Monday, July 19, 2010

"Jeremiah" Season 1 (2002)

Starring Luke Perry and Malcom Jamal-Warner
Created by J. Michael Straczynski

The world suffers a terrible cataclysm known as "The Big Death."  Everyone over the age of 15 or so is killed, painfully, by a horrific virus.  Civilization collapses as the world's children are left to fend for themselves.  Jeremiah (Luke Perry) was given charge of his younger brother, Michael, by their father Devon (Robert Wisden).  Somewhere along the way, Michael is killed, and Jeremiah wanders the countryside alone, adrift physically and emotionally.

One day while making his way through the town of Clarefield, Colorado, he meets Kurdy (Malcom Jamal-Warner).  The two strike up a friendship, albeit an uneasy one, and decide to travel together for a while.  In Clarefield, Jeremiah meets Simon, a man who says Jeremiah might be a suitable candidate for a job.  Jeremiah is uninterested, but followers of Theo, the woman who runs Clarefield with the iron grip of a high school cheerleader, see the two of them talking.  Jeremiah is imprisoned along with Simon.  Kurdy ends up rescuing him, but Simon is killed in the escape.  Before he dies, Simon charges Jeremiah and Kurdy with delivering a message to "Thunder Mountain," and its charismatic leader, Markus Alexander (Peter Stebbings).

Jeremiah and Kurdy discover that Thunder Mountain is actually the old NORAD installation beneath Cheyenne Mountain, and that the people who live there do so with luxuries the rest of the world can only dream of and barely remember.  Jeremiah and Kurdy join the population of Thunder Mountain, an organization which has decided to devote itself to rebuilding society under a flag of hope and cooperation.  But there are sinister forces in the world: Thunder Mountain receives word of a mysterious organization in the east known as "Valhalla Sector."  Who and what and where they are remain a mystery, but Jeremiah remembers his father once talking about Valhalla Sector, and he vows to discover its purpose and what it has to do with his long-dead father.

Jeremiah and Kurdy, for the majority of the episodes in this first season, go out on the road in fairly episodic missions.  They travel around in their pickup going from town to town and meeting people and helping them while forging alliances gathering intelligence for Thunder Mountain.  For the most part, this format works, but the best episodes are the ones more closely related to the show's mythology, discovering the origins of the Big Death and dealing with the looming threat of Valhalla Sector.  There are a few episodes that are a little bit too ridiculous, and the show is also at its best when it keeps more overt sci-fi elements at bay (one episode featuring a psychic just doesn't feel right at all). 

Luke Perry is fine as the titular Jeremiah, with a solid sense of humor to throw out the show's witty dialogue.  He works best when chumming around with Jamal-Warner, who, similarly, works best in that fashion as well.  Whenever these two are separated, the show seems to lose its energy.  Neither one is particularly impressive on their own, but together they really hold everything up.  The cast of secondary characters is fine, most of them I recognize from roles in "Stargate" and "Battlestar Galactica."  Especially "Stargate."  In fact, I'm pretty sure every secondary character and nearly all of the guest stars in this first season have been on "Stargate SG-1" at one time or another, and the producers barely even bother to hide the fact that the Valhalla Sector sets are actually the Stargate sets

The season suffers from pacing issues, as things will seem to ramp up considerably and then calm back down for lengthy periods without a real sense of rhythm.  The two-part season finale moves at a breakneck pace to make up for the fact that the preceding episodes were somewhat wasteful.  The individual plots of the episodes are mostly familiar, the sort of standard tropes that every show of this ilk will have.  Sometimes, they get a little too ridiculous.  An episode where Jeremiah and Kurdy decide to protect a library from book burners starts out well enough, but goes completely off the rails when Jeremiah abandons the mission to help an old friend's girlfriend spread her father's ashes, and the librarian reveals that he actually can't even read.

Also problematic is that even though the show's conceit is that there is no one in the world left over the age of 30, the producers often cast actors who look or are much older than that.  Luke Perry was nearly 40 when this show was produced, and although he can sorta pass as someone around that age, there are other actors that can't.  Disappointingly, his reunion with "Beverly Hills 90210" co-star Jason Priestley in an early episode doesn't end with the two of them in a physical confrontation.  I'd been waiting for it the entire episode as the two antagonize each other, but it just didn't happen, and that's a shame.

Probably the thing that really keeps "Jeremiah" from being more than solid, if unremarkable, entertainment is the show's cheapness.  The show stays away from expensive urban areas, or anything requiring large-scale special effects or lots of extras.  As a result, the post-apocalypse seems to have taken the form of the forests surrounding Vancouver (a problem that, yes, "Stargate SG-1" constantly suffers from).  With more money, a better sense of scale could really have improved "Jeremiah," and a different pool of actors definitely would have given the show less of a sense that it's just a side-project those "Stargate" guys do on a weekend.

"Jeremiah" reminds me a lot of CBS' oft-canceled "Jericho."  Both posit post-apocalyptic worlds populated by has-been and no-name actors struggling to rebuild and fend off evil remnants of the old government.  In the end, I have to give the win to "Jericho," which ended its first season on a better cliffhanger and had the budget for better production value.