The Watcher - Counting corpses

HBO’s Deadwood and Kill Bill Vol. 1

“Guys like Westerns,” my boyfriend explained to me as we watched “Deadwood” (HBO, Sundays, 10 p.m.). His statement, although not profound, seemed to explain the appeal of the Old West as much as anything else I’ve heard about the series. But after several earnest attempts, I still can’t get into it.

Not to say “Deadwood” is bad. It’s like what the Pope supposedly said: “It is as it was.” Unlike the cleaned-up, fringe-wearing, ma’am-saying cowboy dramas of my dad’s childhood, “Deadwood” portrays filthy, gluttonous characters with dirty mouths. Take Al Swearengen (Ian McShane), local barkeep and whorehouse manager, who sweet-talks his victims with a whiskey and a girl. Then he plays them until he has their last cent or they owe him. He also sells gold claims, acts as the bank and is the man behind every dirty deal that goes down in camp. Hey, pimpin’ ain’t easy.

The R-rated characters tend to be less likable but somewhat more believable than “Bonanza” in the historical scheme of things. Clearly, Swearengen isn’t the sort of man you’d ask to watch your kids, but his raw ambition and ruthless tactics elevate him to most-fit-to-survive status in the Darwinian Old West. His competition is the strong, silent types, like Wild Bill Hickok (Keith Carradine) and Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant). While both men are out to line their pockets with some of the town’s gold, Wild Bill and Bullock can’t help but stand up for truth, justice and the American way. Or something silly like that. Most arguments end with a threat or a shootout, so death loses its emotional impact quickly. When a town is full of lying, cheating people, it’s hard to care when they get killed.

The writers try to give the corrupt characters redeeming qualities, but they’re too repellant to connect with the audience. Trixie (Paula Malcomson), one of the few female characters, is Swearengen’s top whore, or his bottom bitch, in the parlance of our times. In the first few episodes, she’s an accomplice in his schemes, but later she disobeys some orders and demonstrates her nurturing side. Julia Roberts may have worked wonders with the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold shtick, but we never heard a doctor tell her to rub ointment on her snatch like we do with Swearengen’s whores. Trixie and her used-up, diseased co-workers have as much appeal as road kill. In fact, the whole town is dirty, from the language to the dusty brown scenery. Maybe the sepia tones are meant to evoke the gritty nature of the Old West, but for this watcher, it makes the show as distant as the past.Quentin Tarantino’s movies may be the essence of hip, but he is such a pompous dork. Just watch the “Making of Kill Bill Vol. 1” special feature on the DVD release of Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Miramax, April 13) for proof. He just rambles about how he paid excellent homage to kung-fu movies while his mouth works around the words like he’s chewing cud and his hands excitedly flail like he’s swatting flies. For such an anticipated release, the DVD includes only a few special features. In addition to the prerequisite behind-the-scenes featurette, it includes other Tarantino movie trailers and live musical performances by the’s, the retro-looking Japanese all-girl band that played before Uma Thurman slaughters Lucy Liu’s army. The scarce features make this release a rental, not a purchase. After all, whenever there are multiple volumes of a movie, the box set is inevitable.