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'Hell on Wheels:' Common; behind-the-scenes; review
"Hell on Wheels," AMC's sophomore drama, returns Sunday, and no time like the present to catch up. This grabbag post offers this recent interview with Common on "Attack of the Show;" he plays freed slave Elam and is pretty good; next I've got a behind-the-scenes reel; and finally, my review. (Grade: B -) And....take it away!
"Hell on Wheels," AMC, Sunday 9.
What Sunday's about: Under that broad Nebraska sky - that still seems to be glowering and dark even when the sun is out - the Transcontinental railroad pushes further west. But progress has slowed. Indians remain a threat, and suddenly there's a new one - Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) who has taken up with a band of desperadoes intent on robbing every train that rolls by with the railroad workers' payroll on board. Bohannon is on the run after killing an innocent man in Hell on Wheels whom he believed had killed his wife. "I can prove I'm innocent," the man said. Bohannon strangled him anyway (in the first season finale) only to pry poof of his innocence from his cold dead grip. (Oh-oh. Time to move on. Fast.) In Sunday's opener, Elam (Common) is the new muscle appointed by Durant (Colm Meaney) to guard the payroll, while "The Swede" Gundersen (Christopher Heyerdahl) has a new (and unsavory) role.
My say: Despite good numbers for the first season, "Hell on Wheels" never quite caught a buzz, and there's a reason for that: It can be surprisingly listless. The series bumbles around in the dark (real and figurative), seeking some larger meaning that always seems to elude its grasp. Moody, bleak and dour, you begin to wonder if there's any "there" there out on those windswept plains. Yes, Bohannon - propelled by a tragedy too deep for words (which is OK because he's a man of few words anyway) - is still fighting his own personal Civil War. You may also begin to wonder, however, whether he's lost all moral authority after last season's closer. Bohannon's not only impetuous. He's (even worse) apparently stupid too. But Mount's performance still seems exactly right. He's the Man with No Name - that classic western archetype as sturdy and durable as a lonesome pine, or majestic butte. I just wish he wasn't as expressive as either.
Bottom line: Where is this headed? Who knows but it's heading there slowly. But the cast โ€“ Common, Meaney, Heyerdahl, and Mount - is good, while the old west still feels epically beautiful and perilous. Grade: B -