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Hell on Wheels: The Complete First Season

Release Year:         2011
Studio:         Entertainment One
Format:         Colour; NTSC
Rated:         Not Rated; Strong language, violence, sexual situations
# of Discs/Episodes:         3/10
Running Time:         427 minutes + extras
DVD Release Date:         May 15, 2012
Creators:         Joe Gayton, Tony Gayton
Actors:         Anson Mount, Colm Meaney, Common, Dominique McElligott, Tom Noonan, Eddie Spears, Ben Esler, Phil Burke, Christopher Heyerdahl, Robin McLeavy
DVD Features:         SDH subtitles
E:Top Picks Rating:         8.5/10

Acorn Media Write-up:  
Blood will be spilled. Lives will be lost. Fortunes will be made. Men will be ruined.

Credited for modernizing the Western genre upon its premier in 2011, HELL ON WHEELS centers on former Confederate soldier Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount), whose quest for vengeance has led him to the Union Pacific’s construction of the first transcontinental railroad. Currently reigning as the #2 rated show on AMC (and boasting a series premier that was the second highest rated AMC debut of all time), HELL ON WHEELS is episodic TV at its finest.

HELL ON WHEELS tells the epic story of post-Civil War America, focusing on a soldier who sets out to exact revenge on the Union soldiers who killed his wife. His journey takes him west to Hell on Wheels, the dangerous, raucous, lawless melting pot of a town that travels with and services the construction of the railroad. The lavishly-produced series documents this unprecedented engineering feat, as well as institutionalized greed and corruption, the immigrant experience and the plight of newly emancipated African-Americans during Reconstruction. Chronicling this potent turning point in our nation’s history, HELL ON WHEELS shows just how uncivilized the business of civilization can be across ten absorbing episodes.

Developed by Endemol USA and produced by Entertainment One and Nomadic Pictures, HELL ON WHEELS is created, written and executive-produced by Joe and Tony Gayton (“Faster”, “Uncommon Valor”, “The Salton Sea”, “Bulletproof”).

Bonus programming:
Recreating the Past: The Making of Hell on Wheels; Crashing a Train: From Concept to Camera; Seven Making-of Featurettes; Ten “Inside the Episode” Featurettes; Seven Character Featurettes; Behind-the-scenes footage

Jon Ted Wynne Review:  
In recent years, AMC (American Movie Classics) has produced some outstanding television fare. “The Walking Dead” is particularly successful, but so are a number of other shows, “Mad Men” being the most obvious. When HELL ON WHEELS was announced it struck this reviewer that maybe, just maybe, here was a show that could fill the void where a really good Western needed to be.

Having watched the series on a weekly basis during its initial run, and now reviewed the episodes on DVD, it is safe to conclude that this is a quality show, a Western of intelligence and understanding of the key ingredients that make for a successful oater. While certainly an update of the genre, the modernization is generally very carefully crafted and the guts of the show is classic.

Anson Mount is the spine of the story. His Cullen Bohannon is the stoic, strong, relatively silent and (fatally?) flawed hero whose quest to avenge the slaughter of his wife and son in an act of atrocity during the American Civil War is the main story arc in the series. The building of the first east to west railway in the aftermath of the war is the colourful and deadly backdrop for Bohannon’s and the numerous other characters’ storylines.

There is much to enjoy here, from Colm Meaney’s crooked railway builder Durant, to the struggling-to-survive-with-virtue-intact Lily (Dominique McElligott), to the driven performance by rapper Common as Elam, a recently-freed black man, and more. Many of the minor recurring roles are just as interesting, such as Robin McLeavey’s prostitute Eva. Ms. McLeavey, who has a stage pedigree that includes working opposite Cate Blanchett, is wonderful, portraying toughness and sensitivity in equal measure.

The real incentive to own shows like HELL ON WHEELS on DVD is the wonderful array of extras that is becoming increasingly important in marketing DVDs. There are a few duds among the extras, but by and large the assortment is really fun to watch. Each of the actors has a lot of insight into their characters (for a change). Your image of Anson Mount as the enigmatic Bohannon is completely turned on its head when he speaks so eloquently and intelligently about his character and the show in general. At one point he describes the show as a sort of epic poem. Fans of the series will get exactly what he means. Amidst the squalor and filth, there is a poetic quality to the struggles and dreams that define each character’s existence. It’s one of the main features that makes HELL ON WHEELS so eminently watchable.

Anson Mount recently stated publicly that he would like to see the show run for about six seasons. There is much to mine from the series, so this is entirely possible. Meantime, HELL ON WHEELS: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON is a firm foundation for this hopeful run.