'Hell on Wheels' off to a slow start

Unfortunately for Western fans, “Hell on Wheels” may not have what it takes to spark a renewed interest in the genre.

The series premiered on Sunday night on AMC as a supposedly surefire hit for the channel. First impressions for the show indicate that it may instead be a near miss.

Set in the 1860s, “Hell on Wheels” tells the story of Cullen Bohannon, played by Anson Mount, who is an ex-Confederate soldier determined to avenge his wife’s murder at the hands of Union soldiers. His mission leads him to Nebraska’s “Hell on Wheels,” a town that travels with the construction of the transcontinental railroad, but progress hits a snag when workers enter Cheyenne Territory.

Bohannon’s job on the railroad is to supervise the workers, including an emancipated slave named Elam Ferguson, played by musician Common. Colm Meany plays a corrupt entrepreneur and Tom Noonan of “Damages” plays a preacher.

Ken Tucker, a writer for Entertainment Weekly, sums up the characters as being “too one-note.”

“Common = angry; Noonan = eccentric,” wrote Tucker. “The most promising character in the series may be Dominique McElligott’s Lily Bell, whose attack by and escape from some Indians provided the night’s greatest suspense.”

Tucker notes that “Hell on Wheels” is fraught with some seriously flawed characters. Bohannon, for example, murders a man without cause during the premiere episode’s opening scene, in a church, in front of a handful of nuns. Yet, he is the protagonist of the show and viewers are meant to sympathize with him because he is pining for his dead wife.

The 10-episode mini-series was created, written and produced by Joe and Tony Gayton. The show further emphasizes AMC’s dedication to reviving the Western genre, following in the footsteps of the network’s first Western themed mini-series event, “Broken Trail.” The mini-series premiered in 2006 and was, according to amctv.com, the second most-watched cable movie since 1995. “Broken Trail” broke records for AMC, bringing in a total of nearly 10 million viewers over the course of its two-night premiere, which may be why AMC seems determined to ring every last ounce of profit out of Western-themed shows.

Viewers discussed the show in an online forum provided by AMC during the show’s premiere. The first episode was met with mixed reviews. Some believed that the show was trying too hard. Viewers complained of a poor storyline, melodramatic characters and a slew of inaccuracies. Others thought the show looked promising and were impressed by the authenticity of the props and costumes used. Most agreed that the premiere would have been better received had it not followed AMC’s newest hit “The Walking Dead.”

“Hell on Wheels” is filmed in Alberta, Canada and airs at 10 p.m. on Sundays on AMC.


Reach the reporter at cemurph2@asu.edu


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