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Hell on Wheels Review (2011)

Hell on Wheels Titlecard

 

  Great television programming was once the exclusive purview of the major television networks. That is no longer always the case as the years have passed we have seen a steady increase in great programming coming from several non traditional sources, such as from basic cable.

 

  With such hits as Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead under their belt, AMC has become both a shining star and a great example of how to do an original new program right.

 

  AMC's latest foray into original programming is Hell on Wheels, a show that takes us back to the wild west of the mid 1860's.

 

  The year is 1865 and the Civil War has only just recently ended a short time ago. We meet up with our main protagonist of the series Cullen Bohannan (Anson Mount), a former confederate soldier and Civil War veteran.

 

  Like any good western yarn, Cullen is out for vengeance (I know shocking right?). It seems that during the Battle of Meridian or the events shortly their after surrounding it, that something happened to Cullen's wife that led to her death.

 

  For those unfamiliar with the battle of Meridian it was the town that Union General William T. Sherman ordered wiped off the map.

 

Cullen Bohannan

Here comes trouble.

 

  Cullen tracks down the men responsible, one by one, which leads him to finding work on the rail road while he seeks out the last of those involved with his wife's death.

 

  In the meantime we follow railroad boss Thomas Durant (Colm Meaney) as he works to create a transcontinental railroad between the east and west coast, by the most profitable means possible.

 

  Thomas has no illusions about himself or how he gets things done. He knows that those who come after him will always see him as an evil, greedy, and selfish man, and he is okay with that. At this point in the series Durant may turn out to be a red herring or he could be one of the people involved in the incident that took place in Meridian. Only time will tell.

 

  The scenes with Bohannan for the most part feel very genuine and Anson Mount turns in a very subtle yet expressive performance, while the scenes featuring Durant always feel like he is putting on some great over the top Shakespearean play for a crowd of nonexistent fans.

 

Thomas Durant

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.

 

  It seemed to me that the writers where going for the charismatic evil type of villain that Ian McShane perfected with the character of Al Swarengen on the HBO series Deadwood.

 

  So far Colm Meaney is nowhere near as close to pulling that off yet, as each scene with Durant seems to break your immersion in the show. I hope that this is due to the writing and that the character, and the way he is portrayed will grow over time.

 

  Now that I think about it, the show is really going for that Deadwood feel but there is just something missing; an integral piece of the puzzle that you can't quite put your finger on and yet you know is missing.

 

Elam

Not so Fat Albert and the gang.

 

  The majority of the show takes place at the current end point of construction for the Union Pacific's transcontinental railroad line, in a traveling tent city that follows the construction named Hell on Wheels, population; One less each day.

 

  The sets and costumes are outstanding and really bring you into the west of the mid 1860's. This level of immersion has become a trademark of AMC's dramas. There must be a great deal of money being spent to create such atmosphere. Money that is well spent I would say.

 

Not the village people

Not the village people.

 

   A lot of side characters where introduced to us in the pilot, along with several threads laying a foundation for future story arcs that the writers will be sure to follow up on in the coming months.

 

  The show lacked a smooth flow for a pilot episode, trying to fit a few too many characters, and a bit too much information into the first episode. I think more justice would have been done to Hell on Wheels if the pilot episode had been at least 90-120 minutes long.

 

  Not perfect, but an interesting period piece with a tried and true story that we have seen before. It will be interesting to see if this show has the steam that the other hits on AMC have. For me it falls just a bit short so far, but I think it should be given a chance.

 

Final verdict for Hell on Wheels 7/10 It's no Deadwood or Red Dead Revolver, but an interesting show in its own right. You can catch Hell on Wheels on the AMC channel.

 

~Professor

 

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