Deadwood dialogue -- F'ing bad writing?

I know there are plenty of Deadwood fans here, so let me ask what you think of the dialogue. When the series first started I watched it a while, and I really wanted to like it, but I finally had to quit watching when I couldn’t get past the hideously bad dialogue. It seems like just plain bad writing to me. Bad, bad, fucking bad writing.

There are two problems that keep me from enjoying the show:

  1. The fucking bad use of fucking curse words in the fucking dialogue. Fuck. I have no problem with liberal, even gleefully plentiful use of Fuck and any other curse word they can think of. But they use them so poorly that the it sounds very artificial to me. Rather than using the curse words as any normal person would, sprinkling them into conversation for emphasis or to fill voids when your vocabulary is too weak, it seems the writers put them in almost at random. So for instance, a character says something like this (made up but I think it’s representative): “Fucking get your fucking ass the fucking cunt over the fuck here, cockcucker fuck.” It ends up sounding very artificial and strained to me, like a 10-year-old trying to sound naughty, so much that it becomes a real distraction. As opposed to, for instance, the Sopranos, in which people cuss plenty but it sounds natural, the way people really talk.

  2. The show is extremely effective at recreating the gritty, filthy, rough and tumble reality of a frontier town and all the rough characters that inhabit it, so why do even the least educated and most ill-bred characters talk as if they’re doing Shakespeare in the park? I know some of the lead characters are relatively well educated and could be expected to speak in a formal manner, but it seems every last person there, down to the retarded drunk wallowing in mud and horse shit, speaks with the most eloquent phrasing and formal diction. (With plenty of “fuck” and “cocksucker” thrown in at random, of course.) I remember the scene from a season or two ago in which the town drunk ended up shooting Wild Bill, and when confronted about it, this pitiful guy who was so drunk he didn’t know what he was doing responded with something like “Pray tell, dear sir, please inform me as to my liability in this matter at hand.” (Someone will correct me with the actual dialogue, but my point is that it was absurdly formal for someone who probablly couldn’t speak that well even when he wasn’t drunk and throwing up on himself.)

Anyone else have the same problem with this show? Or am I ignorant of some key fact about how Old West denizens all spoke wonderful English but could only use curse words randomly?

Badly written? What planet are you from?

I agree that the dialog style is different than most, but I think it’s brilliant. The way they turn the phrase, even with “fuck” being every third word, is so much fun to hear. It might not be to your taste, but I think it’s a long way from being badly written.

Because they are doing Shakespeare, cocksucker.

If you really want to hear the bad use of obscenity, rent The First Nudie Musical (an underappreciated film that’s neither as bad as you think, nor as good as it thinks it is) and listen to the first line the director (played by real director and writer Bruce Kimmel) addresses his cast with. It’s a line made up of gratuitous obscenity spoken by someone who’s never used it before, and Kimmel does it perfectly.

Well everyone is entitled to an opinion… even if yours if wrong. :slight_smile:

The dialogue is ‘crafted’ more than any other show. Where and when the cursing happens isn’t random or childish, it is placed perfectly. As McShane is often quoted when asked about it “You pur a fuck in the wrogn palce and your fucked.”

Well, I’d say he’s fucked. :wink:
Not surprised to hear people disagree with me. Obviously there are plenty of Deadwood fans who think the writing is brilliant. And like I said, I really wanted to be a fan. Just can’t get pass this dialogue sounding really off to me.

As far as the Shakespearian language that is pretty deliberate, but then again if you look at teh letters written back then the average American’s taste in speech was rather, flowery.
Now mind you this coems from their letters… ie the only record we have is from literate people, we have no voice recording so the uneducated may not sound much different.

But this is a drama not a historical documentary. So yeah even the ignorant guys “cin talk purty like too.”

Personally I like the style of the language it makes this show quite unique, considering how old and worn out the Western genre is. Without the lofty talk and liberal sprinkling of swearing the show might not have stood out as much as it does.

(Mind you as a caveat the acting is outstanding and the story line is quite interesting. I think the language is the initail hook)

Even though they all speak “Shakespearian”, the characters still speak more and less intelligently relative to the other characters.

The doctor and Alma and the school teacher are distinctive from Al & the Sherriff who in turn are different than Jane and others.

Dang it! forgot to preview.
Another thing I can say about 19th century writings:
Cursive writing has a lot less typos in it…

Milch explains the use of obscenity in commentaries on the DVDs. Paraphrasing him, tough language lets the next guy know that you won’t be fucked with. It also helps define Deadwood. Normal rules of society don’t apply.

