To Hell & Back: Thoughts on Hell on Wheels and American Horror Story

I watched AMC’s “Hell on Wheels” with the hope that it would fill the void that Deadwood left. After owning the Deadwood DVD’s for many years, I finally dusted them off and devoured all 3 seasons in a short time and that was only a few months ago. So when Hell on Wheels debuted, I was intrigued for a variety of reasons; firstly, AMC has some really good shows (Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Walking Dead), secondly, it is filmed in Canada (Alberta) and thirdly, I am a sucker for a good Western themed program.

Well, I watched it and was glad that it was only 10 episodes. If it was any longer, I would have bailed. The first episode showed promise but the show peaked there. By the four or fifth episode, I realized that I really didn’t care about what happened to any of the characters. By then I was at the half way point, so I decided to stick it out in order to provide a complete outlook on the season for the purposes of this blog.

The story takes place in a mobile camp of workers who are laying track for a railroad in post-civil war era western USA. The protagonist / foreman Cullen Bohannan (Anson Mount) has a vendetta against some men whom he believes raped and killed his wife and child. He tracked them to the camp and kills them in cold blood. Or at least tries to until he gets unexpected assistance from one of the workers, a newly freed slave named Elam Ferguson (Common). We also meet a land surveillor and his soon to be widowed wife Lilly Bell (Dominique McElligott) as well as railroad baron Doc Durant (Colm Meaney), his security chief, the Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl) and a handful of other characters. The show does not seem to have a main story arc beyond the vengeance tale. It gives us glimpses at the days in the life of this mobile camp. We learn about the financial and power struggles facing these men, whether they live in muddy tent or more civilized quarters.

The difficulty I had with this show is that I really didn’t care about any of the characters. Why I didn’t care is still elusive to me.  Perhaps it was that they appeared pretty one dimensional. The dialogue was nothing special, there was very little humour. The pacing was a bit slow but I can handle that if the aforementioned problems were not compounding elements. Perhaps because “Deadwood” was still fresh in my memory, Hell on Wheels was simply doomed from the start, because it is nowhere in the same league. Deadwood’s characters were more colourful, complex and lept off the screen.

Although my New Year’s Resolution is to NOT be a bitter ender, I stuck this show out until the end of the season. I am glad to say that I won’t be returning for season 2.

“American Horror Story” is another show that I stuck out until the end but will not revisit for season 2. If you like well acted freaky horror stunts, and you don’t expect loose ends tied too tightly and you don’t need plot points to make sense, then this is the show for you. I found none of the characters particularly sympathetic and there was very little explanation for any of the supernatural phenomenon that I witnessed. With so much suspension of disbelief, the cables of my mind snapped. They were probably frayed to begin with after watching 6 seasons of Lost. At least with that show, I enjoyed the character development enough to not care that it made no sense. With American Horror Story, there were just characters. Very well acted characters, but the story telling was too sloppy to keep me engaged. A little of these ghostly horrors go a long way and I won’t be coming back.

It is with relief that I am ditching 2 shows, just in time to check out 2 shows that have some buzz associated with them. They are “Revenge” and the US version of “Shameless”

Shows I am currently watching:


Being Human US version


Vampire Diaries


Downton Abbey


I am looking forward to the return of the following shows:

Spartacus Jan 29

Game of Thrones April 1

Mad Men Mar 25

Breaking Bad no return date yet

Shows that I am seriously considering ditching (unless someone convinces me not to) because I have lost interest.


True Blood

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: 2011 – 2012 TV Season Wrap Up – part 2 « What is Ann Watching?

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