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Thoughts On Common In AMC's New Post-Civil War Drama "Hell On Wheels"?

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by Tambay A. Obenson
November 7, 2011 4:40 PM
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AMC's post-Civil War drama series titled Hell On Wheels, one of 7 or so Civil War-themed projects (TV and film) currently in development at various studios, premiered last night, Sunday, November 6 at 10/9c on the network. This one co-stars rapper-turned-actor Common, who plays a character named Elam - a freed, bi-racial slave who heads west to find work, while also hoping to find his place in society, as he doesn’t feel that he fits squarely into either the “black world” or the “white world.”

Anyone catch the premiere episode? I didn't, but I hope to catch up some time this week before the next.

This morning I read several reviews of the new series (about 8 or so) and the consensus is lukewarm. None of them was either decisively negative nor positive. Keep in mind that many of these media outlets have already watched several episodes of the series, even though it premiered for the general public last night, so they're reviewing the series from a more informed position.

I was especially interested in what they had to say, if anything, about Common's performance as Elam. And of those that mentioned him within their reviews, their reactions to the raptor's onscreen presence was positive.

To wit, from New York magazine:

Common plays the raging former slave Elam Ferguson, a character who is not particularly well written and is regularly besieged by odd camera angles, but Common brings so much ferocity (and stellar neck beard) to the part, he makes it work.

And from Slate:

Second billing goes to Common, who plays Elam Ferguson, a former slave working for Union Pacific. The actor does a lot of good simmering and dutiful glowering, and his character's relationship with Bohannon is the richest one on screen. The performance is just good enough to distract you from the fact that Ferguson less resembles an individual than an archetype addressing a few centuries' worth of racial grievances.

Although, in one of the less enthusiastic reviews, this one from Entertainment Weekly, this was said:

Every character, however, is too one-note in the episodes I’ve seen: Common = angry

However, I'd say that has less to do with Common's acting than the way the character was penned by the writers. But what was it that was that sampled convo in Public Enemy's Prophet's of Rage? The white man says to the black man, "You're quite hostile;" and the black man answers, "I got a right to be hostile, man, my people's being persecuted!" If you watched last night's premiere, your thoughts, whether general, or specific?

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