AMC returns to its roots with “Hell on Wheels” (9 p.m.). It’s easy to forget that before the American Movie Classics network became known for original series like “Mad Men,” ‘‘Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead,” its most popular broadcasts included Westerns, including repeats of the “Lonesome Dove” miniseries and its own Western mini, “Broken Trail.”
Like AMC’s more recent series, “Hell” explores the darker corners of American history and human nature. Set against the construction boom (and political boondoggle) of the post-Civil War era during the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, “Hell” follows Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount), a former Confederate soldier on the hunt for the Union officers who murdered his wife. While working on the railroad, he’s put in charge of a road gang of former slaves, including Elam, portrayed by musician Common.
The always-enjoyable Colm Meaney (“Star Trek: Next Generation”) is Durant, a railroad baron out to squeeze the most out of the federal subsidies for his construction. Meaney loses his Irish brogue for the project, and bellows in a voice not unlike that of Gene Hackman.
Durant’s machinations remind us that “Hell” takes place during the dawn of the Gilded Age, when war gave way to the single-minded pursuit of money. It’s easy to see why “Hell” and another recent show, “Boardwalk Empire,” take place during the Johnson and Harding eras, both historical epochs rife with spectacular corruption.
‘‘Hell” recalls the “anti-Westerns” of the late 1960s, most notably Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West.” Come to think of it, I seem to recall watching that more than once on the old, pre-“Mad Men” AMC.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): therapy for returning vets, an interview with Jack Abramoff.
• The Steelers host the Ravens on “Sunday Night Football” (7 p.m., NBC).
• Prince Charming and Snow White have a flashback encounter on “Once Upon a Time” (7 p.m., ABC).
• Mrs. Claus tries to prevent a divorce in the 2011 fable “Mistletoe Over Manhattan” (7 p.m., Hallmark).
• “Trashopolis” (7 p.m., Smithsonian) explores how garbage and its disposal helped shape the world’s great cities.
• High stakes on “The Good Wife” (8 p.m., CBS).
• A grisly uncovering on “Desperate Housewives” (8 p.m., ABC).
• Shane makes a grim choice on “The Walking Dead” (8 p.m., AMC).
• Nucky puts his money on boxer Jack Dempsey (Devin Harjes) on “Boardwalk Empire” (8 p.m., HBO).
• “The Last Days of Osama bin Laden” (8 p.m., National Geographic).
• Just let go on “Dexter” (8 p.m., Showtime).
• Polygraphs are ordered on “Homeland” (9 p.m., Showtime).