Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Dead Man's Gun

Over the years we've tried to watch most of the Western TV series that came along, even the ones that weren't very good. But this one totally slipped past us somehow until recently when Livia came across the DVD set of the first season and bought it. DEAD MAN'S GUN is a Canadian production from the late Nineties that ran originally on the cable network Showtime, I believe. And besides being a Western, it's a bit of a rarity in another way: it's an anthology series, with the only constant threads running through the stories being the presence of a cursed revolver supposedly made by the Devil and some off-camera narration by Kris Kristofferson who comes across a little like an Old West version of the Cryptkeeper.

As you'd expect with an anthology series, the episodes are a little uneven, but most of them are surprisingly good. There's a stock company of actors who show up in a variety of roles, including Henry Winkler, who's also one of the producers. Most of the leads are played by actors who are at least fairly well-known in American TV, including the late John Ritter, Ed Asner, Scott Bakula, and Tim Matheson. They seem to be having fun making a Western, too, something that most of them didn't get to do very often.

The show's limited budget shows up in the production values. Almost every scene takes place in the same town, no matter where the story is supposed to be set, the street is always muddy, and the weather is always gray and rainy. Maybe the producers were trying for a realistic look, but it's just a drab sameness as far as I'm concerned. The action scenes are pretty uneven, too, as are the few special effects. And the evidently cable-mandated sex scenes that show up in the middle of most episodes are a little jarring, too, considering the strong traditional Western flavor of everything else.

DEAD MAN'S GUN was co-created by Ed Spielman, who created two shows I liked from an earlier era, THE YOUNG RIDERS and KUNG FU, and he and Howard Spielman (a brother, I assume) wrote nearly all the scripts. The stories are, for the most part, predictable EC Comics-style morality plays, with the protagonist usually coming to a bad end because of his own character flaws, which become more dominant when he comes into possession of the so-called Dead Man's Gun. They work pretty well if you space them out, and the Spielmans also throw in some nice twists in some of the episodes.

DEAD MAN'S GUN certainly isn't a great series, but I found it to be pretty entertaining most of the time. And hey, it's a Western I hadn't seen before, so it has that going for it, too.


Todd Mason said...

I was surprised not to have heard of it, as well, when I could finally subscribe to Showtime, and have only caught a modestly but genuinely entertaining episode or so as well. I'm trying to remember the name of that other series, contemporary drama, that was about the several owners/possessors of a non-supernatural gun...a minute's engine-searching will probably turn it up...

Neil Waring said...

One of my favorites when it was on Showtime. It was also re-ran in the past couple of years, not sure where it was, some movie channel, but not Showtime, as I am not a subscriber.
Pretty good stories for the most part, believe your review was spot on.