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Feeling Nostalgic about the Wild, Wild Western
August 28, 2009  | By David Bianculli
deadwood-ep-14-joanie-09-Ag.jpgLike a lot of people -- more of them almost every week -- I'm loving my Sunday night dose of HBO's True Blood, one of the most enjoyable thrill rides on TV right now. But unlike most people, I have another Sunday night thrill-ride TV treat: DirecTV 101 Network's weekly rerun of HBO's 2004-06 series Deadwood.

That show, plus recommending and re-watching last week's AMC repeat of 1989's Lonesome Dove CBS miniseries, has me wondering. Will we ever see TV Westerns that good again? For that matter, will we ever see TELEVISION that good again?...


The only thing to mourn about Deadwood is that HBO cut it short at least one year too early. There was so much life left in that series, so many rich and resonant characters, and so much wild and true history from which to drama, that HBO should have persuaded David Milch to stay the course, rather than shift to, sigh, John from Cincinnati.

The 101 Network's weekly cycle of reruns just started season two last week, and featured a bloody fistfight between Ian McShane's town boss Al Swearengen and Timothy Olyphant's newly elected sheriff, Seth Bullock, that was nothing short of epic.


This week (9p ET, with lots of same-week repeats), both men are disfigured by their battle, and the next round is coming up: Seth had left his badge and gun in Swearengen's office, removing them to fight him as a private citizen, and is intent on reclaiming them. Swearengen's cold-blooded lieutenant, Dan, suggests Al gives Bullock a taste of Al's knife blade instead, and the stage is set for another superbly written, astoundingly acted episode.

Deadwood is an exceptionally excellent and entertaining TV series -- and, as a Western, it's equally rare. But this sort of brilliant TV, on cable, is alive and very, very well. Not only with True Blood and AMC's Mad Men right now, but with FX's Rescue Me, and with a new season of Showtime's Dexter right around the corner.


But watching Lonesome Dove again, and seeing what the broadcast networks once aspired to do, that's a different matter altogether. Watching that miniseries, with Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones as retired Texas Rangers in a country fast losing its open spaces, made me sad not only about the vanishing wilderness, but about broadcast TV's vanishing aspirations.

If CBS, or any other broadcast network, would throw its money and effort into just one Lonesome Dove every few years, it might stave off its own slide into mediocrity and relative irrelevance. Doing something special, something wonderful, is one way to attract an audience -- and, just maybe, steal back some of those Emmys in categories now surrendered almost automatically to cable networks.

Five years later, Deadwood still impresses. Twenty years later, so does Lonesome Dove. How many shows that the broadcast networks are now presenting can hope for the same claim?




Eileen said:

Interesting question. I really had to stop and think, as anything I consider worth remembering was probably on either a cable channel or PBS. My immediate response would be Ken Burns' The War. Unforgettable...

There were, in 2006, two excellent made-for-tv movies relative to 9/11: The Path to 9/11 with Harvey Keitel, Amy Madigan, Dan Lauria, Michael Moriarty, et al. It was a two-parter I made a point to clear the calendar for.

Also that year was Flight 93, with a cast of veritable unknowns, which probably was a good idea as the passengers on that doomed flight had been so featured in the news you felt you knew them. Bringing in little known actors works from the standpoint that you are not distracted thinking, "Oh look, it's so & so playing the pilot."

Other than that, I'm coming up blank. A very sad statement indeed. We can only hope with the commercial networks constantly changing leadership, someone will come along who actually has an interest in high quality. Pray, my friends.

Comment posted on August 28, 2009 9:10 AM\

Angela said:

I still remember how much I loved Lonesome Dove when I saw it the first time.(Has it really been 20 years? Yikes!). Then I watched Deadwood. Each episode was even better than the last. I couldn't believe they ended it. It was not time.

But I was really surprised to realize that Westerns were at the top of my favorite list. I'm not a western flick chick! Or so I thought.

Now Six Feet Under, and BSG have been added to my all time favorite series ever.

I missed Ken Burns' The War. Band of Brothers was fantastic, I saw it for the first time during the Memorial Weekend on the History channel.

At Eileen pointed out in a previous blog post, we really need your help to find what's worth watching because it's not easy.

When my friends say there is nothing on TV, I tell them you have to dig deep to find the gems. And I'm forever mentioning this site. I might have missed Breaking Bad, Life, or Dexter without it.

Thank you, and everyone else who contributes and cares a lot about quality TV. My life took a fork in the road, and due to health reasons, TV worth watching is something I look forward to very much for entertainment.

[Dear Angela -- Thanks for the kind words, and the good taste, and for spreading the word, too. Maybe, given the Western theme, I should deputize you to go out and be an official TV Worth Watching missionary... -- David B.]

Comment posted on August 29, 2009 8:42 PM
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