First off, I would like to lodge a formal complaint against AMC and its commitment to producing hour after hour of quality programming. The only reason my Sundays weren’t a complete disaster was that The Walking Dead didn’t air at the same time as Boardwalk Empire. My universe used to have order and generally seemed to be working in my favor. At least it did until Hell On Wheels premiered last Sunday, which pushed The Walking Dead to nine pm and forced me to acknowledge the laws of space and time and my inability to effectively watch two shows at once from the doorway connecting my living room and bedroom. Thanks for that unpleasant reality check, Hell on Wheels.
No really, thanks. After only one episode, has a decent chance of growing into one kickass show. Wheels begins at the end of the Civil War, with its focus shifting from North vs South to West vs the live action version of The Oregon Trail. The show revolves around the construction of a transcontinental railroad as well as several westward bound pioneers (some of whom get quickly scalped to death half way through the episode by some angry injuns). So far, the main characters include Cullen Bohannan (a former confederate soldier out to avenge his wife that was murdered during the war) and Elam(a recently emancipated and pissed off slave played by Common).
Several other characters were introduced in the pilot as residents of “Hell on Wheels” the transient lawless towns that move with the construction of the railroad. I hope that these characters get more screen time in up-coming episodes because the “gunslinger out for revenge” western plot line has been done before, as has the lawless town of corruption (hello Deadwood?). In all honestly, despite a Native American scalping fest, a guy getting kicked to death, and a sassy prostitute, the pilot was a little boring. It was probably a mistake to introduce so many seemingly cliché characters at once without a great deal of back-story or reasons for me to give a shit about them. I think the Walking Dead has proven that gore and death can be mixed well with character development and well-written dialogue. Hell on Wheels just needs to find that balance.
Now, personally, I have a habit of liking even bad westerns so long as the entire cast could convincingly have walked right out of Red Dead Redemption. Add that to a somewhat accurate portrayal of the Great Railroad Race of the 1860’s (history geeks are geeks too!), and you’ve basically created my dream show. But for Hell on Wheels to have any staying power for an audience that includes viewers besides me, it’s going to have to throw a new take on the western experience into the mix.
Still, I have a lot of hope for this show (which as a side note, featured some kickass music by the likes of Ralph Stanely and the Dead Wheather) and you should totally check it out. If you’d like to wait to hear if the second episode picks up, let me know and I’ll post a mini-review of it in the comment section of this article.