Created by Stephen Chbosky, Josh Schaer and Jonathan E Steinberg
Written by Carol Barbee (4 episodes), Stephen Chbosky (4 episodes), Matthew Federman (4 episodes), Rob Fresco (1 episode), Joy Gregory (2 episodes), Karen Hall (1 episode), Ellie Herman (1 episode), Mike Kelley (1 episode), Robert Levine (2 episodes), Frank Military (2 episodes), Mike Ostrowski (3 episodes), Stephen Scaia (4 episodes), Josh Schaer (2 episodes), Jonathan E Steinberg (5 episodes), Dan Shotz (2 episodes), Robbie Thompson (1 episode) and Nancy Won (1 episode)
Directed by Guy Norman Bee (3 episodes), Matt Earl Beesley (1 episode), Sanford Bookstaver (3 episodes), Steve Boyum (1 episode), Duane Clark (1 episode), Steven DePaul (1 episode), Kevin Dowling (1 episode), Steve Gomer (2 episodes), Christopher Leitch (1 episode), Seith Mann (2 episodes), Paul McCrane (1 episode), Martha Mitchell (2 episodes), Christine Moore (1 episode), John Peters (1 episode), Scott Peters (1 episode), Helen Shaver (1 episode), J Miller Tobin (1 episode), Jon Turteltaub (2 episodes), James Whitmore Jr (3 episodes)
Starring Skeet Ulrich, Gerald McRaney, Pamela Reed, Kenneth Mitchell, Ashley Scott, Lennie James, Michael Gaston, Brad Beyer, Shoshannah Stern, Alicia Coppola, Clare Carey, Darby Stanchfield, Richard Speight Jr, Bob Stephenson, Erik Knudson, Candace Bailey, Beth Grant, April D Parker, Jazz Raycole, Sterling Ardrey, James Remar, D B Sweeney, Esai Morales and Sprague Grayden
Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich) returns to Jericho, a small town in Kansas near to the border with Colorado where he grew up, harbouring a secret about where he has been for the last five years. His reason for returning is to claim an inheritance from his grandfather’s will, but when his father Johnston Green (Gerald McRaney), the town’s Mayor for the last 25 years and the executor of the estate, refuses to sign the release forms, he sets out to leave once again, old family wounds having been reopened. On his way out of town, Jake is involved in an automobile accident when he is distracted by the sight of a mushroom cloud on the distant horizon. Although injured, he is able to rescue a busload of young children and their teacher Heather Lisinski (Sprague Grayden), the friend of his former girlfriend Emily Sullivan (Ashley Scott), who have been involved in a separate accident.
In the aftermath of the mushroom cloud, the townsfolk discover that Denver has been the target of a nuclear device and it then becomes clear that it is just one of 23 major cities to be targeted. They are now cut off from the rest of the world with no lines of communication, limited power and resources and very little food, with a harsh winter just around the corner. They also have a mysterious newcomer in their midst, Robert Hawkins (played by the British actor and playwright Lennie James).
The first season of ‘Jericho’ ran for 22 episodes and was broadcast by the CBS network in the U.S. between 20 September 2006 and 9 May 2007, averaging 9.5 million viewers per episode. The show was initially cancelled at this point and resulted in the inevitable fan campaign to have it reinstated. The network did briefly relent and a second season began on 12 February 2008, with seven episodes commissioned to allow the story to be brought to a conclusion of sorts. This truncated second season has, perhaps by necessity, a somewhat different feel to that of season one, one that I feel works rather well. The final episode was broadcast on 29 September 2008. The DVD offers two alternative endings. My preference is for the one that was broadcast.
The theme of the show was influenced both by the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York in September 2001 and the widespread devastation caused to New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Although some television critics compared it to ‘Lost’, presumably because of the sizeable cast of characters, the show it most obviously resembles is ‘Invasion’, which ran on the ABC network for one season of 22 episodes between September 2005 and May 2006. In that show, a small coastal town in Florida is cut-off from the outside world following a devastating hurricane.
I became aware of ‘Jericho’ because I recognised a number of the cast, including Skeet Ulrich, who I had first come across ten years previously in the films ‘The Craft’ and ‘Scream’. Ashley Scott was the lead actress in ‘Birds Of Prey’ and I had been impressed by Sprague Grayden in the second season of ‘Joan of Arcadia’. Clare Carey had been one of the lead cast members of the short-lived and much-maligned ‘Point Pleasant’, which remains one of my favourite shows of recent years.
I largely missed out on the series when it was being broadcast on television in the UK, apart from one small segment of a random episode. However, the premise sounded interesting, the presence of people like Scott, Grayden and Carey in the cast stirred my interest, and I was keen enough to finally invest in a DVD set.
