Posts Tagged ‘AMC’

Hell on Wheels Episode 3

November 22, 2011

I can’t quite figure out why, but I definitely don’t agree with most of my classmates that Hell on Wheels is complete garbage. Perhaps it’s the business-focused side of my brain at work, but I find that this show is exactly what middle-America needs. AMC is not trying to impress the 18-24 age range of highly intellectual students that go to New York University. Instead, they are probably targeting 35+ adults, mostly males, and ones that don’t want to watch a show with a complicated plot when they come home after a long day of work. Still, I feel that Hell on Wheels will continue to improve as the season progresses, and while I don’t personally find it enjoyable, I think Hell on Wheels has beautiful cinematography and does a wonderful job at recreating the past.

What I do find very interesting in terms of the visual aspects of Hell on Wheels are the costumes and wardrobe – I find that not only is the show great at researching the clothing that people wore during the time period that the railroad was built, but I also appreciate the symbolism that goes along with the wardrobe of the characters. For example, our main character Cullen is always donning his pistol. This pistol, we find out in the first episode, is a standard issued revolver of the Southern army and is a much larger firearm than any of the weapons used by other workers on the railroad. This revolver represents Cullen’s past, and perhaps the only thing that will allow him to move on from it will be avenging the death of his wife. On the other hand, Elam, the slave, always dresses in a suit and dress hat despite the fact that he’s working in the dirt. His character dresses this way because he is trying to move on from the pre-Civil War era, and would like to be respected the way a white man is.

These representations are going to play larger roles, in my opinion, as the show continues. I feel that the show has a great setup for only having three episodes thus far – all of the characters have motivations, and have very complex relationships. This is a good formula for a show, we must simply wait to see what it has in store for us.


Hell On Wheels- Ep 2

November 20, 2011

While Hell On Wheels continues to move at a relatively slow pace, the second episode was significantly more interesting than the first. “Immortal Mathematics” spent more time emphasizing the protagonist- antagonist relationship between Bohannon and the newly introduce character The Swede or Mr. Swede or whatever they call him. Which I found to be quite cliche; to introduce a typical foreign villain who had been a prisoner of war, done despicable things in his past that changed him and the rest of his life, and an inexplicably creepy face. And of course, The Swede does all the dirty work for his boss Durant. With this main plot slowly developing, the episode briefly touches upon the rest of the subplots in the show.

These subplots also unfold themselves in a predictable manner- the rogue Native American who has found God has been excluded from his people but also doesn’t fit in with the other white folk. But of course, he will be the one to save poor stereotypical damsel in distress Lilly Bell from being executed by his own people. Perhaps we can see a forbidden love of friendship beginning to form here, one that I can only see going terribly wrong but somehow finding itself to a happy ending in the conclusion. Might I also add that the portrayal of the Native Americans is so unfortunately stereotypical I could almost say it borderlines offensive. Its an unfortunately stereotypical and predictable narrative, but maybe this could be explained by the inflexible genre. Even though this episode developed the plots and subplots better than the pilot, the directions the show is taking is simply not doing it for me.

Race on Wheels

November 15, 2011

The second episode of Hell on Wheels was more refined than the previous episode as it was able to explore each character in more depth. This is evidenced by the character known as “the Swede,” a large imposing figure who is head of security in the lawless West. The irony of “the Swede” is that he is of Norwegian decent. Even though he is a recipient of a racial misnomer, he still uses race as a factor when he tries to figure out who murdered Daniel Johnson. He speculates that the murder was committed by “one of the Nee-groes” and “the Swede” takes delight in the possibility that if an African American is guilty or is even presumed guilty, that he would be able to hang him. “The Swede” is an interesting character in that he is greatly affected by race while also using race and its prejudices in his own judgments.

