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Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Hell on Wheels: The small screen goes West

There was a time when we Brits produced the best English language TV drama in the world, but those days are long gone and now it is the American TV makers with their greater resources that rule the roost and it's been that way for some considerable time. And we're currently in a glowing period for US drama with some great shows airing at the moment and AMC, home of, among others,  the mega successful The Walking Dead, have come up with the best western series in many a year. That series is Hell on Wheels and fills a void in my TV viewing since HBO's Deadwood died a premature death.

For Hell on Wheels think grim, dark, adult storytelling within a western framework. It doesn't match the profanity level of Deadwood but it does aim for the same kind of realism. Set in 1865, the series centers on the settlement that accompanied the construction of the first transcontinental railroad, referred to as "Hell on Wheels" by the company men, surveyors, support workers, laborers, prostitutes, mercenaries and others who make the mobile encampment their home. It's Deadwood on wheels minus the word, "co**suckers" in every other sentence.

I've just seen the first two episodes and I don't think my Deadwood comparison is far wrong, though from what I've seen the series looks to be far more linear in the storytelling than HBO's western classic. Anson Mount does a great Clint Eastwood impression for his role as Cullen Bohannon, a former Confederate soldier who works as a foreman on the railroad as he tries to track down the Union soldiers who murdered his wife.He finds two of these killers in the first episode, one in the pre-credits teaser and also discovers that there is another man involved in his wife's murder and that he is working on the railroad. The problem is that Cullen is not quite sure who that man is.

Colm Meany also shines as the ruthless man in charge of building the railroad and I am expecting great things on the strengths of these first two episodes. The show has been a success Stateside with it gaining the second highest ratings AMC have ever experienced for a pilot episode. Close on five million I understand. However it is reported that there have been a drop in ratings for subsequent episodes but that the series is holding up well, particularly considering that in the US it is going up against strong offerings from rival networks.

I do hope the show does well and that it is renewed for a second season - the first season runs to ten episodes and whether the identity of the man Cullen is searching for will be revealed this season is unknown. My guess is no or at least if he is revealed it will be the cliffhanger to end the first season and will only be made clear should a second season be made. Well fingers crossed that the series does do well and that it returns for several more seasons, because TV westerns are thin on the ground and especially those with such high production values as this.


Randy Johnson said...

Been following this one as well. it does hold up. So far. As for comparisons to Deadwood, can't say, as I've never seen any of it.

I do like this one though.

Davieboy said...

Cracking suggestion, thanks, I'll make sure I see this series.

BTW Been watching "Justified" recently, modern-day Western with Timothy Olyphant (of Deadwood fame) - recommended.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Davieboy - will have to try Justified if it airs in the UK

Joanne Walpole said...

Gary - you're likely to find Justified on Five US since it's been shown there in the past. It is a cracking series and I'm looking forward to the new season which starts in the US mid March and hopefully won't be far behind here. Re, HOW - I'm liking it, especially the female character who is showing guts without being a man in women's clothing.