Man, I don't know if I am going to be able to stay awake for baseball tonight. At least I've had a chance to zoom through some things on the TiVo. I have been saving the last episodes of "Deadwood" from this summer's run to digest slowly and with proper concentration. Well, that's only part of it. The other part is the crushing disappointment I am sure I am going to feel when I reach the end of the season. I have no idea how HBO and David Milch managed to completely ruin the future of a show that most smart actors would trample their families to get a guest spot on, but Milch seems to have decided that a comedy about surfers (really) is more worthy of his time. HBO seems to be too proud to give Milch all assurances that he can continue doing "Deadwood" at his own pace while guaranteeing that "John from Cincinnati" will get a fair shake as well. This is tragic, as there's no imaginable way the promised two two-hour "Deadwood" movies can properly wrap up the storyline. What's more, "Deadwood" is so devastatingly effective as series television that I fear the movies can only spoil its spell. The hectic, impressionistic genius of Milch's balls-to-the-wall approach to writing each scene of the show up to and in some cases during its filming doesn't seem as if it will quite carry over to movies. "Deadwood" is such an incredibly rich show to watch because of its leisurely way of developing the main story, filled as it is with characters to whom dissembling and fillibustering are survival mechanisms. After being utterly bewildered my first time through the first season, I've taken to simply appreciating the dialogue on initial viewing and waiting to follow the larger shape of things until I've digested each individual episode two or three times. What's funny is that even though "Deadwood" to me becomes a greater and greater pleasure the more I view and re-view it, I'm deeply sensitive about losing it. It won't be until the third season comes out on DVD that I will really get to dig into the guts of it, and that will likely lead to further study of the first and second seasons.
As it so happens, while the rising hostilities between Swearengen and Hearst (Gerald McRaney, who compared to this is completely wasted on "Jericho") make for a compelling central thrust, the subplots in season three of "Deadwood" have kind of lost me. I love Brian Cox, but Langrishe and his troupe of actors are a little much even for this notoriously long-winded show. I haven't quite grasped the significance heaped upon moving the children from the schoolhouse. It seems like all they talk about some episodes. It also seems like some tertiary characters are getting screen time which might be better saved for Alma, Ellsworth, Charlie, or my personal favorite, the loathsome E.B. Farnum. Then again, when I first watched the second season I didn't enjoy anywhere near as much as the first. On DVD, the second time through it sparkled, and the third time, it outright ripped. "Deadwood" is very much a forest-for-the-trees kind of show, and I don't know how well that will translate to the limited running time it has left to settle things. Will there be time for all of the sidelong little glances into the camp's wretched working class life? Will there be enough dead air to spare for Sheriff Bullock's monumentally awkward conversations with the formidable Mrs. Bullock? What's great about "Deadwood" is you can pick a rank-and-file cast member at random, say W. Earl Brown's ethical hatchet man Dan Dority, and you can pick a scene where that actor and character seem like the heart of the show. I don't know if four hours, less credits, less sneak peaks of "John from Cincinnati," will be enough to keep that feeling alive.
"30 Rock" was brutal again tonight. Two unoriginal sitcom plots, plus Tina Fey is just completely useless at physical comedy. Also if Fey is going to keep finding a pretext to put her supposed ugly duckling character in a ball gown every damn week, what little development was there to begin with is going to be shot to hell. Alec Baldwin is still great though. As for the rest of the cast, Tracy Morgan has rapidly become scenery, and the show seems to change its dynamic every week. Jane Krakowski wasn't even in this one, Judah Friedlander is just counting on his appearance to get laughs at this point (which kind of works, see Date Movie, or better yet, don't), and the other talking heads haven't moved past the black guy, the bald guy, and the gay guy status yet. Meanwhile I may be the only person in the universe who thinks that "Twenty Good Years" is at all funny. The last few episodes haven't made me laugh as much as the pilot did, but Lithgow is always good for at least one amusing temper tantrum per act break and what they lack for in writing they've covered with fabulous stunt casting. Jane Leeves as a sex bomb! Tim Russ as a human! I love it.
I can't help it, I'm worried about "Veronica Mars." While none of the first few episodes of the third season have been individually objectionable, the shift to smaller running mystery arcs just seems like a bad idea. Since there's not enough time to compellingly introduce a lot of suspects and red herrings, the possibilities for resolutions that are both logically and dramatically satisfying seem quite remote. It seems like Rob Thomas and his staff could pull it off if only they could put more of an emphasis on the characters and less of a lead foot on the plot development pedal, but the penurious CW network limits them there by not allowing a full cast complement for every episode. This was fine early on in the series when it was Veronica vs. the world, but that model isn't consistent with the point to which the show has grown. It's distracting when Mac or Wallace vanishes for a couple of weeks. It's true that like "Deadwood" "Veronica Mars" is a show that plays way better on DVD when you can really geek out and watch episodes one after another. For this show, we really ought to be able to have the best of both worlds, though. And it would be really nice if enough eyes flipped over that the CW could commit to actually giving all the cast members full-season contracts and not just Kristin Bell, Jason Dohring, and Enrico Colantoni next season. I love the "Mars" that has been and I wouldn't change any of it for the world, not even the Paris Hilton episode. But in order to be one of those rare shows that can completely change gears and continue to be top-notch entertainment, "Mars" needs its network to have a little more faith. And for people to go buy the first- and second-season DVDs, which are often on sale for twenty dollars at Target. Seriously, people. You have no excuse. Go now!