After the last few years of putting itself on the map with the current fearsome foursome of “Mad Men,” “The Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad,” and “The Killing,” AMC has decided that it needs a fifth show to really round out the bunch, and it’s decided to go with a good old school western. “Hell on Wheels” is set in the midst of the construction of the transcontinental railroad, and features a protagonist who probably visited Deadwood before settling into the beating railroad workers business.
Here’s the first trailer:
I want to like this. I have a predilection for both AMC and westerns, but this just isn’t quite doing it for me. I dig Colm Meaney as the evil tycoon and Anson Mount seems to do a decent enough job with the tough washed up shades of gray soldier, but it suffers from two shortcomings.
First, it’s not “Deadwood.” This probably isn’t even remotely fair, but they’re asking for the comparison. Putting up a dark and gritty western only a few years removed from “Deadwood” is like putting together a contemporary mob show right now and expecting not to be compared to “The Sopranos.” This trailer looks adequate enough, but it can’t be watched without thinking that Al Swearengen would talk circles around it, arrange the deaths of half the characters, and steal the wallets of the other half, before taking a breather to talk to a head in a box.
Second, it suffers from that strange cliche of having a protagonist who was a confederate soldier whose wife was raped and murdered by Union soldiers. The instant I saw that, I rolled my eyes, recalling this conversation over on the Atlantic about exactly the same story being told over and over again. Told once, it’s unique, told over and over again this narrative of the honorable Confederate victimized by the terrible invading north takes on a twisted revisionist ring. I expect better out of AMC.