The first of what promises to be several HBO series on this list. This one only ran for three seasons, and it ended badly, with no real resolution. Additional two-hour movies have been promised, but until they come out, no credit can be given.
However, in the short time it ran, the free reign of cable allowed David Milch to prove he could be the Shakespeare of profanity he only hinted at on NYPD Blue. His Ned Allen? Ian McShane as Al Swearengen (yeah, great name), one of the best tv characters of all time. Not only could he curse like a sailor poet with his manly, gravely voice, getting his prick (never dick, cock, or shlong- always prick) sucked by whatever whore was within arm's reach, but he was damn handy with a blade. His arc over the three seasons was equally fascinating. He went from out-and-out villain to the unlucky victim of kidney stones and a shady knife wound, eventually emerging as a reluctant hero of sorts in the final season.
McShane's role only slightly eclipsed the work of Timothy Olyphant, whom I'm a big fan of (he was the villain in the mostly forgettable Die Hard IV, and the no-nonsense drug dealer who hated the Family Circus in GO). Olyphant played Bullock in the Wyatt Earpesque ex-lawman who just wants to run a business but has had all he can stand and can't stands no more so becomes sherrif again role. All you'd need to watch is the pilot to be hooked on his character, where he hangs some criminals while holding off a mob at gunpoint in an incredibly intense scene.
As usual with HBO shows, the rest of the ensemble cast is filled out mostly with no-names who do fantastic jobs, particularly the creepy guy from season two who kills all the hookers. He later ended up playing a doctor on John From Cincinnatti, which Milch also wrote, apparently at the expense of those much-rumored Deadwood finale movies. That makes me hate that show even more than the fact that it's 12 hours of my life I'll never get back.
Much like The Sopranos, there's a lot of slowly-built ill will that culminates every three or four episodes in some well-earned violence. Also like The Sopranos, it can be pretty hard to figure out what's going on at times. There was an entire season's talk about "Montana" and "Pinkertons" that I never quite got. However, the sets are wonderfully muddy and authentic-looking, and every once in a while you get to see some boobs or even the promised land. Although sometimes it's on a prostitute of substantial girth, and it's kind of a turn off. Well, at least Al never seemed to mind.