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Over the last 20 years or so, HBO has produced some of the finest television of all time. Deadwood, which ran for three seasons from 2004 to 2006, is among the best of these offerings, up there with Oz and Six Feet Under. The show ended abruptly and, ever since, fans have clamored for its return. Now it is back for a one off movie.
The movie picks up a few years after the end of the show, with the town preparing for South Dakota’s impending statehood. There is a nod, here, to classic westerns and one of the classic western themes: the closing of the frontier. Some of the best movies in this genre, such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Wild Bunch, have been about that moment when the west stopped being wild, when the anarchy of life on the frontier was replaced by law and government. The three series of Deadwood showed the town in the classic Wild West period, and the movie indicates the passing of that period.
Personally, I liked the way the show ended. One of strengths of Deadwood was its honesty about life and human nature. Life seldom wraps things up neatly and the show just stopping as it did is probably the only way it could have stayed true to that realism. The finale of Cheers was a classic bit of television, but The Gem Saloon isn’t Cheers and Al Swearengen isn’t Sam Malone.
In that context, the Deadwood movie is probably as good as it could have been. While it provides closure for a couple of the show’s main characters, it plays essentially like a long episode of the series. Sadly, this means some characters get short changed, but, overall, this is a worthy revisiting of one the great American television series.
John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.