If you want to experience the – real – old west first hand, look no further; you'll find it in 'Deadwood'. There has never been a show or a film that came as close to showing what life must have been like in those lawless young towns that got built nearly over night wherever gold was found. A magnet for all kind of fortune seekers (gold diggers, whores, outlaws – but also settlers who were just hoping to build a better life), the town of Deadwood was notorious even by the standards of the time. In the show, this "cesspool of vice" is brought back to life with great attention to historical detail. You'll find no romanticised view of pioneers who lived and died by "the code of honour", but real people whose moral standards are – in most cases – murky at best. And the world they inhabit is a rough, dirty, violent place where only the fiercest – and the most cunning – survive.
As far as the historical characters depicted in the show are concerned, the writers naturally had to take some liberties (after all, nobody knows exactly who said or did what at the time), but the depiction of the era and the historical background are very accurate. Yet this is not a history lesson; it's an immensely entertaining western-show blessed with some of the best writers and actors working in television and film today – and especially the cast of 'Deadwood' really can't get enough praise: there is not a single performance here that isn't excellent. Of course, the one who steals the show is Ian McShane. His Al Swearengen is one of the most morally complex and fun-to-watch characters I've ever seen (and he misses absolutely no opportunity to show you just what the first five letters in "SWEAR-engen" stand for). The power-struggles in Deadwood he is involved in – and since he wants to maintain his position at the top of the food-chain he's involved in all of them – are equalled in complexity and entertainment value only by those in top-notch shows like 'Game of Thrones', 'House of Cards' or 'Breaking Bad'. And the lengths Al is willing to go to achieve his goals secure him a place in the top ten of "all-time great bad-asses".
So my verdict: While certainly not for the easily offended or those who prefer a "sanitized version" of the old west, 'Deadwood' offers a fascinating look at a time we mostly know from myths and legends and gives us a chance to revisit those and see them from a different angle. Great, intelligent and informative entertainment. 9 stars out of 10.
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Lesser-known Masterpieces: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls070242495/
Favorite Low-Budget and B-movies: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls054808375/
Favorite TV-Shows reviewed: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls075552387/