Jericho – Season One (2006)
I picked up the late, lamented TV show Jericho for this past holiday weekend and watched the first four episodes of season one. Set in the fictional town of Jericho, Kansas, the show follows its residents after a nuclear war devastates the United States. It has a large sprawling cast with faces familiar and new: Skeet Ulrich is Jake Green, the estranged son of the town mayor Johnston (Gerald McRaney) and his wife Gail (Pamela Reed). Several of the characters grew up together with Jake: his old flame Emily (Ashley Scott), Jake’s brother Eric (Kenneth Mitchell), struggling farmer Stanley (Brad Beyer) and his younger sister Bonnie (Shoshannah Stern).
The pilot was directed by Jon Turteltaub (Cool Runnings, Phenomenon, the National Treasure soon-to-be-trilogy) and is the best of this group of episodes. Perhaps that’s inevitable whenever you have the responsibility of showing a nuclear bomb going off, especially the way it’s done here, with no “camera dramatics” or big showy visual effects. The fear and panic, disbelief and dread, and all the other emotions that must go through your mind after witnessing a nuclear detonation on American soil (in this case, they see a mushroom cloud form in the direction of Denver, Colorado) are on display here.
The residents grasp for information regarding the attack, information which comes at a near trickle when the TV stations stop broadcasting, and then the power goes out. People you’ve known all your life start going Neanderthal on each other over gasoline and cans of beef stew and candles. On top of all that, a storm is literally brewing on the horizon. Is the coming rain going to be radioactive?
I liked that Jericho kept it real. Well, at least as real as network TV allows. Ruggedly handsome Skeet Ulrich is mighty handy with just about everything: he can drive a school bus, fix a 1950s era generator, and handle dynamite. Apparently so can his new love interest, the almost too cute to be legal Sprague Grayden as Heather the new school teacher in town. Gerald McRaney gives some nice speeches that help quell the rowdy townsfolk and inspire and motivate them. They bordered on the corny side, but I went with it.
Fringe watchers (like me) will recognize actor Michael Gaston as slimy local politician and would-be mayor Gray Anderson who constantly harasses Mayor Green. Gaston played slimy FBI supervisor Harris who constantly harassed Agent Dunham. The guy gives great asshole (and that is a compliment). British actor Lennie James plays the mysterious Mr. Hawkins, newly arrived to Jericho BTB (Before The Bomb). Hawkins claims to be a former big city cop, so that’s why he’s up to speed on what nukes can do. But he’s got a very tightly wound family (seriously, pins and needles) and he’s hiding something in his basement. Also, James is the one millionth UK actor who can do a great American accent. Is this some new training they give all UK actors now?
There are some soap opera elements at play here: a married man is fooling around on his wife with a local hottie, a prison bus is found empty, and the local grocer wants everyone to pay for what they’ve taken (come on, didn’t you SEE the mushroom cloud?). Then, there is the time worn chestnut of Jake being estranged from his dad. We don’t know what he did to have left Jericho five years earlier; he tells his old friends each a different story as to where he’s been.
Jericho is not "appointment television" like the first few seasons of ER or The West Wing. And honestly it doesn’t stand up to groundbreaking shows like Battlestar Galactica and Lost (the first seasons of both shows are incredible). But it’s a good solid drama with an interesting story to tell and a good cast of actors.
I am eager to find out what happens to the residents of Jericho as they fight to survive and build a new life.