Deadwood: The Movie

9pm, Sky Atlantic

The last time we saw Al Swearengen, thirteen years ago – around 1877 or so – he was on his knees, scrubbing fresh blood from the floorboards of the Gem, the saloon-brothel he ran at the black, beating heart of Deadwood.

This wasn’t the first time we’d seen Al, a master throat-cutter, in this position. But amid all the litres of blood spilled across three series of writer David Milch’s peerless drama, this was the stain hardest to get rid of. Al, as gently as he could, had just murdered an entirely innocent young woman.

The circumstances leading to this quiet, horrendous killing were complex, and wove back through the great, grubby, glorious tapestry of events that had occurred as Deadwood went through the pains of giving birth to itself: transforming from lawless, fetid frontier outpost into embryonic American town. But, equally, Al’s reasons were brutally simple: he sacrificed that girl in order to save the entire place from being wiped out in a tide of vengeance brought down by the infinitely powerful tycoon George W Hearst; and, more particularly, to save another woman – possibly the love of his rotten life, though he could never admit it – from being butchered instead.

That episode, broadcast in 2006, was the end of Deadwood, but it wasn’t how Deadwood was supposed to end. Milch had planned for his story to unfold over five series, but the HBO network abruptly pulled the plug after season three, leaving the tapestry’s threads dangling forever. Or, at least, until now.

Pinch yourself, hoopleheads, because, for one last time, Deadwood – the strange, terrifying and utterly beautiful western that was part John Ford, part Sam Peckinpah, part Shakespeare, part the goddam Bible – is back, returning for a single feature-length finale. And it’s still Deadwood.

Reuniting the surviving cast, the new movie opens a decade later. It's 1889, and Deadwood is preparing to mark South Dakota’s entrance to the Union as America’s 40th state. As celebrations unfold, we encounter people who never left, including Swearengen (Ian McShane), the tightly wound lawman Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant), and local businessman Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie), once friend of Will Bill Hickock. Meanwhile, other faces are coming back after years away, returning either on matters of the heart, like Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert), or, ostensibly, of business, such as bank owner Alma Ellsworth (Molly Parker).

Ominously, however, among the returnees is Hearst (Gerald McRaney), a man who wields the future like a wrecking ball, and who has since added politics to his list of crimes. Now a US Senator, seeing Hearst parading in his pomp is too much for another Deadwood local to stomach, and a confrontation sparks memories that bring old enmities to the boil.

Milch constantly works sleight of hand. In many ways, it is as if time has stood still in Deadwood since we last visited. Yet in many others, we see the toll time has taken. Some characters are watching their powers wane – in sympathy with Milch himself, who recently announced he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Meanwhile, we catch half-glimpses of plots that might have been, if the cancelled seasons had happened: watch for the glances shared between Bullock and Alma.

But the biggest trick Milch pulls off is in giving Deadwood, one of the most unsentimental dramas ever made, a deeply, unashamedly satisfying curtain call. There is brutality, but above all, the script is a love letter to this majestic show. There is blood and fire, birth and death, a funeral, a wedding and canned peaches. There is the sheer glory of watching E.B. Farnum (William Sanderson) make his first telephone call. There is the sense of an ending, and the sense of time rolling on, anyway. And it all ends in snow. Huzzah.


Sunday May 26

European Election Results

10pm, BBC One

In times gone by, the overnight coverage of the European Election results might not really have been one to single out as a hot tip for banging Sunday night TV entertainment. But this year, it seems fair to suggest, things are a wee bit different. Sadly, the BBC haven’t been able to do the thing that would really put the cherry on this particular cake, and call David Dimbleby back from his retirement on misted Avalon to gird his loins and lead us through the fray once more. But your trusty Huw Edwards is on standby and – most importantly of all – he will be joined by the poll dancer himself, John “The Cult” Curtice, who will predict, point out and analyse trends faster than a speeding bullet. Elsewhere, Laura Kuenssberg risks whiplash by watching the reactions from Westminster. Ziiiing!

