Some things just go together. Peanut butter and jelly. Ashford & Simpson. Cursing and Deadwood. The third pairing has received considerable attention ever since the scurrilous Western debuted on HBO last year. But I suppose that’s what happens when you use the word c—sucker 38 times in a single episode. (Thirty-eight times!) Throughout the bonus features on the Deadwood: The Complete First Season DVD set, the talent tells how the vernacular is, in fact, not gratuitous, but rather a historically accurate portrayal of potty-mouthed prospectors. ”The relentless obscenity of the miner was a way of announcing the compatibility of his spirit with the world in which he found himself,” explains creator David Milch. The curses may be thrown out freely on Deadwood, but never haphazardly, he explains — each expletive is scripted in a particular spot with a particular motivation. ”You put one f— in the wrong place,” says actor Ian McShane on one of the four commentary tracks, ”and you’re f—ed.”
McShane should know. He puts the ”swear” in sin-peddling saloon owner Al Swearengen and is on the delivering end of most epithets. Whether choking a hooker/lover with his foot or administering a mercy killing to an ill minister, Swearengen is the most fearsome and fascinating TV character in years. (How the Emmys managed to ignore the performances of both McShane and Keith Carradine as gunslinger Wild Bill Hickok would be beyond me…if they weren’t the consistently out-of-touch Emmys. At least the Golden Globes gave McShane a trophy last month.) In a land (or a country, seeing as Deadwood wasn’t considered U.S. soil) without laws, it is Swearengen who runs the show, and watching him govern in blood, babes, bribes, and booze is a joy. A f—ing joy.