Tag Archives: Deadwood

A Serialized Man: The Narrative Pleasures of The Tobolowsky Files

When character actor Stephen Tobolowsky was a guest on the /Filmcast, a podcast which (as some long-time readers might remember) I’ve had the pleasure of taking part in myself, I remember being shocked at his level of preparedness: for his first show he watched several movies as research just to be able to offer as much to the conversation as possible, and he was both candid and conversational in regards to the subject at hand. I will admit to not knowing much of Tobolowsky’s work heading into that appearance, but his enthusiasm for that simple podcast gave me a great deal of respect for the man himself.

On its own, that would be enough to recommend his own podcasting project, The Tobolowsky Files, which is entering its second season this week. The podcast, produced by /Filmcast host and friend of the blog David Chen, is a series of stories about “life, love, and the entertainment industry;” it’s a new outlet for his enthusiasm, as he takes hours out of his week to write and record these stories for us to enjoy. The stories are reflections of his personality, hilarious but also able to delve into more emotional territory, and there is a genuine honesty about the podcast which completely erodes any sense that he is simply reading a script. These podcasts are not so much performances as they are expressions of emotions, and the result is a really great way to spend roughly a half-hour of your time each week.

However, I had expected to be entertained: I knew Stephen was a gifted storyteller (he produced a movie, Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party, which is built around this ability), so of course he can spin a good yarn. What shocked me, however, was that this podcast has become an extended serialized narrative, turning his past into an ongoing story which has me more involved than I could have imagined. I figured I would enjoy episodes talking about his time in the entertainment industry or his experience on Deadwood or Glee, but I did not expect that I would get sucked into his past, terrified of being spoiled about how certain stories about life and love end.

And that’s something I never expected from a podcast: a true triumph of storytelling from a master of the art form, and something that lovers of narrative storytelling should certainly be listening to.

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Justified – “The Collection”

“The Collection”

April 20th, 2010

I don’t have anything particularly important to say about last night’s episode of Justified, but since I didn’t talk about last week’s episode (featuring the introduction of Raylan’s father and aunt/stepmother), I figure it never hurts to stop by and say that I continue to dig the series, and continue to not quite “get” the response that the show is too “procedural” or some other word for “less interesting than highly serialized drama series.” [See: my piece a couple of weeks ago]

Jamie Weinman has often gotten after me (and others) that there are certain shows where using the word procedural seems ill-advised: he argues that the term refers to the procedure of solving a crime (or a medical mystery), and that for shows which are “standalone” but don’t take that form it isn’t an accurate description. I’ve always understood his point, but it’s hard to resist that binary of procedural and serialized when it comes to the current television landscape.

However, “The Collection” (and to some degree last week’s “The Lord of War and Thunder”) demonstrates that while you could argue that Justified is more “standalone” than FX’s previous serialized stories, it is very difficult to argue that it is more procedural. While there are cases to be solved on the series, the episodes do not end when those cases come to their conclusions – they continue on to ponder something larger, considering the events of the episode on a scale larger than the procedure of the U.S. Marshall service and developing a more complicated series than early doubters imagined.

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Summering in Deadwood: “Sold Under Sin” (The End of Season One)

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Summering in Deadwood: “Sold Under Sin”

Season One, Episode Twelve

[A note before we move on: friend of the blog Todd VanDerWerff is going through the show from a different perspective than I am, having already seen it, and is recapping the show for The A.V. Club. You can check out his thoughts on the first three episodes there - I am sure they are far more entertaining than my own.]

Just as I expected, there was a moment in Season One of Deadwood where my ability to successfully stop after each episode to blog about it, or to find enough time after watching a disc to sufficiently try to summarize where things were going to that point, pretty much disappeared. This isn’t a sign that I have become disinterested in the show, or even necessarily that I was so engrossed that I couldn’t take the time to stop. Rather, it was a combination from some “real world” commitments and the fact that this show may have some of the most unique pacing I’ve seen in a drama of this nature.

Admittedly, I’m used to watching The Wire in terms of my epic ensemble HBO shows go, and as such I got used to a single plotline denoting a season, and that plotline representing the plot that you could sort of follow your way through. In the process, you learn things about each character, the process serving as the main impetus while the characters react as seems necessary, often times to tragic or at the very least suspenseful results.

But what I’m learning watching “Sold Under Sin” is that Deadwood operates differently: yes, each season represents more one large storyline than any small selection of storylines contributing to a whole, but what sets Deadwood apart is that there isn’t really a plot to speak of. While the show’s finale shows the outside world infiltrating this lawless camp more than it has before, the show has been clear from the beginning that this was an inevitability, rather than anything we would find surprising or that would bring forth surprising behaviour from these characters.

