New Video Essay Celebrates HBO’s Deadwood, One of the Greatest Dramas in American TV History

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, “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.”

via Metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

John Wayne: 26 Free West­ern Films Online

Watch 7 New Video Essays on Wes Anderson’s Films: Rush­more, The Roy­al Tenen­baums & More

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.

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