Race is used as a compass to decide who are the heroes and who are the villains which has been an underlying precept in the Western genre. Hell on Wheels continues this tradition through the relationship between the Native Americans and the White men. In Hell on Wheels, some of the Native Americans are depicted as savages, and villains, who ruthlessly attack a settlement, killing everyone in sight. Furthermore, they are hunting for Lily Bell, who they warn will be defiled and murdered if caught. Standing in their way is Joseph Black Moon, an Indian, who now has adopted Jesus Christ and the white man’s culture. He cautions his brothers that if they harm a white woman, there will be repercussions, to which they reply that even though Moon appears different, he still remains an Indian and will be treated as such.

It appears that race will remain a large factor as Hell on Wheels continues. The relationship between the Whites and the “savage” Indians is a common theme in Westerns and it appears that Hell on Wheels is building up to a confrontation between the two cultures. Furthermore, the show continues to address the relationship and racial tensions between Whites and African Americans during the post-Civil War period. This is exemplified when Cullen, who is accused of Johnson’s murder, points out that he could report Elam, a recently freed African American, as the murderer and he would be believed without evidence because he is white and Elam is black.

Hell on Wheels: Episode 2

November 15, 2011

The second episode of Hell on Wheels was leagues better than the pilot; with a clearly defined plot, more definite character motivations, and the addition of characters with intriguing stories, this show is definitely laying the tracks down to make huge improvements over time. The only problem that I foresee is that the show may end up repeating itself, with Cullen getting himself into a problem at the beginning of the episode and then working his way out by the end.  On the other hand, I find that Lily’s story is much more compelling, and I feel that this season will focus a lot on her development as a character who has lost everything she knows.

My overall sentiment about this show is that it needs more time. We would all agree that one of the main reasons why people prefer TV over movies is because the audience can really grow with the characters and begin to love them more over time. I think what Hell on Wheels is trying to do here is develop the characters first, so the audience is intrigued by them alone, and that is when they will start bringing in serious plot twists and more enthralling stories. I agree with most of my classmates that this show does invest a lot of money in the visual aspects, but I don’t think that AMC would support that sort of money spending unless there was a truly great plot behind this period piece. I simply believe that the show needs a few more episodes to take off its training wheels, and then the greatness will be unleashed. Or… I could just be an optimist.

Hell on Wheels: Immoral Mathematics

November 15, 2011

I try not to set too much stock in the pilot episode of a television series – plenty of great shows have recovered from underwhelming pilots, and I was initially hopeful that Hell on Wheels might be able to do the same.  Unfortunately, after this week’s episode, it’s become increasingly clear that Hell on Wheels is a show that is shot, art directed, and staged beautifully, but the ultimate execution of story and characters is the essential part of a successful show, and Hell on Wheels is not executing as well as it should.

My complaints about the pilot episode largely had to do with the lack of original, motivated characters on the show, with the writers generally favoring the usual archetypes, such as the bitter former slave and the tough gunslinger seeking revenge. However, this week the show introduced a new character, whose speech to Cullen Bohannon provided the title of the episode: they call him The Swede. Appearing to be a giant Swedish-accented hybrid of Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson, the Swede sees something suspicious in Bohannan as they discuss the murder of the one-handed foreman. When Bohannon is ordered to hang, the Swede delivers a monologue about his former life as a bookkeeper intrigued me; the idea of a villain as a former bookkeeper appealed to me, and though his metaphor of controlling numbers versus people and making things add up was a little heavy handed, the speech itself was the most engaging part of the episode. With the addition of this unexpected backstory, it appeared to me that the Swede might actually be the truly original character that this show is looking for, but by the end of the episode it seemed that he may simply just fulfill the typical role of supervillain, whom Bohannon will presumably clash with multiple times over the course of the season.

Because the Swede makes for such an imposing presence on screen, I found the character arc for Lily, last seen wandering in Native American territory, impossibly dull. This week, we watched her meander through the woods, fall asleep next to a log, and later suture her own wounds, which though a demonstration of how plucky and brave she’s surely going to become only made me think about how much I miss Lost. My greatest frustrated annoyance this week, however, came from the Native Americans searching for her, who deliver their lines about missing the taste of blood in clearly enunciated, and perfectly unaccented English, even when talking among themselves – period details, AMC! Subtitles are your friends.

