It's Not TV, It's Freakin HBO There's More Than Just Raw Language and Sex to 'Deadwood,' but Maybe Not to 'Lucky Louie'

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Byline: Ted Cox Daily Herald TV/Radio Columnist

You've seen what HBO has done with the mob drama in "The Sopranos" and with the Western in "Deadwood." But are you ready for HBO's version of the crass Fox family sitcom?

Let me say, frankly, that I don't think anyone is quite prepared for "Lucky Louie," which takes the boundary-pushing sex, language and sheer outrageous misanthropy of the run-of-the-mill Fox comedy and pushes it, thanks to the unlimited license of premium cable, beyond all boundaries.

At least the foul-mouthed cursing onslaught unleashed by "Deadwood" when it returns at 8 p.m. Sunday will soften up the audience for the "Lucky Louie" premiere at 9:30, with "Entourage" serving at 9 as a buffer in between and a chance for viewers to catch their breaths and, if briefly, lift their jaws off their chests.

Yes, in the current HBO Sunday lineup, "Entourage" comes off as "Leave it to Beaver," especially given the season premiere, which finds the boys taking their moms to the gala opening of "Aquaman." Yet what does anyone expect? After all, to update the channel's motto for family newspapers: It's not TV, it's freaking HBO.

"Deadwood" returns in an ornery mood for its third season, perhaps because it now appears it will be its last. HBO has thus far declined to offer contract extensions to the cast, meaning there are no plans to continue it at this point beyond the 12 episodes starting Sunday. So of course it comes out cursing a blue streak.

Still, even for people familiar with "Deadwood's" speech, which creator David Milch maintains is exactly how people really spoke in the Wild West, it takes some getting used to. My exasperated wife in the next room counted a dozen uses of the well-known word for lovemaking in a single minute by the kitchen clock, and that didn't include a single scene with Robin Weigert's Calamity Jane, nor another line when one of the "hoors" uses the word twice in a row, side by side, back to back, first as an amplifying adjective, then as a gerund (for you young sentence diagrammers out there).

All right, granted, the Wild West was just as dirty in language as it was in actual filth and mud, but what makes "Deadwood" successful is that it's just as uncompromising as drama as it is in replicating that pioneer argot. Jump in on Sunday's premiere unprepared, and if the language doesn't alienate you, the complicated ensemble cast will. Milch declines to help viewers out by routinely refusing to let the characters use each other's names or indulge in even the simplest sort of exposition. It makes for a thorny, forbidding viewing experience, every bit as uninviting as "The Wire."

That said, "Deadwood" is still a top-flight TV drama, with Ian McShane's Swearengen at the center using his Machiavellian means to maintain his power over the gold-rush boom camp, even as it staggers toward becoming an actual town. …