The series attempts to show what might happen in the event that the U.S. became the target of a major nuclear attack that effectively wiped out the federal government. It uses a small isolated Midwest town as a kind of microcosm to represent the wider picture, much as the Salem witch trials of 1692 are often used as a means of understanding the widespread witch hunts that occurred in Europe over a period in excess of 200 years during the Middle Ages. In one of the advertisements for the series before the start of the truncated second season, the question was posed, “What if the America you knew was about to change?” The show depicts the numerous ways in which individuals might react to such a cataclysmic event and how these individual actions affect the community as a whole.
At the centre of the story we have Jake Green who constantly steps up to the plate to perform heroic acts. He is very typical of the American ideal of the flawed but individualistic hero. Johnston Green is the patriarch of the small community, as rugged as Mount Rushmore, a kind of John Wayne figure, and his wife Grace (Pamela Reed) is the matriarchal figure. Gray Anderson (Michael Gaston) challenges Johnston’s position as Mayor, his reasons for doing so largely self-serving, and replaces him, these characters being diametrical opposites. The same juxtaposition can be witnessed in a slightly different way via the local law enforcement officers, Bill Kohler (Richard Speight Jr) and Jimmy Taylor (Bob Stephenson). They are lifelong friends and prior to the attacks there does not seem to be much difference between the two, but one is a hothead who sides with Anderson and the other a more reflective character who acts as a voice of reason and ultimately remains loyal to the town’s deposed Mayor.
The one obvious problem with this approach is that some characters do end up being rather two dimensional, a necessity of trying to create this jumble of differing reactions to such an extreme situation. For example, I found Grace Green unbearably sanctimonious much of the time, even though I understand the purpose this character plays and appreciate that she acts as a kind of moral compass.
The dialogue does occasionally tend towards the clunky and the episodes are often less than subtle. There are too many “shoot ‘em ups” for my tastes, which are undoubtedly intended to be exciting, but just end up lending several episodes a rather monotonous air. To all intents and purposes, this is a western in a modern setting and every cliché of that genre is dragged out and used to bludgeon us with. Having said this, it is very well done and the production values are obviously high. With each episode it is possible to become more invested in the story, if not necessarily the individual characters, and at least want to stick around to find out what happens next. One interesting narractive device was that we the audience did not see anything of the world outside of Jericho until the characters did and even then we only ventured as far as they did.
The character I was firstdrawn to is the school teacher Heather Lisinski, who unfortunately is ultimately rather underused and is written out of the story after episode 13 for much of the remainder of the first season. Executive producer Jon Turteltaub suggested that she had been an afterthought, whose involvement beyond the pilot episode was not originally planned. They don’t make the most of her. The young rancher Stanley Richmond (Brad Beyer), his deaf younger sister Bonnie (Shoshannah Stern) and, in particular, Mimi Clark (Alicia Coppola), the IRS agent from Washington DC who comes to Jericho to audit their family ranch, prove to be three of the most likeable characters. Clearly, I am not alone in thinking this, because I discovered “The Richmond Ranch”, a fan website devoted to them.
On the other hand, I remain less than convinced by the teenage Bonnie and Clyde that are Dale Turner (Eric Knudson) and Skylar Stevens (Candace Bailey). The concept of these two teenagers who are drawn together because they lose their parents in the attacks is an interesting idea, but I couldn’t help but think that someone needed to give Dale a good clip around the ear.
I did find myself almost becoming angry at some points during the episodes, simply because I remain undecided exactly what message the show wanted to send out. As an example, torture is a theme dealt with in both seasons. This could be interpreted simply as a commentary about what otherwise decent people can be pushed to in desperate situations. It might also be (and I suspect it probably is) a comment on the American torture camps sanctioned by the Bush administration as part of the so-called ‘War on Terror’, which must surely be one of the most shameful episodes in recent American history. However, I could not help but wonder if it was nothing more than a suggestion that this is what the “enemy” is capable of, which puts an somewhat different spin on it.
Having said all of this, the episodes of season two would clearly seem to be a decidedly less then flattering comment about the behaviour and actions of the Bush administration in the years following 9/11, often flouting international law on human rights, and so any suspicions I might have do seem to be unfounded.
All in all, whatever its faults, I liked ‘Jericho’. I cannot say I fell in love with the show, unlike, as an example, ‘Joan of Arcadia’. I think ‘Invasion’, to use an example of a show that it might be more obviously compared to, was probably better, or at least I preferred it. However, I am a little surprised it was not given a full second season, although it does seem that no American network series is safe from the premature chop these days.
Review posted 30 March 2009