"Deadwood: The Complete Series" Blu-ray Review
November 22, 2010 by Zach Demeter
Though the show is now over six years old and shows no real signs of ever coming back (star Ian McShane even remarked that “Deadwood is dead” in an interview in 2009), Deadwood will forever (for the time being at least) remain as one of HBO’s best shows. Though it turned many off with its non-period dialect (e.g., F-bombs galore) and a more cynical and darker take on the Wild West, the series nonetheless found enough of an audience to warrant a collection of three seasons. While it wasn’t a show I watched as it aired, watching it all now back-to-back-to-back for the first time years after it’s been off made me realize that it doesn’t matter when you watch a TV show—if it’s good, it will forever be good. And Deadwood fits that bill exactly.
The Black Hills of South Dakota. Witness the birth of an American frontier town - and the ruthless power struggle between its just and unjust pioneers. In an age of plunder and greed, the richest gold strike in American history draws a mob of restless misfits to an outlaw settlement where everything - and everyone - has a price. The settlers, ranging from an ex-lawman to a scheming saloon owner to the legendary Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, share a constant restlessness of spirit, and survive by any means necessary. Welcome to Deadwood...a hell of a place to make your fortune.
There’s a certain feeling that the town of Deadwood is the seediest place imaginable. Not only is the name uninviting but the rampant prostitution, gambling, drinking, out of wedlock pregnancies and drug addictions make you think that it’s just a modern day slum without any technology. These kind of shows are occasionally miserable to watch simply because it’s so apparent when the characters are drowning in sweat how stifling the air must be. All the while they’re downing whiskey and paying for sex and it’s…definitely not the usual kind of western you’re accustomed to.
Setting and questionable morals (of…well, everyone on the show) aside, the real draw of the series is the varied cast. While McShane Timothy Olyphant are the designated “stars” of the whole series, it goes well beyond the scope of those two characters. The great thing, however, about Deadwood is that it’s a relatively small town which means at some point everyone overlaps with someone else. Pile on the “one episode equals a day” style storytelling and you have a very intimate look at these characters lives for a few weeks. Add to all of that a bit of historical accuracy (but not too much, because then that would just be boring) and the potential for interesting storylines just never decays.
Unfortunately the show did decay in ratings apparently as HBO chose not to renew the actor’s contracts. After that things slowly went downhill before the sets were ultimately dismantled. On one hand it’s a shame we’ll never see these characters or this town again but at the same time each season was kind of a self-contained tale. We revisited the town and characters, sure, but it really felt like it could end with each season. The closing shot of the final episode was particularly appropriate, not only for the season but for the series as well. Of course next time we saw Olyphant in a cowboy hat was on Justified which is kind of a modern day Deadwood…just slightly less profane.
Overall plenty has been said about Deadwood and plenty more will continue to be said about the show it’s unwillingness to leave the public conscience is proven by this complete series issuance. In the end it will still be the same Highly Recommended (and for some a Must See) show that enraptured so many viewers. It will no doubt be off-putting at first, but give it a few chances and it will quickly become one of your favorite shows by the time you reach the middle of the first season.
HBO knows how to do deluxe sets right and this box set of Deadwood is no difference. Housed inside of a box set that is not unlike Rome’s, just with a few added nuances here and there to make it even more attractive to the box set collector. The off-white coloring combined with the heavy duty and solid nature of the set make it feel like its well over the two pounds it actually weighs. With a sixteen page booklet on the inside that houses all of the sets thirteen discs and a production value that just never ceases to amaze you as you turn each page, this is one box set that you will want to bring out to just show off for the packaging alone.
Once your non-collector friends roll their eyes and ponder why they hang out with someone who is so easily impressed by cardboard and ink you can pop in any one of the thirteen discs and blow then away with the whole reason you bought the set. The VC-1 encoded 1080p presentation for the show is flat-out breathtaking. While not every single frame is a delight to behold (there’s a lot of noise that dances around the set, but never enough to really make you wonder if there’s something wrong) the vast majority are. There’s nary a moment in this three season set that didn’t make me glad I was watching it on Blu-ray on a big ol’ TV. Detail is high on everything from the period clothing to the smallest of details (including newspaper print you can actually pause and read…awesome).
Audio is a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix and…really, how much can a western engross you? Apparently quite a bit as I can probably count on my hands the number of times that the surrounds and subwoofer actually fell silent for an extended period of time; there was just always something going off at some point during this show and needless to say it was a highly enjoyable experience from start to finish to watch it. If at all possible try to only watch this show on Blu-ray and in full surround—it’s a really amazing experience.
That’s a dull list, right? Well it actually adds up to over twenty hours of content as there are seventeen different commentary tracks across the set and over six hours of other featurettes, interviews and more. Sadly it doesn’t appear that any of this was newly produced for this set—while they’re all in HD, they’re the exact same extras as you could find on the previous DVD release of the complete series set. Kind of disappointing but if you don’t own that set then this is still worth picking up as it has more content than the individual releases.
Overall Deadwood: The Complete Series is Highly Recommended on Blu-ray. It looks and sounds amazing and the series itself is definitely something that shouldn’t be missed. I would say it’s Must Own if you’re a fan and somehow don’t already own the complete DVD set, but seeing as it’s quite pricey at the moment it may be better off if you wait a bit before taking the plunge. Or just really start kissing up to people for this coming holiday season, as it is sure to be the definite "must have" for Blu-ray aficionados this Christmas.
Deadwood – The Complete Series arrives on Blu-ray on November 23rd.