VANCOUVER

Thursday, February 22, 2018

° ยป 5 day

Because we have been waiting for you for a decade

Carnivale, Deadwood, The Wire, The Corner

Deadwood

A few years ago I received one of those mailbox flyers from the cable company. It was an invitation to register for cable, get hooked up and get two months free T.V. The temptation was momentary, and by the time I had finished breakfast I had written my response on the reverse of the flyer in legible black marker …“Nice Try Swine.” I walked up to the store, bought a stamp and mailed that sucker back to those boob-tube panhandlers at Shaw Cable. It felt good. It felt clean. Long ago I forsook the addictive glow of the friendly box for two reasons: 1) to save money & 2) to save my soul. I think it’s worked on both accounts, and in this particular case I really feel like the little guy won. What especially makes me grin is that I can look back and think of all the money I’ve saved in order to blow it on necessities like beer and smokes, and know that today, if I was paying for cable I would feel like an idiot. Not only is “televisionland” filled with somebody else’s reality shows, which bug the shit out of me, but also, if you want anything good and with consistency you have to pay extra for it.

However, all this is changing because all of it’s now available on DVD and you can – at your compulsive leisure – watch whole seasons of shows from beginning to end without commercials, allowing for a cohesion and continuity in a medium traditionally composed of fragmented episodes and ruled by ignorant network scheduling. Skipping compulsively from episode to episode, this kind of experience is more akin to reading a novel than watching television. Different from a movie, larger, episodic series’ have more space and time for greater development so when the big changes come, if it is well written, the effect is more powerful. With a good drama, you can absorb yourself in thirteen hours of character investment and experience the bigger picture of a whole season’s development without being distracted or infuriated by cliffhangers and commercial interruptions. Whether it’s standard network shows like Arrested Development or even The Daily Show (however pointless), or pay per view specialty jobs like HBO with classics like The Sopranos or Six Feet Under, it’s all out there now, so why bother paying for tons of crap that you don’t want, don’t care about and never watch?

Years ago HBO set the new standard for television programming with The Larry Sanders Show. Met with critical success Home Box Office followed up with Sex in the City. The success of that show opened the door for the realization that there was indeed a market for adult focused programs that had what the industry refers to as “an edge”. Sex, cursing, frank examinations of good and bad relationships, it became the specialty channels’ flagship show. Soon after that came the mid-life crisis of a mob family in The Sopranos and then came Six Feet Under with it’s moving and morbid connection to death and life and T.V. aficionados never had it so good. HBO became the new soap opera heavyweight and the defining programmer of the dramatic series. With next to no studio interference, good writing and interesting characters, the folks at HBO are doing it right producing some of the most intelligent and creative television programming seen in a long time. Besides the obvious list of programs, there exists a secondary catalogue equal to anything else out there and consistently better than most other stuff ever offered. From seriously earnest and honest stories about the life on the street in America’s drug ghettos to a series set in the dustbowl days of the 1930’s, those cocksuckers at HBO have got a good thing going. So if you’re looking for gratifying time-wasting, there is enough stuff to get you through the summer without ever having to rent crap like Kinsey or any Jude Law movies.