Hell On Wheels episode 2

November 14, 2011

Obviously the success of Hell On Wheels hinges on Cullen Bohannan (think I was calling him Collin last week–my bad), and consequently Teen Choice Award Nominee for Choice On Screen Chemistry with Britney Spears (as the AV Club likes to point out), Anson Mount. Right now though, Cullen is a walking talk box of gun slingin’ one-liners that range from gruff and snarky to gruff and serious. I’m not sure right now if the fault here should be placed on the writers–because I can excuse somewhat cliche dialog if a show does it with a wink, which Hell On Wheels seems to dabbling in–or Mount. Though right now I’m leaning towards Mount, who gave a pretty lackluster performance, especially in the scene with the pastor; though he was a tad better in that final scene with Durant.

Anywho, after the bloodbath that was the pilot, episode 2 was understandably a bit more plot/backstory driven. My big bone to pick is with Cullen’s filter-heavy, POV flashback, which felt much too heavy handed; I get that it was to introduce the needle point he finds in Johnson’s things at the end, but I hope in the future (if Mount can up his game) they reveal what exactly happen in Meridian through dialog. But this is a show about dealing with your past as the pilot hinted, which Sean And Mickey’s Mysterious Boston Incident, the actual introduction Joseph Back Moon, and, in my opinion, the now increasingly obvious fact that the pastor is the mysterious sergeant only served to heighten. Such a theme is compelling of course, but what’s interesting is how the past effects present action, not how the past effects present emotional states–and the latter drove this episode.

But, y’know, that’s how it goes. The beauty of television stories is that slow burn storytelling style, where at the end of the season you realize just how necessary those seemingly inconsequential episodes were. Granted, you can certainly craft more rewarding set-ups than this–but again, we’re only two episodes in and you can tell the creative team is still getting into the swing of things. (Not to mention the time between the writing/shooting of a pilot and the writing/shooting of the second episode is huge, which can cause the cast and crew to lose their footing a tad.) Here’s hoping things–like Mount’s acting chops–start to pick up next week.


November 8, 2011

To describe the show in one word, mediocre. It is nothing more than I expected from a western AMC series, but at the same time, I’d probably watch the whole season and have a decent time doing so. This wouldn’t be because I’m hooked to the plot and dying to see what happens next but more because I have faith that AMC wouldn’t air a show that didn’t at least have some substantial/entertaining moments.

The intro is horrible. (I know, abrupt change of tone from the first paragraph, but it’s true.) It’s as if the show is trying so hard to make the plot and setting clear that it has severely dumbed it down in the process. The initial church confessional scene is intended to provoke an “OMG, didn’t see that coming” type reaction. However, this scene has been overplayed so many times in the past that it seems like recycled, laziness (Boondock Saints, Machete, etc). The show may as well have started with, “The Civil War is over. Here’s depressed soldier A. Oh, no, someone has a personal vendetta towards depressed soldier A and possibly others, and now this man with a vendetta is going to go kick some ass and get some revenge. Scene 2: Manifest Destiny, let’s expand. The “Indians” are savages, bla, bla. Let’s capitalize on this because I’m immoral and trying to ball out”. Reading a text book about American history would provide similar clarity. An addicting television show, in my opinion, leaves the viewer at least somewhat in the dark and allows room for interpretation and curiosity. This show doesn’t do that. However, this could also be a reason why I want to watch the second episode now. This show is simple and mindless—a great one to put on and have a strong drink after a long day.

I like some of the score a lot. It may be somewhat knocked off from Deadwood, but it entertained me. I thought the costumes and scenery seemed a bit too contrived/cheesy. It felt somewhat like a section of Disney world—too Hollywood.

