DVD commentaries are a hit-and-miss proposition regardless of who's doing the commenting, but it's been my experience that groups of actors talking about a film or a TV episode usually fall more to the "miss" side of things.
So it was a very pleasant surprise to pop in episode five of "Deadwood's" third season and listen to a sharp, funny commentary by actors Jim Beaver (Ellsworth), W. Earl Brown (Dan Dority) and Sean Bridgers (Johnny). The trio riff on what it was like to work on the show, on the grisly fight scene between Dan and Capt. Turner (Allan Graf) and on each other, but it never feels like they're in on a joke that you're not.
All that, and they toss in references to, at various points, William Faulkner, Carl Jung, "Hamlet" and "Red Dawn" as well. "There's a comparison for you," Brown deadpans about the latter -- "'Deadwood' and 'Red Dawn.'" (Although, as Brown notes, both did feature Powers Boothe.)
In fact, all four episode commentaries -- producer/directors Mark Tinker and Gregg Fienberg, actress Robin Weigert (Calamity Jane) and creator David Milch handle the others -- provide some nice insight into the show's process, as well as some hope for fans left wanting more after the show's premature end. "We're going to do more," Milch asserts, alluding to a pair of planned but not scheduled two-hour movies that would wrap up the saga, and the actors indicate they'd be up for it too.
And that would be a good thing, because re-watching the season leaves a real sense that there's more to be told about the initially lawless mining camp's slow creep toward civil society. The arrival of the powerful George Hearst (Gerald McRaney, giving an award-worthy performance) in the camp, and the promise of elections, corrupt though they may be, brings several formerly opposing interests together, most notably Sheriff Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) and Gem Saloon owner Al Swearengen (Ian McShane). Meanwhile, the opening of a new schoolhouse and the arrival of a theater troupe in town signals another step forward in the camp's inevitable march toward gentility.
Milch acknowledges in his commentary on the season finale that he would have explored the theater's impact on the town more had the show continued, along with the fallout from the Hearst-rigged election that turned Bullock out of office. A historical featurette called "Deadwood Matures" hints at some possible avenues the show could have taken; the real Bullock, for instance, initially refused to give up his office after losing the election for sheriff.
The set also includes a photo gallery of images from the real Deadwood that charts its explosive growth in the late 19th century and another featurette tracking the relationship between Bullock and Swearengen, and the respect they eventually come to share.
If there's a little bit of melancholy evident in the bonus features, it's for what might have been. But unless and until those "Deadwood" movies get made, fans of the show should find plenty to love in what is on this set.
EXTRAS: Commentary on four episodes; featurettes "Deadwood Matures" and "The Education of Swearengen and Bullock"; "Deadwood Daguerreotypes" photo gallery