Film and drama

Screen Themes: Deadwood the Movie vs GLOW (Season Three)

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It’s time for some streaming action, as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out the long-awaited Deadwood movie and the third season of ensemble dramedy GLOW.

Deadwood the Movie

Directed by David Minaham (2019)

Deadwood (the TV series) was an HBO production that ran for three seasons between 2004 and 2006, portraying the lives, loves and conflicts of the residents of a frontier town in the early days of American statehood. Featuring an ensemble cast of highly talented actors (Ian McShane, Powers Boothe, Brad Dourif, Robin Weigert) and a guy that was really good at playing an emotionally stunted bore (Timothy Olyphant) the series was critically acclaimed and loved by audiences.

Finishing after three seasons, due to a combination of rising production costs and increasing demand for featured actors (particularly McShane and Olyphant), rumours started almost immediately about a Deadwoomovie — or possibly even three movies. And then we waited. And waited. Finally, after almost a dozen years, Deadwood the movie is finally here. 

And it’s…. okay. I guess.

Set ten years after the events of Season Three, not much has changed in Deadwood. Al Swearengen still runs the Gem Saloon and swears like it’s poetry, Doc Cochrane is still an angry misanthrope, Calamity Jane is still a drunk, and Sol Starr still cops a lot of casual abuse just for being Jewish. The story picks up with mining magnate (and now politician) George Hearst (Gerald McRaney) returning to Deadwood, stirring up long held conflicts, particularly with Sheriff Bullock and Al Swearengen, still miffed by the time Hearst cut off his finger.

While Deadwood the Movie looks great, the storyline doesn’t feel particularly fresh. It’s great to revisit a bunch of classic characters, but wildly distracting that they’ve chosen to slather some of the characters in terrible old person makeup. This production choice seems particularly baffling when less time has passed in the Deadwood universe than has passed in the real world, which means, if anything, the characters should be made up to look younger rather than older.

GLOW (Season Three)

Created by Liz Flahive & Carly Mensch (2019)

It’s probably safe to say that when the creators of GLOW pitched the retro-women’s wrestling concept to Netflix, they didn’t expect to still be going three seasons later. Based on the real life Glorious Women of Wrestling promotion from the 1980s, the show steadily built an audience based on well-written characters and an unwillingness to force a happy ending.

Season Three finds the GLOW crew working at an off-strip casino in Las Vegas, doing the same show night after night and filling in their time getting to know the seedy underbelly of the gamblers’ paradise. The entire cast returns, led by the eternally optimistic Ruth (Alison Brie), self-destructive Debbie (Betty Gilpin) and jaded director Sam (Marc Maron), with Geena Davis joining the fun as casino owner Sandy Deveraux St Clair.

Where the first two seasons of GLOW focus on the wrestling side of life, Season Three changes tack to examine the lives, motivations and struggles of individuals. While this doesn’t always work, due to the sheer volume of characters, when it lands it’s amazing, particularly the episode where Tamme (played by real-life pro wrestler Kia Stevens, better known as Awesome Kong) slowly succumbs to the harsh toll that wrestling is taking on her body. Self-medicating with wine and pills, the look on her face when she’s told their contract has been extended by nine months is heartbreaking.

If there is one odd thing about this season of GLOW, it’s the frequency that the characters get their clothes off. While the first season flirted with this approach, it’s as if producers are trying to compensate for the lack of wrestling with an oversupply of boobs — gotta keep those high-value young males watching…

The Verdict

Your enjoyment of Deadwood the Movie will likely depend on a number of factors, including how recently you’ve watched the original series, how you feel about old-person makeup and your general attitude to Western Dramas. If you’re one of those viewers who revels in period detail and the lyrical quality of the language, you’ll find a lot to like in Deadwood, but if you’re hoping for a five star conclusion to a five star series, there’s a good chance you might be disappointed.

GLOW is one of those wonderful shows that can make you laugh and cry within the space of an episode. The cast are universally great, the plot twists are unexpected and you genuinely don’t know how the season is going to end. Unless you really hate the 1980s, female empowerment, or Las Vegas, I strongly encourage you to give GLOW a watch.

Deadwood the Movie — 6/10

GLOW Season Three — 8/10

Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller 'Damnation’s Flame'; action/romance 'Reaper', black comedy 'City Boy' and travel guidebook 'Bar Trek: Europe'. 'Damnation's Flame' by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).

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