Monday 27

Storyville: Last Breath

9pm, BBC Four

A word of warning: this compelling documentary is not for the claustrophobic. The film explores the nightmarish events of 18 September 2012, when young commercial diver Chris Lemons suddenly found himself stranded on the bottom of the North Sea, with only five minutes’ of oxygen left in his tank, and no hope of rescue for at least 30 minutes. On that dark and stormy night, Lemons was part of the saturation diving team tending oil well equipment some 127 miles out from Aberdeen. Co-directors Alex Parkinson and Richard da Costa tell the tale via video and recordings made around the event, new interviews, and heart-stoppingly convincing reconstructions. Lemons’s colleagues on the fated dive – the avuncular Duncan Allcock and David Yuasa, whose Spock-like detachment earned him the nickname “The Vulcan” – offer recollections and insight into the fascinatingly strange world of professional sat diving.

Tuesday 28

The Planets

9pm, BBC Two

Like the big friendly letters spelling out “Don’t Panic” on the cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, presenter Professor Brian Cox’s calming tones make this five-part science documentary a gentler experience than might otherwise be the case. Using CGI to illustrate recent discoveries beamed back from the unmanned missions exploring space, the series charts the evolution of our solar system across the last four-and-a-half billion years, beginning with the creation and development of the four terrestrial planets closest to the Sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. All were formed of the same stuff around the same time, and all had almost Earth-like conditions at one point – so why does life exist here, while the others are barren? Whether discussing planets being tossed across the solar system by immense cosmic forces, or Earth’s inevitable scorched demise, Cox keeps it all chilled out.

Wednesday 29

Black Monday

10.10pm, Sky Atlantic

This knowingly brash and frenetic US comedy zips back to the heady, heartless, cocaine-powdered days of the late-1980s on Wall Street: the title refers to Monday October 19 1987, when stock markets crashed, and the American exchange suffered its biggest ever hit. The series sets out to imagine how the crash might have come about by flashing back a year earlier, to follow the activities of cartoonishly merciless rogue trader, Mo Monroe (Don Cheadle), showy leader of a pack that includes his ex, Dawn Towner (Regina Hall), and Blair Pfaff (Andrew Rannells), a wide-eyed college graduate Mo takes on with a view to exploiting for all he’s worth. The I Heart The 80s stuff can feel sprayed on, and, for all its outrageousness, the series doesn’t punch like Scorsese’s Wolf Of Wall Street, but Cheadle is as magnetic as ever.

Thursday 30

The Final Mission: Foxy's War

9pm, Channel 4

Former Special Forces soldier Jason Fox previously made the edgy Meet The Drug Lords: Inside The Real Narcos for Channel 4, but this new documentary has a more personal feel, as he returns to Afghanistan, where he served for more than three years as a marine. During those tours of duty, he endured harrowing combat and saw several comrades killed or seriously injured ­– experiences that left him with the PTSD that caused him to be discharged. Ten years on, Afghanistan is in many ways more unstable than it was while he was serving there, and Fox sets out to understand the enduring complexities of the country and its people. Hooking up with old friends and former enemies, he explores the sacrifices he, his fellow soldiers and the Afghan people have made, and asks whether it seems worth it today.

Friday 31

Good Omens

Amazon Prime Video

A geek paradise, this six-part fantasy finally brings to the screen the sprawling collaborative 1990 novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman – Gaiman handled the adaptation of their famously “unadaptable” book himself, honouring a promise he made to his friend before Pratchett’s death in 2015. A whimsical satire, the story follows the unlikely friendship between amiable angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and devilish hipster demon Crowley (David Tennant), strange bedfellows who join forces to stop the antichrist bringing about apocalypse. In keeping with the book, it’s a shaggy, digressive thing, sometimes sharp, sometimes woolly. But there’s lots to see, with a star-studded cast including Jon Hamm as archangel Gabriel and Frances McDormand as, quite rightly, the voice of God. Doctor Who fans will explode with joy as Tennant throws himself into his character, a dissipated groover with a taste for dressing up.