Tuesday, November 15, 2011

All Aboard for Hell on Wheels!

Has anybody had a chance to sample the new AMC original series on Sunday nights, Hell on Wheels? I've watched the first two episodes and I am throwing my cow girl hat into the ring for this show. It's about the push to build a transcontinental railroad after the Civil War. As much as I love the western genre, I never quite "got" Deadwood on HBO. I found the constant and relentless use of the word "cocksucker" in every episode to be both tiresome and distracting. Being basic cable, AMC doesn't have the option to make the language in the series so...colorful. Instead, they've concentrated on showing the Wild West as the utterly filthy place it surely must have been. Filthy as in...no toothpaste and really bad teeth. Filthy as in no Tide detergent or washing machines and pants so dirty you can practically smell them through the TV screen. It's the west as a terribly exciting and odoriferous Hell.

The storyline is fairly straight forward, although with an interesting twist on who we normally root for. The main character (Cullen Bohannon, played by Anson Mount) is a former Confederate soldier and slave owner who's trying to get a job out west. Boo...hiss...right? But he turns out to be the nicest guy ever to all the emancipated slaves working on the railroad and even helps save one of them from the evil RR foreman who hates the black workers so much he calls them by the "N" word. Is that even allowed on TV in a historical context? Cullen reminds me the late great British actor Oliver Reed. He has that same baleful and menacing blue-eyed stare. As a devout Yankee, I normally don't go for southern boys or their silly accents, but he pretty much had me at hello.

Other characters include Elam Ferguson (Common), a smart emancipated slave who is forming a fast friendship with our hero Cullen, and Doc Durant (Colm Meaney) as a corrupt, greedy railroad contractor and Bad Guy #1. He's a bit of a stereotype, although it would have been worse if they had given him a long waxy mustache to twirl. If Doc showed up at one of those Occupy camps today, he would have a hard time making friends.

Female characters are sparse except for Lily Bell (Dominique McElligott), a fetching blond who is trying to survive in the most trying circumstances after her husband is killed in an Indian raid. Sunday's episode featured Lily in a scene so excruciating and graphic, I found it nearly unwatchable. She used a fat dirty needle to stitch up her own gaping chest wound. Whilst we looked on. That's about as hard core pioneer spirit as you're ever going to get on the small screen.

Other interesting characters include a couple of enterprising brothers from Ireland (Sean and Mickey McGinnes). They're trying to make a buck on the frontier by showing silent movies in a tent. God bless them. Keep heading west to Hollywood, boys!

Other than westward, I'm not quite sure where this series is heading yet. But I like what I've seen so far, so I'm along for the ride. What about the rest of you folks out there in TV Blog-land? Has anyone seen it?


Lisa said...

I haven't watched it yet -- my bad -- but I will after reading this! Somehow this hasn't gotten the attention or buzz of "Mad Men" or "Homeland" or even "Boss" -- can you believe there are SO many interesting dramas on right now? Thanks for the wonderful heads-up!

I'm glad this isn't in smell-o-vision, from what you write! :-)

Jane said...

@Lisa, you might want to keep a can of Febreze handy when you start watching it, even without smell-o-vision. Where is smell-o-vision by the way? How is it possible that we can put a man on the moon, and yet I still can't smell Dexter's breakfast cooking in the series open?

Sunday night is an absolute cornucopia of drama delights. Dexter, Boardwalk Empire and now Hell. I can't believe the critics are not more excited about it, I love it so far.