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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this harsh, brilliant drama isn't a romanticized Western. It pulls no punches about the brutality of life in the Old West and isn't for kids. Murder, drinking, drugs, and viciousness toward the vulnerable (especially women) are common. People have ugly experiences, use each other horribly, speak with unrepentant racism, and die violently. In its grittiness, however, the show delves deeply into complex, sophisticated themes that might intrigue mature audiences.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
DEADWOOD takes place in the late 1870s, just after gold was discovered in the Black Hills of what is now South Dakota. Desperate adventurers flocked to Deadwood -- most were trying to reinvent themselves, and many were gamblers, gunfighters, prostitutes, or those who might profit from providing or using those services. As the rough-and-tumble town of Deadwood lurches toward becoming a civilized society, its people (many of whom are based on actual 1870s residents) grapple with change in themselves, as well as how they fit in. The roles of women are especially volatile; both prostitutes such as Trixie (Paula Malcomson) and wealthy widow Alma Garrett (Molly Parker) try to carve out more independence but are affected deeply by the conventions of the times.
Is it any good?
The complexity and stark humanity of the characters in Deadwood -- along with the outstanding writing and outstanding performances -- make it an unforgettable series about how people live in a society utterly without law. It sets new standards for the Western drama and brings to life an era of American history that, seen for what it actually was, is all the more extraordinary.
Both to underscore the roughness of life in the lawless mining camp and to simulate how coarse language really was at the time, the dialogue includes rampant profanity and ethnic slurs. Similarly, the show depicts the racism of the times as a fact of everyday life. In the hands of less-adept writers, directors, and performers, this material might be offensive, but instead it's rich with realism.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the nature of good and evil as evident in each of the characters. And what motivates each character to be in a place as difficult as Deadwood? Is the opportunity they seek worth the price? Why? Do they all have opportunity? How were women and minorities (including Native Americans) treated? How have their roles changed since then? Does any of that treatment occur now? What does it take for a whole society to change?