Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hell on Wheels (TV)

Cullen Bohannon says "Watch the Damn Show." Photo credit AMC
Hell on Wheels popped up on my Netflix streaming account a few weeks ago and its plot synopsis of a Civil War soldier seeking vengeance and ending up working on the Union Pacific railroad struck my fancy.  I am a huge fan of Deadwood, it's one of my top ten shows of all time and this  looked like it might have a similar flavor.  It comes nowhere near to the amazeballsness of Deadwood but I flew through both available series (12 or 13 eps each) and felt a little lost when I was through.  You know that feeling when you get so sucked into a story/world that you really miss it when its gone?  Definitely got that here.

Which is weird.  The world being presented is exciting in many ways but its also brutal, violent and full of hate and prejudice.  These are not actually things I covet in my life but considering Deadwood is one of my favorite shows ever.... I think actually what's going on is that the two shows share some other things that make me swoon (what?! don't you swoon over TV shows?).

1) Muddy Gray Characters:  Both shows are chock full of characters that would make a psychiatrist weep with glee.  They're unpredictable and often they'll  spend some quality time doing bad bad very bad things things, and then turn around and do something incredibly heroic, sentimental and/or selfless.  Even the evilest character has sympathetic moments so it's complex and surprising and thought-provoking and I LOVE that. 

2)Historical Wild West Setting: I am drawn to stories in this time period in the late 1800s.  It's such a tumultuous, ugly, and exciting time in our history.  I am in awe of folks who struck into uncharted territory for a chance at a better life.  I am also in awe (but not in a good way) of how truly horrible we were towards the Native Americans.  Hell on Wheels also showcases violent racism towards African Americans as well as violent conflicts between various different immigrant groups.  This mixture of pioneering spirit and adventure with violent conflict and hatred is intriguing and again complex and will end up producing exciting Drama almost every time.

3) Strong Female Characters:  Both shows feature women who have broken away from society's conventions, some by choice and some not, but they are all, be they prostitute or educated lady, strong, wise, and passionate women.  I especially like the character of Lily Bell on this show.  A proper English lady who falls in love with an American explorer and goes with him as a partner as he surveys for the railroad in the uncharted west. 

4) A pretty excellent cast: There are no Ian McShane here but the cast is pretty terrific.  The only two I recognized were Colm Meaney (Chief O'Brien!) here playing the rather corrupt and greedy but driven railroad owner, and Christopher Heyerdahl who is really good at playing the crazy, creepy guy.  The star of the ensemble cast is Anson Mount (above) who took a while to grow on me but by the end of the second season I was completely smitten.  He has a great way of playing Cullen Bohannon's dourness and what seemed like a constant unsurprised dismay at the shittiness of life and world while also managing to make him charismatic and hot as hell.  He's a nice complex character and Anson Mount plays him very well.  The rest of the cast is also great.

So if you, like me, have a Deadwood sized hole in your heart, you might want to check Hell on Wheels out.  I very much enjoyed and am even contemplating doing a re-watch.  I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for season three!

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