TV: Hell on Wheels 1.3 “A New Birth of Freedom” Review (*1/2)

Posted: November 23, 2011 in Reviews, Television
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There’s a reason why this Hell on Wheels review is out 72 hours after its airing; it took me that long to get through it. Hell on Wheels is unbearably slow-paced and three episodes in, no payoff or teaser has gotten its viewers excited about what’s to come next. “A New birth of Freedom” is another installment of what it seems like a never-ending prologue of the actual series. It promises a punch at the beginning and at the end of each episode, but it’s barely a jab or light grapple. Hit me already we’re shouting. Give us a reason to care! 

The latest drama from AMC tells the story of former Confederate soldier Cullen Bohannon on the trail to find the Union soldiers who killed his wife. While the premise — The Wild West + Revenge — shows promise, the result feels like a poor man’s version of There Will Be Blood. In the latest episode, Cullen vengeance trail hits an obstacle when he crosses paths with Lily and hesitatingly brings her back to town. Other subplots involve Elam solidifying himself as leader among the freedmen on the railroad and Joseph, who is starting to see that white people don’t really like his Native American kind (I mean, really?!?).

The saving grace of the series is that it looks beautiful — Hell on Wheels is superbly shot, features authentic costume design, and it’s clear the network spared no cost in making the show. But beware — just because a show looks like a winner doesn’t mean it is one. It’s got a lot of superficial things going for it, that keep viewers and critics like me hanging around. AMC (the network of Mad Men and Breaking Bad) is putting their bets on this show, and that must count for something, right? I sure hope so because thus far, I’m not seeing other than bootleg versions of Clint and Wayne on cable.

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