The demise of “Deadwood” is still depressing. The western drama’s abrupt end after just three seasons — following a bullheaded royalties dispute between HBO and co-producer Paramount — was one of the most surprising and bizarre injustices in TV history. Series get canceled all the time — sometimes early in their runs, because they weren’t generating big enough ratings to please the network, and sometimes very late, after years of financial and critical success (and creative wheel-spinning). The case of “Deadwood” was unique, and uniquely depressing. Its plug was pulled when it was one of HBO’s top-rated dramas and a critical darling with a lively, engaged fan base. There was talk that the show might finish out its projected five-year run with a couple of TV movies, but it never amounted to anything. And after a few months, with the show’s immense cast dispersed and the sets torn down, it soon became clear that this was a fantasy that would never come true. “Deadwood” was dead, and it was never coming back.
But with the release of the complete series on Blu-ray, fans can experience the next best thing to new episodes: the chance to see the whole thing again through fresh eyes.
Granted, this is what Blu-ray boosters claim the format does for everything: movies, concerts, sporting events, nature footage, you name it. And to greater or lesser degrees, the boosters are always right; you do see more detail on Blu-ray, along with finer gradations of light, shadow and color. But TV shows with high production values such as “Deadwood” are in a unique, and in many ways more thrilling, class; watching them in high-definition is not like rewatching a feature film that you originally saw on a big screen — a restoration of detail, a return to an ideal, original state. No, this is akin to getting a chance to stand close to a huge, elaborate mural that had previously been seen only in photographs, and admire the texture of the paint and the precision of the brushwork.
This is definitely the case with “Deadwood.” The series was carefully lit, shot on 35mm film, and funded by one of the more generous budgets in TV history. Milch’s set-builders, costumers and set decorators invested the title locale with more detail than the pixelated murk of regular TV could reveal. Blu-ray lets you appreciate tactile nuances of clothing, architecture and skin that once were submerged in electronic broth. The fine brushwork was always there. We just couldn’t see it.
(click to continue reading “Deadwood” rides again – HBO – Salon.com.)