- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

HBO’s wild Western

The first thing viewers of HBO’s new “Deadwood” will notice is that the show’s ripe language isn’t so different from what we hear on “The Sopranos.”

Sure, plenty of people get whacked in the new HBO series, too, but hearing so much profanity in this very wild West jolts us out of the world the series painstakingly recreates.

Executive producer David Milch (“NYPD Blue”) insists that cowpokes in outlaw territories talked bluer than the worst shock jock. But the salty dialogue throughout the series, which bows at 9 p.m. Sunday, sounds more like profanity circa 2004 than anything a cowboy might say.

Anachronistic dialogue aside, the series nails the period details, aided by a cast that looks authentic by the standards of your typical Western yarn.

Set in 1876 in South Dakota, “Deadwood” begins a few weeks after Gen. George Custer’s defeat at Little Big Horn, fusing historical figures with fictional ones.

The outpost, which the law has yet to reach, attracts an array of seedy types, including an unscrupulous saloon owner (“Sexy Beast’s” Ian McShane) and “Wild” Bill Hickock (Keith Carradine, a minor casting coup). Even better is Timothy Olyphant (“Gone in 60 Seconds”) as reticent gunslinger Seth Bullock, a man whose intentions seem the most noble of the lot. Mr. Olyphant’s eyes brim with mischief and danger, and it’s a wonder we haven’t seen more of him before this.

The series opener, directed by Western veteran Walter Hill (“The Long Riders”), introduces us to a crush of characters looking for their own piece of the fledgling American dream. This dense plotting is a far from welcoming introduction to the series, although the acting and set design deserve special mention.

“Deadwood” is even more grim than HBO’s “Carnivale.” The new show exists only in shades of brown, and the casual violence toward the unlucky ladies in the cast may scare away some viewers. One exception is Robin Weigert, whose Calamity Jane is even feistier than Renee Zellweger’s Oscar-winning turn as “Cold Mountain’s” Ruby.

Like “Carnivale,” “Deadwood” is another first-class production from the cable network, but earnest productions don’t necessarily translate into arresting ones.

It’s too soon to tell which side of the fence “Deadwood” will land on.

Weber’s law

ABC debuts television’s umpteenth legal drama tonight for the first installment of a four-week trial run.

“The D.A.,” starring Steven Weber (“Wings”) as head of an L.A.-based district attorney’s office, airs at 10 p.m. The first episode finds the office catching heat when rumors connect it to the leaked identity of a major crime witness. The witness gets rubbed out on the eve of his testimony against a Russian mob boss.

The Associated Press reports that ABC will air four episodes and then decide whether it will add it to next season’s schedule.

Hershey’s ‘Mountain’

Barbara Hershey is following in fellow screen actor Treat Williams’ footsteps, all the way to the WB.

Miss Hershey is set to star in the network’s drama pilot “The Mountain,” Reuters News Agency reports.

“The Mountain” centers on a 25-year-old (Oliver Hudson) who inherits his family’s mountain resort when his grandfather dies. Miss Hershey will play the young man’s mother, and Anson Mount (ABC’s “Line of Fire”) his brother.

Miss Hershey, who earned an Oscar nomination for “The Portrait of a Lady,” recently starred in USA Network’s “The Stranger Beside Me.”

Mr. Williams is starring in the first season of the WB’s “Everwood.”

In other pilot casting news, Sharon Lawrence has come on board an untitled comedy pilot at ABC.

Miss Lawrence’s project centers on a young reporter (Colin Hanks of “Orange County”) who makes waves at a respected magazine. The project is based on columnist Joel Stein’s experience as Time magazine’s youngest reporter. The actress’s credits include “NYPD Blue” and “Fired Up.”

“Drew Carey” mainstay Christa Miller also has a new gig — she’ll star in an untitled comedy pilot at CBS.

Miss Miller’s project centers on a blended family, in which the parents (Andrew Kennedy, Miller) have conflicting points of view. Miss Miller also can be seen in a recurring role on NBC’s “Scrubs.”

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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