30 July 2010

Jericho: The Complete Series

Jericho: The Complete Series
Starring Skeet Ulrich, Lennie James, Gerald McRaney, Ashley Scott, Kenneth Mitchell, Michael Gaston, Sprague Grayden, Brad Beyer, Alicia Cooper, Esai Morales
Created by Stephen Chbosky, Carol Barbee

Original airdate season: 2006-2008
CBS Paramount, 22 episodes (season 1), 7 episodes (season 2), 41 mins.

Plot: In a post-nuked world, the small Kansas town of Jericho learns to adapt to the new environment and do whatever they can to survive, although the forces of the universe seem to be doing everything in their power to ensure bad things befall them.

Season 1
Jericho will probably be remembered moreso for miraculously surviving cancellation due to a strong unprecedented fan campaign, only to be canceled super fast again in its demanded second season due to extremely sucky ratings than for the actual story and characters of the show. The good news is, if you get really into the show, the past year saw a release of Jericho: Season 3 in comic book form (a popular format for finished shows, such as Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Firefly). In the vain of Lost, big television stations were scrambling for the next "hit" serialized show. There was Invasion, Surface, Threshold, and even recently FlashForward. None survived. All four of those mentioned included some supernatural or extraterrestrial phenomenon, but Jericho offers something far more rich and far more personal: a frighteningly real nuclear attack on 23 American cities, crippling this nation and sending it back into the dark ages.

Instead of following a group of army soldiers, or news reporters, the show instead focuses on the repercussions of these attacks in the small Kansas town of Jericho, chronicling the reactions of everyday people, and the trials and tribulations they must now face to reestablish order in a orderless world. For example, the first few days after the nuclear attack, there's radiation fallout they have to worry about, folks going nuts and taking food from the local supermarket without paying (but they eventually conceive of a new payment system), battery power going off and on, and a huge lack of sufficient medical supplies. Oh, and the threat of impending war from this military group called Ravenwood and, a few months down the line, a nearby town called New Bern.

In a post-apocalyptic world, there's no shortage of potential story ideas, but Jericho seems content with focusing on community and (to a greater degree, especially in season 2) government. Which, y'know, is cool and all, but a episode or two for the characters to breath and expand as human beings instead of having a threat-of-the-week scenario would have been appreciated. Still, I flew through the season relatively quickly, and I wasn't disappointed.

Here's the main cast of characters that do stuff that basically impacts the whole town: Jake Green, the dark brooding boy who was a bit of a naughty kid when he lived in Jericho years ago, but since left to walk the world and came back a better, more adult man; Johnston Green, his father and Mayor of the town of Jericho; Robert Hawkins, a enigmatic man who moved into town with his wife and kids a day before the attacks and just may know something more than everyone else; and Gray Anderson, Johnston's opponent for the Mayor seat who is very, very obnoxiously outspoken. Although these characters may not impact the storyline as heavily as the folks just mentioned, they are nonetheless a important part of the series: Stanley Richmond, a young man who owns a farm, living with his deaf sister Bonnie, and was experiencing the pleasure of being audited by Mimi Clark, a IRS woman from D.C. who ends up fallin' head over heels in love with the Stanmyster; Dale, a teen who loses his mom in the attacks and sort of falls into a dark streak, but at least he romances the girl; Emily Sullivan, Jake's true love who is engaged with another dude, who just happens to be missing; Heather Linsinski, a teacher who kinda takes a liking to Jake but plays a major role later on in the series; and Jonah Prowse, father of Emily and all around crooked guy.

With a show that places such high emphasis on characters and their arcs more than story advancement, careful casting is necessary to ensure a likable bunch of characters that we wouldn't mind watching on a weekly basis. And for the most part, I can happily say they succeeded. Skeet Ulrich (Scream) is perfectly cast as the dark and brooding Jake Green, a man with many secrets who can be both charming and dangerous at a moments notice. Plus, Skeet's just cool. A great actor who ends up in roles that don't last too long (another prime example if ABC's Miracles from a few years back). Lennie James (Sahara) plays Robert Hawkins exactly as one would expect from the character - mysterious, introverted, short sentences, knows a lot about stuff most normal folks don't know squat about, and not exactly the family man even though he's adamant that he is. Gerald McRaney (Designing Women) conveys the strong will of the people, encapsulating the best qualities of a person and being a great symbol of peace for the townsfolk to rally around. Although there's a great number of folks on the payroll, my favorite two actors and characters are Mimi Clark and Stanley Richmond. Alicia Coppola (National Treasure: Book of Secrets) is one of those love 'em/hate 'em characters in the beginning, but by the middle ground, you've fallen head over shoes in love with the gal; quite the same way Brad Beyer's (Lie to Me) Stanley does. Their relationship, chemistry, and bantering was most definitely a big highlight of the entire first season, and I would quite nearly recommend the series on this couple alone.