There is some funny, cute banter such as the train scene conversation between Doc (the badass/out to kill yet moral type) and the two young men (“looking for their fortune”).

I had mixed feelings towards the Cheyanne tribe attack scene. Some of the imagery and cinematography is beautiful (i.e. when the scene switches from within the lovers in the tent to the Native Americans walking through the light, snow-covered bushes preparing to attack. The juxtaposition of the contrasting appearance of the scene within the tent to the tribe approaching really amplified the prettiness of this shot. In addition to the cinematography/imagery, I was somewhat drawn into this brief yet brutal attack scene. I may just be a sucker, but I felt the intensity of Lily Bell’s escape scene with Robert. Lily jumping on top of the Native American after being shot by the arrow and taking control over the situation added to her likability. She established herself as a tough chick. Once again, I may just be a sucker and have not been in a cynical mood when I watched this, but I’ll admit that I was able to empathize with Lily as she kissed Robert and fled the scene.

However, like I said, I had mixed feelings towards this Cheyanne tribe attack scene. I would have liked the show to have immersed me more deeply within the lovers’ relationship and personalities to develop an even stronger connection with them before everything went awry. Also, I’m sure the show will film through the lens of the tribe’s perspective, but like many old westerns, a Native American was turned into the villain within this first episode. I understand the rational third party perspective of the common ignorant portrayal that the show is probably going for, but regardless, it bothered me.

Pilot on Wheels

November 8, 2011

AMC’s Hell on Wheels is a show without roots – literally. Set in a moving railroad town in Nebraska, the show features characters all overtly motivated by their connection to, as well as their perception of, their individual homelands. There are the voluntary characters of Sean and Mickey, brothers who willingly left their homeland of Ireland to find fortune in the America, reminiscent of the misguided Irish who moved West in the documentary The Hard Road to Klondike. There are the displaced characters, such as the angry Elam who has been freed but cannot get back to his home and the Indian tribe who attack the railroad construction site that threatens their home. There is Doc, a character who has potential but currently lacks history and a real incentive, perhaps in part because he seems to literally live on a train, never in one place for more than a second.

And then there is Cullen Bohannon, our tragic hero who claims towards the end of the episode that his homeland is “gone.” Cullen is a man who went to war for his homeland of the South not because he wanted to keep slaves, but for the “honor” of his states. The pilot was overly dramatic and obvious at times, and although that is an inevitability with first episodes and I agree with the philosophy of giving a show ample episodes to prove itself, these unfortunate qualities were exasperated by the fact that each character had such a different homeland and past from his counterparts. Only towards the end, during the showdown between Cullen and his one armed boss, did any of the interactions between characters feel exciting.

Hell on Wheels is also somewhat inhibited by its home at AMC. Almost every review thus far has made sure to include how the show fits with its network counterparts and the overall brand of the network. How Hell on Wheels can distinguish itself as intelligent, provoking and generally viable among a lineup of other successful AMC shows remains to be seen.

