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This new revenge-fueled western makes for dumb, bloody fun....
E1 / 450 Minutes / 2011 / Unrated / Street Date: May 15, 2012
Yeah, it's just Deadwood with a bit of Kill Bill revenge quest thrown in, but that doesn't mean that I didn't eat up Hell on Wheels: The Complete First Season is marathon style. In fact, I applaud modern television - we seem to be in a programming pocket where neo-westerns like Justified and Hell on Wheels are the rule, not exceptions to it. I'm sure it will fall out of favor soon enough, but for now, the western is back.
I doubt there's a lot going on under the hood of Hell on Wheels, but any kind of significant thematic or tonal meaning isn't on this show's radar at all. No, we get the distinct impression early on here that former Confederate fighter Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) is out for revenge, and he's gonna get it one way or another. There are multiple side-plots and supporting characters aplenty, but the show lives and breathes with Bohannon's thirst for blood, and it's certainly enough to keep the show moving along briskly.
This is not to say, however, that Hell on Wheels isn't without a killer supporting slate. Irishmen Sean (Ben Elser) and Mickey (Phil Burke) are a blast, the Cheyenne fellow Joseph Black Moon (Eddie Spears) is a welcome addition, and Bohannon's repartee with Elam (Common), a former slave who never quite knows what to think of our hero is exceptionally exciting.
Hell on Wheels isn't a show to build a religion around or anything, but as a viewer who wishes there were more westerns on TV as a general rule, this Complete First Season on Blu-ray is a warm, gritty surprise. I doubt showrunners will be able to keep up the percolating pace of this first go-round for much more than another season or two, but even if Hell on Wheels is by-the-book revenge TV programming that we've all seen a hundred times before, that doesn't mean it isn't exceptional escapist fun.