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desdwood background

An exclusive excerpt from ‘TV (The Book),’ a definitive ranking of every show ever

By Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz

Whenever arguments are held about the best TV dramas of all time, and particularly of this modern golden age, Deadwood  — like Deadwood’s craven mayor, E. B. Farnum (William Sanderson), whenever there’s important scheming to do — gets left out. It’s not that people can’t recognize the brilliant performances, particularly by Ian McShane as the show’s cutthroat antihero, bartending crime lord Al Swearengen, or the poetry of the dialogue by the show’s creator, David Milch. It’s that Deadwood ran only three seasons when Milch had been very publicly angling for at least four, and that HBO’s promise of two sequel movies was never fulfilled. How can a show that finished so abruptly, and in such a messy fashion, possibly compete with a Sopranos or a Wire, whose creators got to end their creations on their own terms?

Easy. Because messiness and an aversion to closure were parts of the deal with Deadwood from the start — and because the real-world furor over the cancellation obscures the fact that the actual ending Milch wrote under tough circumstances was as appropriate and true to the spirit of the thing as anything he might have devised if he’d had a couple of more years to think about it.

Not that Milch — a devout believer in the notion that when men plan, God laughs — was ever much for long-range preparation. The series is not only TV’s great unfinished masterpiece, but its greatest improvised masterpiece, with many of those incredible lines of dialogue — “What a type you must consort with, that you not fear beating for such an insult” — dreamed up only days, or even hours, before the actors spoke them before HBO’s cameras.

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Why ‘Deadwood’ Is a Top-10 TV Show of All Time
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Why ‘Deadwood’ Is a Top-10 TV Show of All Time
Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz have been writing about television for more than 40 combined years. They were colleagues at The Star-Ledger newspaper for years, and have since gone on to become two of the best-known TV critics in the country at Hitfix and Vulture, respectively. They’ve teamed up for TV (The Book): Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time, out next week. How do two experts make their picks? Their methodology is detailed below, followed by an entry from their top 10 rankings on HBO’s meta-western saga Deadwood. Where does it rank? You’ll have to buy the book to find out.

September 24th, 2016

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