Wednesday, June 6, 2012

'Jericho' Season 1 (2006)

Starring Skeet Ulrich, Lennie James and Gerald McRaney
Created by Stephen Chbosky, Josh Schaer, and Jonathan E. Steinberg
Executive Producers John Turteltaub and Carol Barbee

Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich) is a man with a checkered past.  He returns home to Jericho, Kansas, in order to ask his father for money.  Unfortunately, the day he arrives in town is the worst day in the history of America: Nuclear bombs are detonated in 23 American cities, killing millions and throwing the nation and the world into chaos.

The small farm town of Jericho, population roughly 5,000, is cut off from the world.  With little food, quickly dwindling supplies of fuel and ammunition and a harsh winter fast approaching, the citizens of Jericho will find themselves asking hard questions about their own survival.  Jake's father, Johnston Green (Gerald McRaney) has been mayor of Jericho for over two decades, but now faces competition from Gray Anderson (Michael Gaston), who advocates harsher rules to deal with the new, post-apocalyptic world they live in.  Jake's brother, Eric (Kenneth Mitchell), is in the midst of a deteriorating marriage.  Jake's mother Gail (Pamela Reed) is trying to keep their family together.

Jake's best friend Stanley Richmond (Brad Beyer) and Stanley's deaf sister Bonnie (Shoshanna Stern) are currently under audit by IRS agent Mimi Clark (Alicia Coppola) and may lose their farm.  Dale Turner (Erik Knudsen) is a young boy, an outcast at school, who works in the local convenience store and is put upon by the in-crowd, led by Skylar Stevens (Candace Bailey).

Arriving in town just before the attacks is Robert Hawkins (Lennie James) and his family.  Unbeknownst to everyone in town, Hawkins is no ordinary citizen.  A former CIA operative, Hawkins was undercover trying to derail the nuclear attacks, but was unable to do so.  Having failed in his mission, Hawkins moves his family to Jericho, but he holds not just a deadly secret.  He has the only proof that the attacks were committed by Americans, by someone within the American government.

And as things get worse and worse for the small town of Jericho, as the citizens begin to question whether safety is more important than freedom, Jake and Hawkins will begin to understand exactly how far the conspiracy goes, how much danger they're actually in not just from themselves, from their neighbors, but from their own government.  And a small, nowhere town in Kansas will end up being the most important place in the history of the United States of America.
"Jericho" is a fascinating, if uneven series.  A post-apocalyptic drama that draws heavily on post-9/11 hysteria and paranoia, the series asks good questions about safety versus freedom, about the nature of America and the ideals we are supposed to hold dear as a nation.  It asks, what would you do if you were starving, if you could take what you needed from your friends and neighbors?

When "Jericho" is focused on its overarching plots, on the survival of its characters, and on delving deeper into its own mythology, it seriously works.  It's fast-paced and entertaining, and with each episode ending on a cliffhanger that leads into the next, it's easy to watch episode after episode and get sucked right in.  The problem is that the show gets bogged down in soap opera antics that just don't work.

For example, an ongoing storyline about Dale and Skylar turning into power-hungry traders mostly fails.  Every time these two characters are on-screen, the show seems to grind to a halt.  They're just not that interesting, nor are the actors playing them all that good.

In terms of the cast, the breakout character over the show is easily Lennie James' Robert Hawkins.  Hawkins is, in a word, badass.  He gets many of the show's best lines and moments, and the most interesting storylines, the ones involving exactly what happened to America and why, all revolve around him.  Though Skeet Ulrich's Jake is the main protagonist of the show, once he gets involved in Hawkins' conspiracy, the entire show kicks into high gear even when the show isn't focused on that.

The season is split into three fairly distinct segments.  The first batch of episodes is all about the immediate fallout of the attacks and the characters trying to come to grips with the attacks and their new status quo without power or communications or help from the outside.  The middle of the season is mostly devoted to the characters attempting to survive a harsh winter, with dwindling supplies of food and fuel.  Their attempts to get more mostly backfire, with things getting more dire as food becomes scarce and the temperatures deadly.  And finally, the back third of the season is dedicated to both the increasing danger from the terrorists who caused the attacks, and a brewing war between Jericho and neighboring New Bern.

New Bern is led by a man named Constantino (Timothy Omundson).  The town was ravaged by a private contractor called Ravenwood and their head thug, Goetz (D.B. Sweeney).  In response, Constantino declared martial law in town, and used their more advanced industrial facilities to make weapons in order to invade and take over Jericho for its farms and supplies.

While the middle batch of episodes isn't all that spectacular, the beginning and end of this first season are addictive television.  When the show focuses on advancing its plot and dealing with the townsfolk struggling to survive, the show is rather engrossing.  When it decides to go into soap-opera detours, things tend to grind to a halt.  But the final stretch of episodes will leave you craving to pop in season two right away.