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…Or to give the book its full title: Difficult Men: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution.

In this fascinating book, Brett Martin discusses what he calls the Third Golden Age of Television – a revolution in television broadcasting, that gave the viewers a new type of protagonist; a man (it was almost always men) who was morally compromised, not always likeable, sometimes acting very much on the wrong side of the law.  In short, a difficult man, the most obvious examples of which include Tony Soprano of The Sopranos, Jimmy McNulty (and many other characters) of The Wire, Don Draper of Mad Men, and Al Swearengen of Deadwood.  And the audience are supposed to care for and root for these characters – not always an easy sell.

Martin demonstrates how, in a reversal of typical roles (such as always good cops, and always evil villains), more complicated protagonists (such as those mentioned above) started emerging in the 1990s.  (Suggestions of such anti-heroes were seen in shows such as NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues.)  HBO were largely responsible for the start of the Third Golden Age, with The Sopranos being the groundbreaking show that opened the door for those that came after it.  Basic network cable followed suit with shows such as The Shield, Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

The book is fascinating, and hard to put down.  It is packed with details of how the shows were put together, what life was like in the writers’ room, and how various problems were overcome.  Many of the main players in the story were interviewed for the book, which provided insight into their world.

I couldn’t say whether the title of the book is intended to have two meanings, but the term Difficult Men certainly could apply equally to the men (again, it was always men) who created some of these shows.  While they had undoubted talent and vision, it becomes clear that some of them were very difficult to work for or with, due to reasons such as temper, addiction, or various eccentricities.  It makes for interesting reading.

One word of warning: The books contains several spoilers, of varying size, for The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, The Shield, Breaking Bad and Mad Men, so if you are not up to date with any of these shows and want to read the book, it might be best to wait until after you have seen all the episodes.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and definitely recommend it.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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I love the theatre, whether the productions are professional or amateur, and shows like this are the reason why.  Willenhall Musical Theatre Company have put on a terrific, fun-filled production of Calamity Jane, which was a joy to watch.

In Deadwood, in the Old American West, Calamity Jane is a match for any of her male counterparts, but despite her tomboy looks and behaviour, she is smitten with Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin.  When she goes to Chicago to bring singing sensation Adelaide Adams, a mix-up causes her to bring back Adelaide’s maid, Katie Brown instead.  After the residents of Deadwood reveal the truth, Katie decides to stay, and she and Calamity become good friends.  However, their friendship is threatened when Danny falls for Katie, and Calamity and her friend Wild Bill Hickok, who also loves Katie, find themselves out in the cold…

Lydia Lavill took on the role of Calamity, and played it with great relish.  Timothy Swallow looked exactly right, and was great as Wild Bill, and credit also should be given to Sam King as Katie Brown, and Will Phipps, who was absolutely wonderful as Francis Fryer (an act booked to appear in Deadwood, but who was mistakenly believed to be a female singer named Frances Fryer).

The staging was wonderfully imaginative, with fantastic sets, and the music is so joyful, with such songs as The Deadwood Stage (Whipcrackaway), It’s Harry I’m Going to Marry, The Black Hills of Dakota, and Secret Love.

All in all, a joyous production which left me with a huge smile on my face.

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Click here for my review of the 1953 film.

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This is a fun film from 1953, with Doris Day as famous sharpshooter Calamity Jane and Howard Keel as Wild Bill Hickok.  Calamity promises to bring a big singing star to Deadwood, but through a case of mistaken identity, brings the wrong person.  However, the girl she brings – Katie – turns out to be a hit and stays in Deadwood.  Problems ensue when both the Lieutenant and Wild Bill fall for Katie…

Well, if you’re looking for historical accuracy or to learn more about the real Calamity Jane, this film is not the one to watch!  However, if you’re looking for some uplifting tunes and a great deal of fun, then I’d recommend watching it.  Doris Day is as gorgeous as ever in the lead role, and even though none of the men in Deadwood see Calamity as anything other than one of the guys, it’s impossible to cover up Doris’s beauty to the viewer.  She hams up her part and seems to have a lot of fun with it.  She portrays Calamity as a woman capable of holding her own against any man, but also nursing vulnerabilities that she’s afraid to show.  But apart from her beautiful song ‘Secret Love’, this film does not dwell too much on serious matters and instead just provides pure entertainment.

Howard Keel was great as Wild Bill.  I far preferred his part in this to his role in Kiss Me Kate, and Bill was a great foil to the adorable feisty Calamity.  The two leads have great chemistry together and their duets The Black Hills Of Dakota and I Can Do Without You work very well.  I also really liked the aforementioned Secret Love, and the opening song The Deadwood Stage (Whip Crackaway).

Overall some good laughs, likeable leads, the lovely Doris Day, and a singalong score – definitely worth watching, especially for fans of musicals, or light hearted Westerns.

Year of release: 1953

Director: David Butler

Writer: James O’Hanlon

Main cast: Doris Day, Howard Keel, Allyn Ann McLerie, Philip Carey

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Click here for my review of Willenhall Musical Theatre Company’s 2013 stage production.

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