Deadwood
Set in 1876 in South Dakota during one of the biggest gold rushes in American history the show follows the pioneers, whores, saloon owners and every assortment of fugitive, lawman and entrepreneur that ever sought a new life on the edge of the frontier.
Brilliantly conceived and written by David Milch (creator of NYPD Blue) Deadwood is filled with great characters brought to life by the combination of smart casting and great writing, Deadwood is both a new experience and a classic embodiment of the wild west town. Based on actual history, and balancing fact and fiction, Deadwood is a new kind of western, offering a world the classic western could only dream of. Crude, rude and often violent, the show revolves around those characters bent on making a life for themselves out on the edge of the world. The real Deadwood was an illegal town in the Black Hill of South Dakota. Despite a treaty between the U.S. government and the Sioux Nation prohibiting whites to enter the territory, when word of gold got out, prospectors, mercenaries and con artists of all kinds flocked to this forbidden land with the hopes of striking it rich. Off the legal map, in Indian Territory and unguarded by the US army, the town of Deadwood was a lawless and dirty place. A treacherous home, life there was tough and dangerous and blood spilled as often as the dice rolled. But the real depth and brilliance of the show comes from the rich character drama that develops and the delicately constructed social order that exists in the lawless, greedy town. In classic western style it is the lawbreakers versus the lawmakers. It quickly becomes the human struggle between those who want to rule in controlled chaos, and those who want to bring order. Milch makes the point about how the people living in such a tough land, were forced to be tough themselves and that in such a fragile and tenuous community, where fear and greed were motivating factors, morality was often ambiguous and for sale. With brilliant use of language and abundantly refined vulgarity, every profanity is scripted and the world that exists through incorporating real characters like Wild Bill Hickock, Seth Bullock from Ontario, and Al Swearengen, the real towns’ saloon, brothel and casino owner, is a volatile and perilous one. The show follows the lives and deaths of these characters, as they exist at the end of an age. Civilization is inevitably making its way to all corners of the continent, even to Deadwood and the balance of power that comes with it is as fragile and murky as the morality and mud that created the town in the beginning.

The Wire
Somewhat like the original Traffic series from Britain, this multi-layered cop drama explores the entire range of interconnectedness of everyone from junkies to judges as it takes a complicated look at the drug trade in Baltimore, Maryland. From street living junkies just trying to make it day to day to the organized gangs of peddlers and dealers in the notorious Tower projects, the show tentatively centers on the group of cops brought together to penetrate the drug trade ravaging the city’s streets. Time is spent developing each set of characters be they the sympathetic snitches trying to stay out of jail or the hardened gang bosses trying to secure a life for themselves in a seemingly hopeless world. But what is most interesting here is the humanity breathed into the characters. The police are not incorruptible or blameless, and often the motives for their actions are selfish and complicated. The first season focuses on a sting operation as the police try to monitor and build a case against the heads of the ghetto dealing drug gangs. To do this they arrest street level criminals, and use wiretaps to gather information. During the course of the season we follow the police as they race against time to solidify their case, but we also get to know the members of the gangs as they struggle to make a life for themselves in the only way they know how. The shows’ capacity to illicit sympathy for both sides is one of it’s strongest points and in a complicated world where the war on drugs has many causalities, there is little room for blind ideology.
The second season, though there are character continuities, moves us to the port in Baltimore. Seen here the port is the gateway to America, or at least to Baltimore’s streets, and in a port city like Vancouver it is easy to draw parallels between the events that unfold in the series and those that potentially happen here. The season begins with the Baltimore police department discovers a shipping container full of dead women, brought over to work as prostitutes. This disturbing event opens the door to the investigation of an even larger level of illegal activity. Focusing on the activities, both legal and illegal of the dockworkers, this season is one of the best television seasons around. Balancing Union bosses and the struggle of the blue-collar workers of Baltimore’s port with continued bureaucratic failures of the high ranking Police officers the show takes an honest and difficult look at the ethical compromises made by so many in order to try and sustain a living. Presented honestly, the characters in this season are real and believable, and the dilemmas they face are common the world over. At all levels, people are prepared to turn a blind eye to get a little extra. The dockworkers don’t ask what’s in the containers and the police chiefs don’t want to admit that the problem is out of control.

The Corner
Originally aired in 2000 The Corner is comprised of six individual episodes that follow a cast of drug addicts as they live out their lives on Baltimore’s nefarious streets. Written and directed Charles S. Dutton, an ex-convict who grew up on the streets in Baltimore and served seven years in prison for fatally stabbing a man in a bar fight, the show is a fictional recreation of actual people and events that Dutton and Wire creator David Simon experienced while living in the ghetto. With each episode titled as a “blues,” the show is convincing and disturbing, but is also intimate and humanizing in its depiction of the addicts that prowl the streets and wait for their next hit; on the corner.

