Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Once upon a time, a plucky little show with a rabid cult following was cancelled by a big, mean, uncaring broadcast network. Indeed, this is a familiar story, one you've heard twice before as you read The Common Man's take on Firefly and Veronica Mars. However, this time something strange happened. After Jericho was cancelled, its fans organized, protesting CBS's decision and sending studio executives more than 20 tons of peanuts. Their efforts were rewarded when the president of CBS Entertainment sent fans of the show an open letter, saying "You got our attention; your emails and collective voice have been heard. As a result, CBS has ordered seven episodes of "Jericho" for mid-season next year."
It was an impressive victory, but shortlived. Hurt by the writers' strike and by continued middling ratings, Jericho was not renewed again this year, meaning that the show is likely dead. While producers and fans are hoping for a revival on another network, the sad truth is that it's likely that you've seen the last of Jericho on prime time TV. That said, there are plenty of opportunities to see all 29 episodes, since the show is now being run on the SciFi network and all the episodes are available for online viewing on Netflix, at CBS.com, and Hulu.com.
Jericho begins with perhaps the most shocking opening sequence in television history, as nuclear bombs wipe out many of America's great cities. Washington, Dallas, Chicago, Philly, Atlanta, Denver, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Twin Cities, and several others were destroyed. The series deals with the struggles of one small Kansas town, Jericho, to recover in the aftermath of this attack, and of its central role in the rebuilding process. The town is filled with several stock characters, including the prodigal son of the town mayor. He has a mysterious past and shows up on the day of the bombings; so too does another man with questionable motives and a dangerous secret.
The show does have a strong father figure in Gerald McRainey, the mayor of Jericho, who spends much of the first season battling health problems and an ill-timed election campaign, and trying to figure out what's wrong with his sons. Skeet Ulrich, who plays the prodigal son, quickly sheds his shiftless and irresponsible image to become a driving force in the town's recovery, taking on additional responsibilities and roles when necessary. Indeed, the show is a celebration of the American small-town spirit, and every character seems designed to reflect the quality of middle-America.
What makes the show most interesting (beyond the constant desire to know what exactly happened and who set off those bombs), is how the show seemingly transplants the Iraq war to American soil. It deals with insurgency and insurrection. Infighting and town-on-town conflict. And, more than any other show before or since, explores the relationship between the Federal government and private industry, particularly the private security corporations (private armies) the U.S. uses to do a great deal of its dirty work. Indeed, Jericho is not shy in its depiction of Jennings and Rall, a Blackwater-esque company that benefits tremendously from the attacks, becoming the biggest supplier of goods and services (and security) in the Western U.S. The cozy relationship between private business and public government is explored extensively and seems remarkably relevant to this era of corruption and greed at the highest levels.
The acting, at times, is hammy, and characters have the frustrating tendency to disappear (sometimes for episodes at a time, sometimes forever). And some of the plot developments begin bordering on the overly convenient and/or absurd. And it can get complicated at times. Yet, in a world where Jay Mohr can get a sitcom and Two and a Half Men can shluff along for six lazy seasons worth of the same jokes, and ER and Law & Order, dammit, are still on the air, surely there should have been a place for a plucky, convoluted, genuine, timely, and intriguing show like Jericho, that isn't shy about its critique of the American system of government.
And there is still room for it, too. In your heart. The Common Man urges you to check out the first episode, and if you're not hooked he will send you his apologies and a nurse to see if you still have a pulse.