SERIES REVIEW: “Jericho” (2006-2008) PART 1

Kevin Long
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Remember the huge terrorist attack back in September of 2006 when North Korea nuked 23 American cities, using Iranian financing? And then with our nation’s dying breath we nuked both of those countries until nothing but radioactive glass remained? And then, mortally wounded, the nation shattered into six petty, squabbling new nations? Remember how damn cold that winter was, and how millions of people from the Northern Tier basically having to walk south or freeze to death, as there was no power nor food? And then remember that whole questionably-legal new government they set up in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and the higgaldy piggadly* that followed?

You don’t?

How could you forget something like that?

Probably because you – like everyone else – wasn’t watching Jericho.

“Jericho” was a TV show that came out during what I like to call “The Lost Years” – that period between 2004 and 2010 when everyone was trying to come up with their own knockoff for “Lost.” You got your “Surface,” your “Uprising,” your “Kings,” your “V”, your “The Event,” your “Invasion,” and a zillion others. For my money, the worst of the bunch was “FlashForward,” and the best was probably “Kings,” but sandwiched in the middle in terms of quality are the only two shows that managed to go more than a season: “Jericho” and “V.”

The origins of Jericho are murky, but I remembered hearing about a show called “A House Divided” that was pitched to 2005, about a Midwestern town trying to stay neutral during the outbreak of the Second American Civil War. I never heard about it again, but Jericho is on the same network that passed on “House Divided” and is similar enough in the second season that I’m pretty sure they invited the producers to tart up the idea a bit and re-pitch it.

This will be a spoiler-heavy overview of the series, which I just concluded watching not ten minutes ago, and it’ll be in at least two parts, possibly more depending on how long-winded I am, and how many times I have to go to the bathroom. As there’s a possibility that some of you may want to watch this series, I’ll try to be light on the spoilers, but the – ah, fuck it. You know what? This will be a three parter. Screw my carpal tunnel syndrome. The first two parts will be as spoiler-free as I can make them. The final part – which will be clearly labeled – will just blow everything for those of you who have no interest in watching a show from six years ago. Deal?
“Jericho” was set in the then-present day, during the fall TV season of 2006. It was set in the fictional town of Jericho, Kansas, and if I’m going to be honest, it’s just not a very good show. It is for the most part poorly written, poorly cast, indifferently acted, badly paced, indifferently scored with a soundtrack that seems like a B-sides collection from Lost, and just kind of a mess. Kansas looks nothing like the area it's filmed in, you can't see Boulder Colorado from the area we're told the town is in, there's a zillion sloppy details that say "I'm a show written by people from California and don't know crap about the rest of the country, and really care to find out."

It doesn’t know what it wants to be – apart from ‘The New Lost’ – and it doesn’t know how to go about becoming it. Which is a shame because there’s a damn good concept in here, and with a little less clueless mishandling, it could possibly have been something very good as opposed to yet another ‘also ran.’ I mean, we’re watching a show here about nuclear terrorism (No spoilers there, they gave that away in the first commercial), about a small town of 5000 people in the middle of nowhere who get completely cut off from the outside world, about the potential end of the world, but rather than seize that AWESOME premise by the throat and hold on for dear life, they blow it. They give us boring romantic triangles between people who have no romantic chemistry whatsoever. We have entirely inconsequential teen angst between an uncharismatic unpopular teen who everyone hates for some reason (Never made clear – We eventually find out he’s not gay, so it’s not that. But why do they hate him? Is he a psycho? Does he dress up like a circus clown and hang around men’s rooms? Is it just a ‘he’s whitetrash’ kinda’ thing, or what? ) We’ve got the bad son who blew town and comes back for unclear reasons, we’ve got the good son who stayed in town and did bad things, a cast of why-bother characters, starcrossed lovers that no one gives a crap about, and teenagers freakin’ going to parties after atomic bombs have gone off just over the horizon.

Think about that last one a minute, why don’t’cha: an actual plot element in an episode is that the rich girl has her big rich person house all to herself because her parents were out of town when the bombs fell, and are presumably dead, or at the very least unable to tell her no, so she throws a party. That, in and of itself, isn’t so amazingly unlikely. Kids are stupid, after all, and from my own patrician upbringing I can confidently tell you that rich kids are even stupider than average. (I mean, hell, just look at me!) What *IS* amazingly unlikely is that other kids show up. A bunch of ‘em. I mean, it’s not like everyone’s parents were out of town when the bomb went off, right? There must’ve been some adults around to tell their kids “Hell no, you can’t go to a party! Boulder, Colorado just got nuked, for God’s sake! What the hell goes on inside that skull of yours, anyway? Now get in the kitchen and help your mother preserve as much food as possible, dammit!”

But nope. It’s business as usual for the surly teens of Jericho for the first third of the series.