Carnvivale

Carnivale Set in the dustbowl south of the 1930’s, Carnivale follows a traveling freak show and circus as it winds it’s way across a depression ravaged America. Those expecting a David Lynch inflected series will be disappointed, but the first season of the show is an original and poignant tale about a people and a time when modernity is on the way in and magic is on the way out. Along the way they pick up a boy who through the course of the season is somehow bound to magical past of the circus. Featuring freak show regulars like the bearded lady, the lizard man, strongmen, dwarves and mind readers, the carnies and performers of the traveling sideshow are guardians of a life that is being forgotten. But the magical arts have both a good and dark side and as the show develops we are introduced to those characters that inhabit both sides. Reinforcing the divide between magic and modernity is the character of an Evangelist, who in his quest for religious zeal encounters forces of a forbidden and dark nature. There is a mystery to be told through all of this and the relationships and conflicts between the character types who inhabit this drought-ridden time are a prophetic and metaphorical indictment of the direction civilization has taken us. In a world inhabited by freaks and outcasts, the show offers hope in the unknown and suggests that there is more to the order of the universe than the trivial sense of order humanity needs to find for itself.

  1. Cassie

    Thank you for including Carnivale in your article. It’s a shame that HBO did not see the richness and beauty of the characters, storytelling, acting, writing, and cinematography to continue witht he show after its second season.

    The story of Carnivale was to be a trilogy told over six seasons. Faithful viewers are left hanging at the end of Book 1. - Jun 28, 11:34 AM

  2. susan israel

    I am one of those people who very rarely watches Television.

    Because of Carnivale, I subscribed to HBO.

    I found Carnivale to be addictive… a true work of art. There has never been a show that has made me want to revisit it again and again. I truly miss it.

    My subscription to HBO has been cancelled due to Carnivale’s cancellation - Jun 28, 01:13 PM

  3. Morgan

    I also cancelled HBO because they cancelled Carnivale. And in addition to the comments that have already been made regarding this, I just want to add that anyone who also loved the show and would like to try to bring it back should visit www.savecarnivale.org. - Jun 28, 01:28 PM

  4. Laura

    You would think with all the empty time slots and bad programming that HBO does have that they would have kept Carnivale on as some truly unique and compelling programming. Alas, HBO has shown once again that bad taste does travel far and that the saying “It’s not TV, it’s HBO” doesn’t mean a damn thing. - Jun 28, 03:20 PM

  5. ashley

    Big errors. 1. Charles S. Dutton had absolutely nothing to do with writing “The Corner”. 2. It had absolutely nothing to do with Dutton’s childhood. 3. It was written by David Simon and Ed Burns, creators of “The Wire”. 4. Simon never lived in the ghetto. 5. It is not fictional at all…in fact, in the final episode, we get to meet some of the real people who were dramatized in the production. - Jun 28, 03:34 PM

  6. Amy

    Happy to see Carnivale here. Unfortunately, HBO’s programming is now (with the exception of Deadwood and the waning Six Feet Under) mundane, relative to what other networks are doing. When they decided to cancel Carnivale, they essentially decided their own fate on my living room television. - Jun 28, 05:04 PM

  7. Jason Tippitt

    “The Corner” is based on the book “The Corner: A Year of the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood” by David Simon and Edward Burns (a former Baltimore homicide detective), who then went on to create “The Wire.”

    Simon had spent a year trailing Baltimore’s homicide detectives to write his book “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets” (which inspired the NBC television series “Homicide: Life on the Street”). He met Burns then; on “The Corner,” they spent a year observing a drug corner, basically picked at random, and saw the lives of the dealers and the addicts unfold.

