Hell on Wheels
Sunday, 9.30pm, FX It doesn’t take long for television to devour its own ideas and create pale imitations of the original. This is the case with Hell on Wheels, which is Deadwood with trains. Deadwood was set in a Dakota goldmining town after the American Civil War, while this is about life and, frequently, death among the construction gangs and hangers-on building the westward line of the first transcontinental railway at about the same time. The basis of both is much the same: life is cheap, order is infrequent and the rule of law is barely acknowledged. Many of the characters — prostitutes and preachers, spivs and standover men — are much the same. Certainly there are differences with Deadwood. In Hell on Wheels people are still fighting the war and there are more black, indigenous and Irish faces. Complaints that the role played by Chinese labourers in building the railroad has been ignored are unfair; they worked on the connecting line that started in California. But the big difference is the quality of the plot. Deadwood is an intricate story about politics and power and the way frontier communities gradually create order. Hell on Wheels covers the same ground but in the end it’s just another, albeit superior, western.