fter almost a decade of industry tittle-tattle, fan speculation and hopeful tweets from former cast members, HBO has finally addressed the Olyphant in the room. Last week, the network confirmed that Deadwood – David Milch’s peerless, profane exploration of frontier psychology in gold-rush South Dakota – would belatedly return in the form of a movie tying up all the loose ends left over after its abrupt cancellation in 2006.
As reported by TVLine, HBO programming president Michael Lombardo said that he had given series creator Milch the go-ahead.
“David has our commitment that we are going to do it,” Lombardo told TVLine. “He pitched what he thought generally the storyline would be – and knowing David, that could change. But it’s going to happen.”
Now, of course, the real work begins: dusting off the set of the Gem saloon, allowing the notoriously prickly Milch time to formulate his cowboy coda and, perhaps most challenging of all, corralling the sprawling original cast. In other words, there is little chance of seeing the results any time soon. So here are five shows – some rootin’, many tootin’ – to help tide you over until Deadwood rides again.
From the outset, AMC’s railroad epic found itself unfavourably compared to HBO’s grubby horse opera, but like the little engine that could, it has slowly chugged out of the shadow of its admired predecessor. Set amid the construction of the first transcontinental US railroad – and the shady goings-on in the attendant canvas settlement of shiftless ne’er-do-wells – it’s at least as good as Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman. As former Confederate soldier turned handy foreman Cullen Bohannon, the extremely handsome Anson Mount has gone to admirable lengths to disguise his hunkiness under a layer of dirt, bristles and sullen nods, while Colm Meaney delivers some prize lines as oversized captain of industry Thomas “Doc” Durant. The fifth and final season recently embarked on TCM UK; the first four are on Amazon Prime Video.
All aboard for more frontier railroading. The Yorkshire Dales may seem a long way from South Dakota, but in ITV’s ambitious new 1870s-set drama, the temporary town of Jericho – springing up around the construction of an enormous viaduct – exists in a similar sort of pre-governmental limbo, isolated from the prying eyes of civilisation.
That means various shady characters looking to conceal or reinvent themselves among the floating population, including Jessica Raine’s down-on-her-luck widow Annie and veteran-rail-wrangler-with-a-secret Clarke Peters. After a promising start, episode two promises even more licentiousness, including some good old-fashioned bare-knuckle scrapping.
One of Deadwood’s particular joys was its populous cast of cowpokes, gunslingers and stumblebums, and this handsome mini-series, set in the aftermath of the Alamo and directed by veteran Roland Joffé, could give it a run for its money. Among its manky ensemble are Bill Paxton and his amazing muttonchops, Brendan Fraser as a half-Native bushwhacker and the sinewy Kris Kristofferson as President Andrew Jackson, while wild-eyed Ray Liotta delivers a terrifying performance as a traumatised soldier conducting his own campaign of bloody vengeance against the Mexican army. Texas Rising screened in the US last year, and recently started on the History channel in the UK.
Deadwood’s nominal lead was Timothy Olyphant as Seth Bullock, a stiff-backed lawman newly arrived in town. Compared to the wily, unashamedly venal Al Swearengen, Bullock could seem a bit of a cold fish even when he was seething with rage. In the contemporary western Justified, Olyphant got to do it all over again as US Marshal Raylan Givens, moseying back to his home county in Kentucky. Only this time he was definitely the cool guy: quick on the draw and easy on the eye in a magnificent Stetson. Over the course of six fine seasons, Raylan tangled with a worthy, wordy nemesis in the form of Hateful Eight star Walton Goggins, but Justified never really found an audience in the UK, moving from Channel 5 to 5USA (which didn’t even bother screening its sixth and final season). The entire series is available on Sky On Demand and Now TV.
A beloved show cancelled too soon, given a delayed farewell in the form of a movie: with his sci-fi western Firefly (and its big-screen sequel Serenity), Joss Whedon has already negotiated the trail on which Milch now finds himself. While Firefly could never match Deadwood’s cable forcefulness, it is perhaps the only other TV show in living memory to offer up something comparably rich in terms of language. Milch’s intuitive turn of phrase – wondrous, ornate dialogue that leaned heavily on classical learning and emphatic F-bombs – made Deadwood utterly distinctive, but Whedon’s dextrous, musical cocktail of saloon-bar slang and whip-smart snark gave it a run for its money, enlivened by the intermittent use of Chinese-language curses such as “baboon’s ass-crack” to get around troublesome censors. The complete series of Firefly is available on Netflix.
Photograph: HBO/Everett/Rex Features
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