Hell on Wheels: For a Mass Audience


Upon watching this week’s episode of “Hell on Wheels” I could not help but be reminded of our discussion surrounding Michael Newman’s piece “From Beats to Arcs…” This show serves as a perfect example of what Newman was discussing while describing primetime’s, or evening television’s serialized “interplay of commerce and art.” I must agree with Newman that these shows reward both its audience and advertisers, and I believe Hell on Wheels is no exception. Narrative functions such as the repetitive use of dialogue or redundancy in the topics covered on the show serve not only to allow viewers to pick up at nearly anytime during the show and thus serve in favor of advertisers, but as seen in Hell on Wheels they can also be adapted to enrich the viewing experience. For example, Cullen’s flashback of his wife, or Lily’s visions of her dead husband, allow viewers who may have missed last week’s episode to easily catch up, but they also deepen the viewing experience by providing variety in the narrative and allowing for deeper emotional connections between the viewers and characters (dead or alive).

As Newman says, “mass art strives for accessibility and ease of comprehension” and we must keep this in mind while watching Hell on Wheels, or perhaps even criticizing like many are doing. Hell on Wheels, as again Newman claims, is appealing to mass populations of viewers and advertisers by “developing clear ongoing stories about compelling characters facing difficult obstacles.” Yes, while the plot of Hell on Wheels may be a bit predictable and not earth shatteringly original, it is allowing for easy access, and will keep viewers coming back by appealing to emotions (sympathy for Lily, fear of the Swede, joy for Cullen upon breaking out of jail). We must keep in mind that this is an AMC show and is made for mass accessibility and comprehension. While I wish it could be an HBO original and be slightly inaccessible to a mass audience, I expect no less from an AMC show and do not discredit them for it, as they have to run off of advertising dollars.


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