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The 50 Best TV Dramas of All Time

5. Deadwood

Network: HBO
Air Dates: March 21, 2004 – August 27, 2006
Stars: Timothy Olymphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, John Hawkes, Jim Beaver, Brad Dourif, Paula Malcolmson, William Sanderson, Kim Dickens, Robin Weigert, Dayton Calle, W. Earl Brown, Powers Boothe, Keith Carradine

HBO's ferocious and poetic Deadwood, a historical drama spanning two years in the history of a frontier town in the Dakotas, had the richest use of language American telvision has ever experienced. The beautiful words put in the mouths of the lowlifes, prostitutes, and lawmen by David Milch and his team of writers attracted much attention for the show's liberal use of the words "fuck" and "cocksucker," but the deserve just as much scrutiny for their stunning power.

"If I bleat when I speak it's because I just got fuckin' fleeced." That's saloon owner Al Swearengen (played with fierce intelligence by Ian McShane) speaking coarse and quotable in damn near iambic pentameter. Swearengen, like all of the show's components, has a basis in historical fact—this is one well researched beast you're dealing with. There was a real Deadwood. Wild Bill Hickok was killed there. The Gem saloon really stood on that bloody, muddy ground.

But don't get stuck on the realness. The Deadwood created by the writers and actors involved with the HBO masterpiece is wholly theirs, a wonderful fiction where pimps deliver soliloquies whilst getting head, and profanity takes on a poetic dimension Shakespeare would've approved of. —RS

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