'Deadwood: Season Two'
Spend more quality time with television's most foul-mouthed prospectors
The second season, out on DVD to serve as an effective preamble to HBO's upcoming run of episodes, begins with a bang, as simmering tensions between seemingly righteous Sheriff Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) and nefarious hotel operator Al Swearengen Ian McShane, one of television's two finest Brits playing Americans) boil over into a punishing brawl in the city streets. But then the series changes focus, as Bullock has to deal with his newly arrived wife and child and Swearengen has to battle kidney stones. Neither actor vanishes, but plenty of returning characters get to show new shadings -- Highlights include Paula Malcomson's Trixie trying to go from whore to accountant, Robin Weigert's Calamity Jane finding her place as perfectly performed comic relief, William Sanderson's E.B. Farnum heading in the direction of insanity and Keone Young's Mr. Wu becoming perhaps the season's true hero.
In addition, the show's casting department proves out, with a string of flawless guest stars, all actors capable of reading creator David Milch's tortured and poetic prose. The easy integration of character actors like Pruitt Taylor Vince and Stephen Tobolowsky isn't at all surprising, there's pleasure in seeing actors like Sarah Paulson do career-best work as well. Best of all is Garrett Dillahunt, who made several first season appearances as the man who shot Wild Bill, but returns as an entirely different character, a geologist with some peculiar sexual tendencies and a violent streak.
Scattered across the 12 episodes are nine commentaries by a variety of actors, writers and producers. Most of the actor commentaries are underwhelming -- they're all very grateful to get to say these wonderful words, even if they don't understand them, yada yada -- but Olyphant and McShane's first episode conversation is worthwhile. It's also always good to hear Milch, though he's only on a single episode.
For more on Milch and his convoluted writing process, check out the "Making of the Season 2 Finale" featurette on the bonus disc, particularly the 25-minute segment "Trusting David Milch." Anybody who fancies themselves a scribe can learn something from Milch's writing room, in which every line is rewritten countless times to distill the language "down to its most potent form," as actor W. Earl Brown puts it.
A second documentary, "The Real Deadwood 1877" is less interesting, varying only slightly from a similar featurette on the first season's DVD. An assortment of regional historians offer some valid tidbits on the real story of the Chinese immigrants in the settlement, but there are too many "Well duh" moments, like when one academic tries explaining that no matter what you might have guessed, the life of the frontier prostitute wasn't a glamorous one.
STUDIO: HBO Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: May 23
TIME: 6 disks
DVD EXTRAS: 9 audio commentaries; "The Real Deadwood 1877" featurette; "Making of the Season 2 Finale" three-part featurette