My friends and I have a television watching rule that we like to call “The Six Episode” rule: if you want to watch a new show or have always been curious about a show online or on Netflix, sit down and watch it, but before passing any opinions or giving up on it, you have to make it through at least six episodes. This rule has done great things for me (The Sopranos, The Wire) but has also completely wasted my time (Hung, Skins, FlashForward). The hardest part about this rule is the pilot, due to just how misleading a pilot can be. I recently started watching The Sopranos and if it weren’t for my reliable six episode rule I would have tossed out this show the second the pilot ended. While some pilots can take too long trying to introduce all the characters in the first hour of the show, others can fail by attempting to establish a storyline that will take a completely different direction once the show gets picked up and begins its season post-pilot. It’s difficult to say whether one can judge a show on the basis of the pilot for exactly those reasons; will the character focus change, will the action start the next episode, did the writers put a misleading amount of action in the pilot to draw viewers in? It is because of this difficulty that one must follow The Six Episode Rule, and before I pass any judgment on “Hell on Wheels” I must see the next 5 episodes.
That being said however, “Hell on Wheels” had a decent pilot episode but may have fit the typical AMC show mold a bit too much. The show had a great balance of character introductions, showing Colin’s mysterious character with a troubled past, Elam’s angry and vengeful characteristics, and even Lily Bell’s newly produced singleness (which will obviously turn into a Colin – Lily love interest, I’m calling it now) and a great dramatic ending monologue (another commonly seen aspect of pilots which often end in dramatic movie-like fashion). However, I’m afraid that the writers may have tricked us with too much action in pilot. There were already 4 bloody deaths (first scene in the church, Mr Bell’s Native American attack, Elam’s friend, and the throat cutting at the end), a difficult pattern to keep up past the first episode, yet a great way to get me hooked and look forward to possible pleasure coming from The Six Episode Rule. “The Rule” aside, however, I’m very much not looking forward to the AMC style of show that I was hoping this one would avoid. To me, AMC shows always include bad actors who over act their character (every actor in Breaking Bad) and some over-dramatized scenes. The performances last night by Ted Levine and Colm Meaney fit this mold perfectly, but also served to establish an epic-esque Western.
It’s difficult to judge a show based on its pilot and I hope everyone will avoid judgment on this episode, even if the acting was subpar (as expected) and the Western-style bloody action was decent.