An authentic Western in 'Hell on Wheels'

Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) and Elam Ferguson (Common)

Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) and Elam Ferguson (Common) in a scene from " Hell On Wheels" Season 1, Episode 1 . (Credit: AMC)

DRAMA PREMIERE "Hell on Wheels"

WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 10 p.m. on AMC

REASON TO WATCH A rare Western.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Right after the Civil War, the west beckons -- that is, it beckons desperadoes, con men and the hungry. Cullen Bohannan (Anson Mount) is here for a different reason. The former Confederate soldier is on a grim mission to kill every Union soldier who murdered his wife back in Meridian, Miss.

This brings him to the frontier, and a rough-and-tumble camp named "Hell on Wheels" filled with "gandy dancers," uncommonly tough crews of men building the railroad across the country. This camp is the leading edge of the Union Pacific build-out, run by Thomas "Doc" Durant (Colm Meaney), a corrupt, hard-bitten wastrel and opportunist. Bohannan needs friends, and finds one in a former slave, Elam Ferguson (Common).

Meanwhile, Indians have attacked a camp, killing a man who is carrying Durant's railroad maps. His wife Lily Bell (Dominique McElligott) escapes.

MY SAY "If they move, kill 'em," famously (or was it infamously?) commanded William Holden's character at the outset of "The Wild Bunch." And yes, Sam Peckinpah would very much approve of the grit, dust and blood that's ground into almost every frame of this new series -- quite possibly as sanguineous as an average episode of "The Walking Dead."

As conceived by writing team, brothers Joe and Tony Gayton ("Uncommon Valor," and recently, "Faster"), "Hell" is the postmodern, or at least post-Sergio Leone vision, of the Old West: A God-free zone where you killed or were killed, and it didn't necessarily matter which.

Mount, who's quite good here, has a Jim Caviezel stare and a Chuck Norris stubble and doesn't look like he's hit a shower in a decade. His sideman, Common, glowers and smolders. Meaney eats nails and washes 'em down with sour mash. It can all be a bit much, but you won't be bored.

BOTTOM LINE Solid cast, intriguing premise, and -- best of all -- the Old West. Should easily be another winner for AMC.

GRADE B+

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