the day will end. They could be destitute, broke or worse; six feet under from a gunshot or plague or had their throat cut during a game of poker. Or they could be richer than a King or Queen having struck lucky in the goldmines of Montana. These are desperate times brimming with whores, bandits, con-artists, killers and unbelievably twisted optimism. There’s hope that striking gold will change lives forever and bring about fortune and prosperity. More often than not though it simply brings about death.

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David Milch’s formidably researched Western TV classic was a show I’d never ever seen so I took great pleasure drinking in its’ flavours and palette at the end of 2017. I recall when released the tabloid newspapers were forever reporting the controversy of the colourful industrial language. While the language is indeed profane and sometimes enough to make a football referee blush it is the stand-out element of the scripts. Because Deadwood is one of the most brilliantly written shows I’ve seen; and while the dialogue is clearly anachronistic it feels paradoxically authentic. Throughout the thirty-six episodes the monologues sing from the screen as a litany of character actors drawl and deliver words of filth, comedy and great tragedy. At times the dialogue is so dense it reaches sonorous Shakespearean heights.

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The narratives of each season feature characters based on real people from history (Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickok, Al Swearengen, Seth Bullock et al); all presented via a daily slice of mining camp life through an incredible ensemble cast. There are no heroes to hang our desires on but rather a rag-tag clan of flawed human beings presented as: killers, cowards, thugs, addicts, prostitutes, card sharks, immigrants, gold-diggers, crooked politicians and morally dubious law representatives. The amazing cast, led with frightening acting acumen by: Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant, Molly Parker, John Hawkes, Robin Weigert, Brian Cox and Powers Boothe spit words as weapons, while the glint of gold drives humanity, creating a hard-bitten early representation of the American dream.

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Here the early realms of civilization and society are shown to be full of issues relating to: race, capitalism, prostitution, misogyny, violence, politics, and immigration. Thankfully, things have changed now and we live in a near-perfect society with no problems today. NOT! Deadwood may represent a series of distant Wild West memories but its’ grizzled and bloody vision of humanity is just as valid today. The streets of society now may have pavement and tarmac and skyscrapers but they are still besmirched with blood and greed and alas that will never change.

Mark: 10 out of 11