Post DEADWOOD Modernism in Contemporary TV

Hey, that sounds pretty intellectual, huh? Just our way of honor this pretty damn intellectual article. We think we’d agree with it too…if we were sure of what it says:

It’s Deadwood‘s World. BossCopper, and Hell on Wheels Are Just Living In It – by Matt Zoller Seitz

Much of modern TV is said to take place in a post-Sopranos universe, but this summer David Milch’s gold-rush Western Deadwood seems just as influential. The show’s cancellation in 2006 left a hole in fans’ hearts, and a glance at some of the most prominent current dramas suggests that TV’s showrunners miss it, too… The show was dark and violent, but with a core of tenderness and optimism. It was singular and stirring. No wonder we keep prospecting in cable’s shallows, panning for Milchian gold.

Amid the silt and pyrite, you’ll find FX’s Justified and Sons of Anarchy, 21st-century crime sagas that lean on Western tropes and employ ex-Deadwoodactors. HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, which returns for a third season in September, echoes Milch’s Western, too; its lavishly re-created twenties-boardwalk set feels like a cleaned-up version of Deadwood’s title encampment. Starz just unveiled a second season of Boss, a big-city potboiler that makes modern Chicago seem as lawless as a nineteenth-century urban cesspool… AMC just kicked off the sophomore season of Hell on Wheels, a show about the building of the transcontinental railroad that plays like Deadwood by way of a pot-scented counterculture Western…. Even BBC America is getting into the act with its first original series, Copper, a Civil War–era drama set in New York’s Five Points neighborhood…[T]he show boasts muddy streets, bloody murders, and Peeping Tom camerawork that evokes Deadwood’s documentary jitters. And that’s fine. “I wouldn’t trust a man that wouldn’t try to steal a little,” quoth Swearengen. Alas, any show that steals from Deadwood is bound to look second-rate.

Hell on Wheels was damned by Deadwood comparisons the instant it premiered, which wasn’t entirely fair. Westerns have had a disillusioned feel since 1969’sThe Wild Bunch, and they often spotlight variations on familiar types, such as the widowed and fearful society woman who evolves into a gender-trailblazing power broker (Molly Parker’s Alma Garret in Deadwood, Dominique McElligott’s Lily Bell on Wheels) and the gunslinging brooder with an explosive temper (Timothy Olyphant’s Mexican War veteran turned sheriff on Deadwood,Anson Mount’s vengeance-obsessed ex-Confederate on Wheels). As co-creator Joe Gayton said in an interview last year, “We’re inevitably going to be compared to Deadwood, because that was the last Western on television.”

Unfortunately, he and his brother and creative partner Tony Gayton didn’t do themselves any favors. The show feels too much like Deadwood on rails.

Read it all

There’s more, all equally well-written and just as hard for those of us who grew up watching instead of reading whenever possible to decipher. The idea here, though, seems to be that following in the footsteps of something that was really, really, really good is bad because even if you make your version better nobody will believe that but you.

We here at TVWriter™ certainly believe that innovation should always rule. Or, to put it another, more extreme way – because we’re an extreme generation, dig? – the worst original is better than the best imitation because of the very fact that it’s new. That it takes a step forward in the development of not only television but any and every art–

Except if you’re a TV executive deciding what to put on the air. In which case you’re looking to justify your decision to shareholders, God, whoever, by being able to say, “Well, when they did it on DEADWOOD it worked very well. HBO got mindshare, critical praise, and more subscriptions, so that’s why we’re doing it again.”

Which brings up the basic problem in all major media these days. If you create the best show ever – totally new, totally exciting, totally wow – and nobody sees it because it doesn’t get picked up, did you really create anything at all?

Apparently, the people behind BOSS, COPPER, and HELL ON WHEELS say no. And they just might be right.