Author Archive

Imagery in Episode 3

November 21, 2011

Upon reading Karen Lury’s “Image”, and her ideas surrounding the way in which the television image can dramatize, I immediately drew connections to the visual strategies found in Hell On Wheels. Lury, though here discussing soap operas, claims that “In the same way that knowledge of each character’s biography becomes important to the narrative richness of [a television show]…the repetition of key images and the revisiting of particular locations is also important to the development of sentiment and empathy by the viewer of the series” (8). Here, Lury is discussing the typical sets, images and designs found on television, those that lack a sort of visual richness due to television budgets as compared to the richness of film visuals. She claims that “despite the relative visual poverty” of the television image, because these images and sets are revisited so often throughout a television series, they compensate the viewer through a certain ‘time-richness’, being revisited by characters in the shown and thus helping to promote and develop emotional attachment and sentiment in the viewer.

Hell On Wheels is definitely no exception to Lury’s theory. As she goes on to claim that “incremental ‘natural’ changes” in the scenery help promote change in both the viewer and characters on screen, I could not help but draw connections to episode 3. Here, we are constantly returning to images of mud, rain and slop throughout the town and its outskirts. Though Hell On Wheels’ imagery is definitely not that of a typical television show in that it is quite visually rich, the same rules of repetition and revisiting in order to develop sentiment still apply. Before episode 3, I do not remember there being such a reliance on images of wet sloppiness. This change and the episode’s subsequent repetition of these images highlight the rising sentiment of the characters and the show on a whole that the situation in Hell On Wheels is getting darker and grimmer. Obviously the director is attempting to create a sense of poverty, gloom and despair in the audience, and the show is accomplishing such not only through the dialogue and acting, but through this new reliance on grey and dreary imagery. Plagued by murder, savage attacks, racism, debauchery and greed, the condition of the train town is spiraling downward and the environmentally imagery is reflecting such a trend.

Hell on Wheels: For a Mass Audience

November 15, 2011

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.

Hell on Wheels Pilot

November 7, 2011

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.