I don’t want to give the impression that this is just a series about kids, though. There’s also people in their thirties and fifties. They’re marginally less stupid, because the people who are writing this show are in their thirties and fifties and can presumably understand what that’s like. But when a teenager who’s been living in a postapocalyptic disaster area says “If they could get the internet back up, then we could all have virtual cities and just order stuff by mail,” you kinda’ wanna’ chuck a brick at the TV. Granted, it’s intended as comedy relief, but still…

There’s also a man of mystery who moved to town one day before the bombs started falling, and paid cash. He knows more than he’s telling about what’s going on, and he’s actually an interesting character. He’s very helpful in the first couple episodes when things are falling apart, and then he spends roughly two thirds of the first season in his house, brooding over his family, or arguing with them, and generally refusing to tell them – and by extension, the audience – what’s going on. He’s far and away the most interesting character in the series, and yet he’s effectively benched until the last few episodes where he puts his (nebulous) mission on hold and joins the main plot. What’s weird about this is that although he’s not actually doing anything for, oh, 16 out of 23 episodes in the first season, he’s still eating up between a quarter and a half of the screen time in all those episodes. It’s a waste.

The first season of the show is essentially a soap opera revolving around the Green family: Dad (The Mayor), Mom (An ex-nurse or something), Older Brother (He has a job, I think, but we’re never told what it is), Younger Brother Jake (Series protagonist), Older Brother’s Wife Sarah, Older Brother’s Girlfriend, who’s name I don’t remember. Jake’s ex-girlfriend who’s getting married to Roger. Roger, who goes missing in the disaster, but may or may not be dead. Grey, the rich bastard who owns the town’s only real industry (A salt mine), and is a rival for Mayor Dad Green. The grocery lady they buy from. A school teacher with the hots for Jake. The dangerous criminal guy who’s the father of Jake’s ex-girlfriend. Jake’s best friend, a farmer with a deaf daughter. You see where I’m going with this? It’s like a blue-collar Dallas after a nuclear war, only less interesting.

Why? Well, the romantic triangles don’t really work. There’s no chemistry in the Jake/Pretty ex-girlfriend/Heather triangle, nor the Jake/Pretty-Ex-Girlfriend/Roger triangle, nor the Older Brother/Wife/Trampy Girlfriend triangle, nor the Best Friend/Obnoxious Bitch Who Got Trapped In Town relationship, nor the Uncharismatic Teen No One Likes/Rich Teenaged Girl relationship. Ostensibly this is a show about survival after the worst disaster in human history, and yet they feel compelled to overload us with utterly cold-fish romances that don’t serve to either ratchet up the tension, let us learn about the characters, or move the plot along.

Writing 101: If something really interesting happens, *DO NOT IGNORE IT* and focus on mundane crap instead.

We get some power struggles in town, and these are generally handled better. The rich guy versus Dad Mayor Green are pretty good. The Grocery Lady’s not-entirely-sympathetic problems are well done, as is the rivalry between the grocery and the crime gang on the outskirts of town. The emerging rivalries with surrounding towns as everyone scrambles for resources is probably the best thing in the entire series, but I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the good stuff now because I’m saving that for part II. (Yes, there is good stuff, you’ve just got to dive really deep to find it, and your lungs’ll probably give out before then).

Basically I think the problem is an unrealistic lack of terror. Remember when 9/11 happened, and we were all scared shitless? Remember the Chernobyling of Japan a couple years back, and how scared every idiot on the West Coast was that somehow radiation would make an 8000-mile bee-line straight to San Francisco and, I dunno, ruin their organic salads, or whatever the hell it is people in NoCal worry about? Here we are faced with a disaster that is a hundred times worse than either of those, and nobody’s freaking out!
Remember the pilot miniseries for the RDM Galactica? Remember the delicious panic in the Caprica scenes, and when Roslin was assembling the fleet? Remember how everything was falling to crap faster than we could keep track, and everyone was on the edge of freaking out just trying to figure out which way to jump? This show DESPARATELY wants to do that. In fact, they’re actively riffing on that idea (There’s even an in-joke in a scene in a later episode), but they never do. No one ever gets nearly worked up enough about the end of the world. I don’t know if it’s a failure on the part of the writers, or on the largely-forgettable cast, or a lack of nerve on the part of the producers, but for whatever reason, a show that should be a balls-to-the-wall adrenaline fest of barely-manageable panic ends up being basically a boring 29-hour slab of boredom with a few good moments.

Which is a shame, because those good moments are DAMN good!

I’ll talk about that next week.
Kevin Long is a guest-writer here at Republibot. He’s very popular. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads – they all adore him. They thing he’s a righteous dude. You probably would, too, if you checked out his website and who knows: if you buy one of his books, he might even show you his unrivaled collection of Scandinavian credit cards.

*- Higgaldy Piggaldy means “A real mess.”