Review by Andrew Bloom

Deadwood: Season 1

1x01 Deadwood

A pilot's a pilot, and it has to do some typically nigh-intrinsically clunky things: introduce the characters, introduce the setting, and provide enough exposition about the premise of the show for the audience to follow along. There's a hell of a lot of table setting that goes on here. We get little vignettes to tell us who Bullock is, who Hickock is, who Swearingen is, and a host of other roughians populating Deadwood. Most of it is either trope-filled, replete with the standard issue halting speech patterns taken from the usual Westerns and other less-than-subtle indications that we're in the world of outlaws from flicks like Unforgiven, or it's using the standard HBO playbook, with sex and murder and curse words abound with a certain gratuity that makes them feel like a come on more than part of the substance of the show.

Swearingen makes the biggest impression, possibly because he's one of the few characters able to avoid the usual Cowboy patois and speak those curse words without them sounding like a gimmick. His role as the kingpin of this ecosystem is promising and the way he manipulates the town and knows everything that everyone's doing instantly marks him as unique figure. Ian McShane is electric in the role, and he's the biggest highlight of the episode.

Otherwise, we get Bullock as a pretty standard "I uphold the law and justice, even in the midst of lawless, unjust places and people. (The opening segment where he hangs the prisoner before skipping town sees to that even before he finds the family the miscreant ambushed later in the episode and executes him.) Hicock is the usual wildcard who still has a code. (It's hard not to think of his HBO stablemate Omar.) And we get a few others stragglers like Calamity Jane and Swearingen's hatchetman and Bullock's partner Star to fill out the world. There's a lot of good texture to Deadwood, South Dakota, a good sense that we're in Cowboyland with the usual cast of characters, but little of the story or setting immediately compelled me. Plenty of room to grow though.

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