Since the advent of film and TV as a popular forms media, one of the most popular genres used as storylines for features, shorts and episodic television was the Western. In film early on you had John Ford (My Darling Clementine), later there was John Wayne's films captivating audiences and then of course the popularity of the gritty, more true-to-western-life classics from Sergio Leone(Fistful of Dollars and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) and Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch). Television took its cue from Hollywood by producing popular shows like Bonanza and The Lone Ranger. It wasn't until the mid 80's that film and TV fans seemed to just get bored of the genre.
Aside from HBO's highly acclaimed Deadwood, no one has really stepped up to the plate to create a "real" western themed show, until AMC chose to produce Joe and Tony Gayton's ten episode first season run of Hell on Wheels. With already a handful of brilliant shows like The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad, the channel that use to run classic movies is kicking some serious ass taking on this grungy little title.
One of the biggest things that stands out in Hell on Wheels as you watch the pilot and the episodes after is how beautifully shot it is. The scenery is as grandiose as they come - just the way a show about the old west should be. I also appreciated the depth of the characters and how they were crafted by the writers. It’s a big area of strength for the narrative.
Anson Mount’s turn as Cullen Bohannen, our lead protagonist borrows –thankfully- from the great Spaghetti western of yesteryear. The Hell on Wheels storyline itself surrounds the railroad business during the 1860’s. Racial tensions, crime and murder are the order of the day for the bulk of the ten episodes, so if you’re expecting something cookie cutter like Big Valley or the shows your grandmother watched, you may need to steer clear.
As tough a sell as westerns are in 2012, Hell on Wheels has enough solid writing and talent in other crucial areas to keep it rolling for more seasons to come. Bring on season two! Recommended.