Hell on Wheels: Pilot

November 8, 2011

Although this is humiliating, I am going to go out and say it: I almost had to shut my computer halfway through watching the Hell on Wheels pilot because it was difficult for me to sit through all of the gore and brutality. Clearly I have a low tolerance for violence, but the cinematic style of using intimate, close-up shots of bloody killings and altercations were too much for me. I am probably the only viewer of the Hell on Wheels pilot that felt this way; so despite my embarrassment, I thought I should offer up my differing opinion in contrast to those who thought the pilot was actually too slow, boring, predictable or anticlimactic.
Anyway, moving beyond my wimpy watching abilities, something I took away from the first episode was a feeling of inconsistency, contradiction and unevenness. Perhaps given the subject matter and the show’s tagline “the nation was an open wound,” inconsistency was to some extent part of the point the producers were trying to make. Regardless, I think one of the main ways this uneven feeling was projected was in the visuals, most notably in the partial adaptation of traditional costume practices and the cinematography with the washed out, grayed color that was more intense in some scenes and less in others. The classic Hollywood Western costume trope is to have the good guys in white cowboy hats and the bag guys in black cowboy hats. This white versus black hat juxtaposition is intended to symbolize the two sides of morality: the heroes versus the villains. Cullen Bohannon is always dressed in all black, which includes a black cowboy hat. However, even though Cullen is a gunslinger who sports an iconic black cowboy hat, his character is more complex then his ensemble indicates. He is on a mission to seek revenge for the murder of his wife, which seems manly and “justified” enough, we learn that he freed his slaves one year before the war, and his seemingly unimpressive mumbling-style of speech all make him less of the villain archetype his costume suggests he should be. (This uncertainty of character is even more applicable considering the first impression we are given of Cullen is his gruesome murder at very close range of a Northern soldier in a church confessional.)
In my opinion, although this pilot contains most of the hallmarks attributed to the classic Western genre, such as gunslingers, battle, “working girls,” American Indians, grit and wide open panoramic views, by giving Cullen a somewhat modern sensibility a contradiction arises. Thus, the authenticity and consistency of the show’s premise and Cullen’s character are questionable. All of these consistencies, along with the multiple storylines that were slowly integrated into the plot and then abruptly cut short in choppy ways, explain part of this first episode’s problem.
I think the ending of the pilot speaks the most volume: the “zebra speech” with the splices of vast open land, Lily Bell wandering alone covered in blood, the destruction of life and land, and the railroad workers edited into Thomas Durant’s speech serve as a recap and hint of what is to come. This was too forced and fake. His words were powerful, symbolic and conveyed too much for the audience as if the audience couldn’t figure these things out on its own. When things are given away to the audience this easily, and most of these “gifts” were already apparent through visual cues, narrative and character development, it makes the audience less interested and less engaged. Yes, I understand the importance and job of a pilot to anchor the show and provide enough information across to make viewers tune in next week, but I think this could have been accomplished in a less overt way. Instead of spelling out the actions and motivations of the characters, it would have been better to close the episode with more mystery and an aura of unpredictability. I always think the sign of a good show or movie is one that keeps you thinking after you have turned off the TV or left the theater because you have had some visceral reaction or it spoke to you. The only visceral reaction I got here was disgust from my inability to stomach the gore. If I go by this standard of evaluation then Hell on Wheels was not too successful. However, I don’t want to judge it too quickly, and despite my uncontrollable need to cover my eyes more often than I would have liked, I am curious as to how the producers will move the show forward in a compelling and gripping way…

“Hell On Wheels” Pilot breaks old ground

November 8, 2011

On the subject of genre, ‘Hell on Wheels’ can be filed in the ‘Western’ folder without question. Judging from its pilot, the show delivers on everything audiences have come to expect with any story set on the frontier. We have a brooding-maverick-with-a-troubled-past protagonist Cullen Bohannen, a mean-and-greedy-and-fat railroad investor Doc Durant. Not to mention a full-on bloody Native American raid, complete with face and body paint, gutting, and scalping. Like many of my classmates,  I came away from this episode almost offended by its staleness.

But I am hesitant to write off the show entirely by its first episode, because it did set up some elements that could prove interesting in the next few installments, particularly in regards to race and gender (totally offensive Native American raid aside). Elam is shaping up to be Cullen’s number one buddy in his quest to find his wife’s murderer. Lily came away from the raid with some *very important* maps. Both characters aren’t ones we usually see in the white male drunken gun-slinging sausage fest that characterize a typical Western, and it’s difficult to judge whether they will become major players in the primary plot line from just the pilot. But the possibility of it was probably the most compelling element of this first episode for me.

Like Jon said, I don’t think ‘Hell on Wheels’ is going to turn the Western on its side, but I do think it could be a very satisfying experience for those audiences who like Westerns already and come to the show to have their expectations met.