On some level, this would be a complaint about another show: I can’t think of a single characters whose path has fundamentally surprised me, or gone in a different direction than I expected, and the show has relied almost entirely on nuance and performance in terms of its characters fulfilling predetermined destiny more than charting their own path. The show’s plot, meanwhile, has moved so slowly that a majority of its more explosive conflicts are left entirely absent from the finale, left smoldering while smaller and more recent conflicts prove the most dramatic in the episode. If we were to judge this finale based on these qualifiers, expecting dramatic shifts in character or plot resolution, “Sold Under Sin” is an abject failure.

But, just to be clear, this isn’t a show that should be judged on those qualities: those acting nuances are just plain compelling, the performances coming alive in this episode as in every episode right in line with Milch’s particular brand of dialogue, and the smoldering embers of conflict in the town are so full of potential that it was all I could do, even finishing the finale as the sun rose, to keep from popping in the first disc of Season Two.

And isn’t that the right way to judge a show, especially one which has clearly not yet begun (and considering its cancellation might not end) its journey?

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Summering in Deadwood: “Reconnoitering the Rim” and “Here was a Man” (Season One, Episodes Three & Four)

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“Reconnoitering the Rim” and “Here was a Man”

Season One, Episodes Three & Four

I didn’t really intend for this feature to be quite this dominant on the blog when I started it: I know that some readers don’t watch Deadwood, or have already seen Deadwood and don’t really care if I’m watching it, but with very little new television combined with a little bit of downtime ahead of some intense thesis editing, I’m burning through Deadwood at a fairly brisk pace (I swear that when I wrote this it wasn’t intended as a pun). I had expected this to happen, to be honest, but I also expected that like last summer (when I tore through The Wire similarly quickly, if not more quickly) I would be so obsessed with moving on that I wouldn’t take the time to sit down and write something about it.

However, perhaps because part of me regrets not writing more about The Wire, or perhaps because Deadwood is its own monster in terms of its plotting and is proving increasingly captivating, here I am: I’m likely to do two episodes at a time from here on out, and still maintain the ability to cut off a few episodes if I feel like I don’t have anything new to add, but considering the show’s pacing as well as the lack of a moment of “lost time” it definitely feels like a show that is always going to be showing you something important, whether it seems like it at first or not.

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Summering in Deadwood: “Deep Water” (Season One, Episode Two)

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“Deep Water”

Season One, Episode Two

There will be no deep thoughts here, as this episode was very much a transition episode as opposed to anything particularly revealing about characters or “plot,” but I’ve got some time to kill at the end of this shift and figure I’ll drop a few thoughts off – spoilers after the jump.

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Summering in Deadwood: “Deadwood” (Season One, Episode One)

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Summering in Deadwood: “Deadwood”

Season One, Episode One

For those of you who don’t know, I came into television fairly late in life: rather than a lifelong obsession, my love for television really only arrived in 2004, with Lost and Veronica Mars amongst other shows providing a sudden awareness of the breadth of television available. Sure, there had been a few shows that had been appointment television before that point, but suddenly there was a desire to watch everything that was out there, a desire which eventually drove me to start this blog and, well, the rest is history.

However, in the process, there have been shows I’ve missed, a problem that takes longer to rectify when you’re watching so many shows currently airing and perhaps worst of all, also dealing with commitments to the real world. A lot of these shows happen to have aired on HBO: being both young and Canadian, my access to shows like The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, or The Wire was limited by resources, and there just wasn’t the drive to start catching up on them. Now, however, I find myself entering into a critical discourse wherein these shows (in particular The Wire and The Sopranos) are scarily prevalent, and so I’ve felt obligated to play catch up, and have picked up the DVDs whenever I’ve spotted a sale. As a result, last year I caught up on Six Feet Under (well, until I got frustrated and stopped mid-5th season), and spent a whirlwind few months with perhaps the best piece of television I’ve ever born witness to, The Wire.

This summer, after an informal twitter poll confirmed what I was likely to choose if left to my own volition, I shall be confronting the fourth part of this HBO twenty-first century grouping, David Milch’s Deadwood. It’s a show that I’ve heard extremely good things about, but also one that I am fairly ignorant of: I knew the basic premise, and knew the actors from various roles since the show ended (supposedly) prematurely, but my sense of the show’s general direction or message is pretty well a clean slate. I feel as if that’s a pretty good way to go into the series, although one that will admittedly make this post and others potentially less interesting for those who have already seen the show.

Summering in Deadwood is not going to be an overly formal review format, outside of my usual verbosity; I don’t expect I’ll review every single episode, focusing instead on likely some quick Twitter notes and reviews of the episodes which stand out for any particular reason, whether they be plot, character, or some sort of response which feels as if it is worthy of some discussion.

And to start things off, “Deadwood” is certainly worthy of some discussion.

[WARNING: I haven't seen the show, and have not gone beyond the episode being written about - as a result, PLEASE refrain from spoiling anything to follow, although some subtle teases are allowed presuming they don't ruin any surprises to come.]

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