Hell on Wheels

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television -

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.

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