In the wake of this report the David Milch appears to have gambled away an unimaginable sum of money and as a result is pushing hard to get a Deadwood movie going. I binged his two lightly watched follow ups to Deadwood, John from Cincinnati and Luck, to see if they held up. The answer is yes they do, provided you are attracted to Milchian drama to begin with.
This is my third viewing of John from Cincinnati and, if anything, I am even more impressed at the vision behind it. Milch always seems to start with the highest of concepts and John... was the highest of the high. Set amongst a severely dysfunctional family damaged by a chain of cruelties committed against one another, an oddball who calls himself "John" appears. He's a naive, autistic-seeming, nonsense-talker who turns out to be a Christ-like figure who impels the players to face and unravel the cruelties that lead them to where they are. I can't imagine understanding the purpose of this show other than through repeated watchings and close listening. It is dense, oblique, and utterly wonderful. It is also loaded with good humor. The acting can be atrocious -- Milch is famous for employing non-actors with a connection to the plot to have sizable roles. That's a mistake. On the other hand Ed O'Neill should have won an Emmy; Rebecca DeMornay, too. And of course, it featured that delightful Milchian dialogue. People mostly with low-end scrubs and hardcases, I remember at one point during a conversation one character was pacing about and the other tells him to "alight." Not "chill out," not "sit your ass down" -- "alight." Beautiful.
The long term plan for John... was to follow this theme of redemption to a point where John would avert a genocide, or something of the sort, through his work at healing. As with Deadwood, Milch was following the ways in which society organizes itself under unusual circumstances. Only Milch could turn that into a quality adult drama. Only Milch would even think to try something like that.
Of course, it died on the vine, as would any TV show that takes multiple viewings to "get". To me however, it was heroic.
Luck in contrast was a good deal more conventional. Centered in and around the Santa Anita horse racing track, it was certainly close to Milch's racehorse gambling, and racehorse owning, heart. On this one he shared credit with none other than Michael Mann, he of the terse, highly-styled, crime dramas (Miami Vice, for one) fame. What we have here are a whole slew of interlocking characters and themes -- too many to go through individually. Lots of star power also, as might be expected with the drawn of a Milch/Mann creation.
Two of the threads were notable for the scenery chewing actors. Dustin Hoffman and Dennis Farina as a pair of aging, shady businessmen trying to settle an old score. This was one of Farina's last works and he just plays his standard Dennis Farina role which is great to watch. Another thread featured Nick Nolte, about as grizzled as a human can be, playing an aging horse trainer with a final shot at redemption.
But the most Milchian thread is the story of four broken down losers suddenly hitting a big score. It runs nearly counter to every narrative you have ever seen in that nothing bad happens and things just get better. They start out at the bottom of the barrel, make a big win, parlay it into something bigger, make sure they are loyal and helpful to everyone who's been in their corner, and by the end of the season the were virtually fully integrated members of society, with girlfriends and thoughts of moving into a nicer place with a lawn. It is very affecting but it only jumps out at you when you think about the arc. I repeat: nothing bad happened to them. Name another narrative on TV, or the movies for that matter, where you entered at the low point and everything was up from there -- nobody got a cynical beatdown, no hopes and dreams were dashed. I've never seen anything like it and it strikes me, once again, as the sort of thing only Milch would think to do.
Anyway, Luck was killed after two horses died on the set. There were no allegations of mistreatment and it was obvious to anyone who saw the show that everyone involved with the production had a complete reverence for horses. But HBO took the coward's way out and cancelled the series.
So now we're looking at finally getting those Deadwood movies we were promised upon the cancellation of the series. And Milch is onboard, perhaps pushed to make some money lost gambling. The difficulty is rounding everyone else up. Tim Olyphant might find enough free time, but Ian McShane is a seriously busy dude with a new series starting up.
Find a way. Twist arms, grease palms; do whatever you have to. Bring back that lusciously profane, quasi-metered dialogue. I'll eat up every second of it.