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AMC's 'Hell on Wheels a surprisingly good Western series

July 31, 2012 |

Anson Mount and Common are the stars of "Hell on Wheels."
Reminder Publications submitted photo

By G. Michael Dobbs news@thereminder.com A surprising Western series and a British view of high school are featured in this week's DVD column.
Hell on Wheels, First Season
No lesser authority than George "Gabby" Hays — go Google him, youngsters — who appeared in hundreds of westerns over this career in the 1930s and 40s once noted there were just a handful of plots for the genre and that Western producers just shifted those elements around. Perhaps that is the reason the Western declined as a popular film genre in the 1970s and has never come back to the prominence it once had. Although I've been known to sit through low budget B Westerns at the drop of a Stetson, much less bigger budgeted films, I recognize that for too many people Westerns seem repetitive. I would venture, though, that non-fans would find much to enjoy in AMC's "Hell on Wheels" series, which is now on DVD and Blu-Ray. Certainly not as heralded as "Mad Men" or "The Walking Dead," AMC's two huge hits, "Hell on Wheels" is equally, if not more, dramatically rich. Set in 1865 after the close of the war, Anson Mount plays Cullen Bohannon, a former Confederate soldier and landowner who has lost everything in his life. His wife was killed by a band of Union soldiers and he is hunting them down and killing them. His trek leads him to the Union Pacific's efforts to build the first transcontinental railroad where several of the men work. He winds up getting the job of foreman there. It is there the story really heats up, as the Union Pacific's work camp, known as "Hell on Wheels," is really a microcosm of American society. The railroad is headed by Thomas Durant (Colm Meaney) a man determined to milk as much government money as he can from the construction of his part of the line. The wounds from the Civil War are still open and raw and there are conflicts between Southerners and Northerners. Newly freed African Americans struggle to be treated with equality. Immigrants fresh from the boat see the hardships they face as necessary evils in their quest for a new life. Complicating the railroad's drive west are violent interactions with Native Americans. The story is told in rather unflinching terms. This is a drama for adults as the narrative landscape is dotted with the political incorrectness of the era, as well as random profanity, violence and sex. I found the show very involving and well realized. It has a ring of authenticity that is often lacking in other period shows. The next season of the program begins next month and, if interested, Western fans — and non-fans — ought to watch this set first.
The Inbetweeners, the Complete Series
When this British sit-com first was broadcast over BBC America all I could remember is that it was rude, crude and not particularly funny. When this DVD collection made its way to my desk I broke it open for a re-examination. I have to report my first impression remains accurate. Now I don't mind rude and crude, but this British version of "Porky's" — a group of outcast high school students obsessed with obtaining a sex life — is simply distasteful. When the guys are checking out each other's mothers, that's when I toss in the towel. The problem is that none of the main characters are remotely sympathetic. They are either stupid or venal. This version is uncensored, so American audiences can hear all of the profanity that BBC American bleeped out. Apparently the DVD release is timed to help promote the release of a feature film with the original cast now as young men out of high school, but still as obnoxious. Pass this one up.

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