Jericho starts off really super cool, with one big catastrophe after another. Families are shattered, teens are left parentless, and social & governmental order is basically chaos; the first batch of episodes explore these topics and give the actors ample opportunity to show off their awesomeness. But it's around the middle portion of the season where things become a bit "eh, that's cool and stuff...so....when's the super awesome stuff gonna happen?" And by that, I just mean gripping character pieces, or gripping storytelling episodes. For awhile there, the show really does become a Problem of the Week series, with new bad guys brought in here and there to spice things up. The final batch of episodes introduce the threat of New Bern, a neighbor community that's pissed at Jericho for not warning them about a particular band of nutcases who ransacked their town. Retaliation ensues, and the season closes with war.

Season 1 is pretty good, with some successful and not-so-successful stories. I'm glad I rented it, and I'm glad I saw it, but I can't say that I would watch this season over again; well, with the exception of maybe one or two episodes.

Season 2
Insert 'Little Engine That Could' joke here. Somehow, fan demand (a legion of nuts sent to the executives at CBS, a reference to a line of dialogue in the season 1 finale) resurrected Jericho. But there was a catch. The writers were only given seven episodes, and that was that. Either they'd make their audience, or they wouldn't. And the budget would be even more reduced than last time. Seven whole episodes to condense a entire season worth of storytelling. So the show aired, and ended up with more abysmal ratings than last time. And once again, Jericho was canceled. But this time, y'know, permanently. Well, with the exception of the recently issued comic book series titled "season three." But besides that...yep, canceled.

The good news is - the show ends on a very satisfying note. With only those seven episodes, a lot's crammed into every minute, and it really feels like we went through this enormous emotional journey from the beginning of the season to its end. It's a much more engaging and invigorating season than its freshman effort, although it's nearly a unfair thing to say, taking into consideration these two seasons are so very different tonally. The first was all about surviving in a post-nuke world, and the second is all about governments, corruption, and the rights of the people. And with only those seven episodes, some characters get the short end of the stick, barely being mentioned or appearing at all, but for the most part, the show includes all the big players and most of the secondary folks.

Additionally, new characters are added to the roster: Major Edward Beck (Esai Morales, Caprica) plays a pivotal role in the ongoing Jericho saga. The Allied States of America military might has rolled into Jericho and taken over, with Major Beck in charge of everything. Jake is made Sheriff, and Hawkins is even closer to turning up this whole conspiracy upside down than ever before. But of course, there's Beck: more often than not, he's a obstacle that needs to be overcome, but Esai Morales plays him as such a likable guy, you can't help but like him still when he's torturing a main character.

The main drive of the season is Ravenwood, the Allied States of America, and Jennings & Rall. Jake and Hawkins conspire to bring down Jennings & Rall, a company that effectively is the country. They employ the President, direct him what to do and say, and is basically their little puppet. Well, everybody's a puppet, really. And Ravenwood makes a dramatic return that results in one of the most beloved but underused characters of the series' death. At least it was super awesome, and a fitting way to go.

Right, wrong. Democracy, dictatorship. Freedom being nothing more than a illusion under this new company. These themes, center to the show, are additionally complimented by the characters and their struggles. With the first season, there were moments where the scenarios felt very Problem of the Week; here, they make sense, they flow, and they're absolutely engaging. Such as a episode where Sheriff Jake Green and his band of deputies defend a hospital from Ravenwood, and I was honestly not sure of the outcome. And for once, it felt like anybody could get with the being dead. Jake, Hawkins, Heather - anybody.

Season 2 feels alive, full of urgency, full of chaos, full of hard choices, full of sacrifice. And it's bloody delicious television.

In conclusion, Jericho was a pretty good series. It may not be own worthy, personally, but it most definitely is a show that I recommend highly. Viewers who dig government conspiracy stories will most definitely love the latter half of season one and the entirety of two; viewers who dig mysterious figures, military personal, and some pretty explosions and action scenes will also get a kick out of Jericho.


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