Television, in general, is occasionally entertaining, sometimes educative, and satisfyingly unchallenging. The worst television (generally network) is puerile, cliché, sanitized, bereft of substance, and mind-numbing. HBO’s Deadwood represents the best television because it is all that the worst is not—sophisticated and complex, cynical, vulgar and filthy in both language and image, and challenging to watch. I have to watch each episode twice in order to a) understand what the characters are saying, b) understand what they mean, and C) understand the basic plot. But therein lies the pleasure.

Deadwood is called by Newsday reviewer Verne Gay, “a terribly, terribly hard show to love.” Elsewhere, however, Deadwood has been called “Shakespeare in the mud,” and it is true that nowhere else on television can one find dialogue that is so richly and beautifully formed, yet constantly peppered with the worst profanity (every one of George Carlin’s seven). Indeed, Al Swearengen is some strange combination of Iago, Falstaff, and maybe Prospero, with Dan as his unrelenting Caliban and Trixie as a very odd Ariel.

In addition, Deadwood adds to the tradition of westerns that are more than westerns because they achieve a kind of mytho-realism through sometimes campy and equally inaccurate depictions that deconstruct the genre and challenge expectations. One need only compare Robin Weigart’s Calamity Jane with Doris Day’s to see this deconstruction in action. It is unfortunate that HBO has caved in to economic pressures and reduced the fourth season to two films. One hopes for better.

And for those who are completely clueless–here are the transcripts:

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