    Both books are brilliant reads, and have led to some brilliant television. - Jun 28, 05:15 PM

  8. Roberta

    Carnivale laid claim to my heart from it’s 1st episode and opened my eyes to such a rich story that was written with intelligence and made me think and talk about it like no other. The actors in this particularly moving drama were made to play their roles and the music is haunting. The timed building of the story was awesome. I want to see the entire story complete and finished so I will continue to do what I can with the guidance of the group Savecarnivale.org and remind myself that this was original programming at its best. Even now many are still discovering what a gem HBO had, and yet tossed aside. It is worth every cent that was used to create it and should have never been cancelled. - Jun 28, 06:39 PM

  9. bruce

    I’ll chip in with my 10 cents and echo the above thoughts on Carnivale – a real shame they cancelled it. Absolutely love Deadwood and the Wire and really looking forward to Rome this fall… - Jun 28, 08:28 PM

  10. DyAnne

    I cancelled my subscription to HBO the minute I heard Carnivale was not to be renewed. No show has ever come close to capturing my heart and soul the way Carnivale did. I miss it more than HBO will ever know. - Jun 29, 03:57 AM

  11. Farsider28

    I have not cancelled my subscription to HBO because I still love Deadwood and Soprano’s and I cannot live without them, sadly, but I also cannot live without Carnivale. Unfortunatley, when the AWESOME show was cancelled on HBO I had to find it out on the internet from savecarnivale.org, a new web site, and was I hot to realize that this whole time, for months I was waiting for the next season, telling people how wonderful the show was and what a powerful period piece drama it turned out to be, just to find out that HBO had once again fucked me in the ass because they feel they aren’t getting enought viewers. Possibly could one thing in this world for one time be about artistic expression and not the all-mighty dollar. (Not to say that i care about artistic expression really), but i guess i do selfishly care about Carnivale. I had to enjoy it alone because none of my friends appreciated the brilliance of this phenominal drama with me, but now I do see that people did like it just as much as I did, and I wasn’t just picking bad television like I usually do. - Jun 29, 05:12 PM

  12. john gammon

    i waited religously for the weekly deadwood and just kept waiting because it stopped with no warning. kinda like an enjoyable book that some asshole ripped the last chapers out. i dont even scan hbo now to look for shows - Jul 17, 10:58 PM

  13. bethany

    IM SERIOUSLY GOING TO KILL MYSELF, I CANT TAKE THIS ANYMORE I MISS IT SO MUCH - Nov 23, 04:59 PM

  14. bbshenry

    We’ve got a pretty good-sized campaign going on now to Save Deadwood (and, failing that, to stage a National Cancel HBO Day the day after Season Three ends). We’re trying to send thousands of letters, emails, phone calls, blog blurbs, etc. as well as raising money to place an ad in “Variety.”

    Every Hooplehead is needed to help Save Deadwood! Go to http://savedeadwood.net/index.htm and http://savedeadwood.net/pledge.htm and HBO’s Community Message Boards at http://boards.hbo.com/forum.jspa?forumID=30047&start=0 for more ideas on how to participate.

    It’s time we made some demands on HBO—to honor its promise, its mission, and its lifeblood—the beleaguered fans!

    - May 20, 01:03 AM

  15. Rae

    I really am disappointed beyond extreme in the choices that HBO has made. They promote themselves that they have innovative TV, but apparently left out the small print that the television they produce only has a short shelf life. I wonder if this is a new marketing technique possibly, or if they honestly don’t realize a true fan base when they have one. Deadwood, Sopranos, and Carnivale have made me realize what mainstream TV is missing. But once again HBO fails to follow through. I know if a company tells you that they have a wonderful product, and consequently lessen the integrity of that product, it lessens the faith that a consumer has in the company. Does HBO realize that when they produce excellent programming, and they pull that same programming, that they will, without doubt, lose a customer base that is loyal? I plan on following the end of the season for Deadwood, but I will cancel immediately following the final show.

    - Aug 7, 02:07 AM

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