We live in a golden age of television, not just because technology lets us watch shows whenever we like, however we like — thus freeing shows from the tedious need to repeat past events every episode, or worse, to forego the idea of an overarching story entirely — but because technology provides us so many ways to talk about the shows as well. When else, for example, could a critic like Matt Zoller Seitz make the kind of thoughtful video essays he does for so wide an audience? He doesn’t even labor under the obligation to write only about current programs, and you can see the fruits of that freedom in his new video essay above. “A Lie Agreed Upon,” produced for the tenth anniversary of the debut of HBO’s Deadwood, examines the still-resonant neo-Western series created by television auteur David Milch, its genesis, its artistic accomplishments, and what it still has to say about society. “If you’ve read my work,” writes Zoller-Seitz on his blog at RogerEbert.com, “you know I never miss an opportunity to work Deadwood into the conversation, as a legitimate point of comparison with other shows or films or because I just love talking about it.”
Zoller-Seitz channels this critical compulsion into “a stand-alone, nearly half-hour-long piece, co-produced with HitFix, that looks at the show’s style and major themes, as well as its roots in different genres, including the Western and the gangster picture.” On that page, you can even read the essay’s annotated script, which gives you a look at the thought behind this short but rich exegesis on “one of the greatest dramas in American television history,” a show that, though originally conceived for an ancient Roman setting, flawlessly made the transition to a story of “the founding of civilization” in post-Civil War South Dakota. Going from “lewd farce” to “comedy of manners” to “political drama,” Deadwood holds fast to the theme of the basic truths, real or imagined, around which society coheres. After running down the series’ rough-and-tumble cast of characters, most of them addicted to one primitive Old West drug or another — booze, laudanum, hope — Zoller-Seitz paraphrases Milch’s own thoughts on the subject: “A community’s collective agreement on certain principles can be yet another kind of intoxicant — perhaps the most powerful one of all.”
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.