As for the flowery language, many of the characters speak normally. You don’t hear Elizabethan oratory from Johnny, Dan, Martha, Seth, Sol, Trixie, Joanie, Jane, Charlie, Hearst, or Ellsworth. Mostly it’s Al and Merrick, and words are bread and butter to those two.

Jombi, The line is : What’s my liability, Mr. Bullock? Hey, ain’t getting pissed on provocation? Not quite as flowery as you remembered.

I stand corrected. Not as flowery as I remembered, but still, I don’t think I could have come up with “liability” and “provocation” the last time I was drunk enough to shoot a man. It would have been more like this:

“Why’d you shoot him?”
“You shot a man.”
“I said you shot a man.”
“Oh. Well, what is my lia… my libel… my lie bill… Huh?”
“What are you trying to say?”
“Uhhhh. Ain’t pissing on provahnacasheeunnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn?”
“He pissed on me. Can’t I shoot him?”
But I suppose I would have sounded like the town moron when I spoke.

I describe it to people as obscenity-laden Shakespeare. It’s not intended to be an accurate representation of how the people actually spoke - it’s a style. And it’s fucking great. There are too few shows these days that make effective use of the soliloquy.

I’ve never seen the show, but I’ve seen my dad get drunk many a time. Just gets more and more eloquent, the drunker he gets. What’s funny is his comprehension gets worse and worse at the same time, so he goes through some pretty elaborate elocutions just to say “Huh?”

As a side note, I expect someone who’s had a lot of trouble with the law to be pretty familiar with the words “liabiity” and “provocation,” even if they’re not too clear on their proper applications.

Ahhh, this may hit on the disconnect I experience with the show. It seems that everything else about the show – visually, the circumstances they’re in, etc. – is meant to be ultra realistic but the dialogue isn’t. If that’s intentional, I guess that’s an artistic decision you either like or don’t like. For me, it’s a jarring contrast.
If the same Shakespearean dialogue were in a western featuring pretty women in clean dresses and cleanly shaved men in starched shirts, it wouldn’t see so out of place to me.
Of course, I probably wouldn’t like that show either. I guess I’m looking for the Deadwood realism with realistic dialogue.

I agree with you. Less thinking is required - to create a stronger impact takes more than repetitive badly-placed writing.

Another thing is that every Deadwood character has some Machevellian machinations going on and the way the characters express themselves about these machinations in such exacting and precise language makes it all that much more intriguing. I probably wouldn’t like this show if I just dropped into the middle of it. But since I have been watching from the beginning I can recognize when one character verbally slights another in a subtle yet again precise way and I laugh so hard I have to pause the DVR so that I don’t miss the inevitable next underhanded yet flowery dig. The vular language is just the top layer of this show. If you stick with it awhile it kinda fades into the background.

The OP is perfectly entitled to dislike the use of iambic pentameter, and certainly there’s a school of thought that says that it belongs in the rarefied air of Shakespearean dialogue than in a show about people being stupidly violent and led around by their peckers (although this school is compsed entirely or people who have eaither never read Shakespeare or, if they did, failed to understand it). But to say it’s bad writing is unsupportable. It’s good writing that you don’t like.


I like that I have to interpret the dialogue, and listen several times to get the gist, and ponder what the speaker means, and the intent of his words. In Deadwood, the words reveal character and intent. These are complicated people so their speech isn’t (usually) straightforward. The simpler people, like Dan and Johnny, just listen, like the rest of us. Plus, being straightforward can cause trouble. There’s no room for deniability. These people need a lot of room for deniability.

Like Hearst giving Al permission to go to war with Lee’s people in season two, and Al’s thrust and parry with Ms. Isringhausen. It was all between the lines.

OP here. After reading some of the explanations in this thread, I concede this point. Still not my cup of tea, but not bad writing.
Fucking cocksucker.

I have fucking tried to watch this fucking cocksucker of a show so many goddamned cocksucking fucking times I can’t fucking believe it. I’m not fucking goddamned lying either, just goddamned fucking last night my fucking cocksucker roommate & I fucking tried again. It’s fucking literally about fucking six goddamed fucking times I’ve watched this goddamed cocksucking show and not been been fucking able to get through more that 3/4 of the goddamed fucking series premiere.

I’m convinced it must be a good show, but I also just can’t get myself into it. I’m determined to keep trying though.