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Frances Traynor: Welcome to Deadwood, where language is fouler than the bottom of a sewer; DEADWOOD Sky One, Tuesday.

Byline: Frances Traynor

OH, the Deadwood stage is a-rollin' on over the plains, with the curtains flappin' and the driver slappin' the reins.

And Calamity Jane a-cursing like a drunken sailor. And whores a-shooting clients. And with back-stabbing, double-crossing varmints everywhere you turn.

Well, Deadwood certainly didn't look or sound anything like this when Doris Day was a vision in buckskin chaps warbling about Secret Love.

Welcome to the real Deadwood, where the language is fouler than the bottom of a sewer, where everyone is after a fast buck and where the rules of polite society do not apply.

In fact, in HBO's rather splendid return to the Old West, Deadwood is nothing more than a shanty town of hastily-erected buildings and tents which are filled with thieves, conmen and hookers.

Thar's gold in them thar hills, or so they believe, and every last one of them intends to make their fortune.

Making his fortune faster than everyone else is saloon owner and whore-master Al Swearengen (Ian McShane, right, who is coolness personified as the vicious Al).

Forget any notion that in the Wild West were guys like Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper in white hats, riding to the rescue of homesteaders in trouble from outlaws.

The reality is everyone is an outlaw in Deadwood - the town is in Indian territory and so lies outside the laws of the United States.

And life for everyone is brutal. In some cases brutally short, as for those unfortunate settlers who decide to return to the safety of Minnesota only to be scalped on their way home.

If nothing else, Deadwood looks brilliantly realistic - crowded streets packed with people, horses, tents and stalls selling everything from bedpans to shots of whisky.

But what sets Deadwood apart are its characters and fabulous dialogue, even if some of it is delivered in such lazy drawls that I spent more time rewinding than watching.

Yes, the language is choice - a mighty 73 obscenities in episode one alone - but a little cursing didn't do no-one no harm, no sirree.

It's no surprise that HBO makes Deadwood.How come the Yanks can come up with aTV channel that is a byword for quality? A channel that makes not just The Sopranos but Six Feet Under, Sex And The City, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Oz.

It's almost enough to make you want to flit to the States - but not quite.

Meantime, saddle up for what is bound to be a bumpy but thrilling ride back in time.

f.traynor@ dailyrecord.

co.uk
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 23, 2004
Words:423
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