Wednesday, June 6, 2012

'Jericho' Season 2 (2008)

Starring Skeet Ulrich, Lennie James and Esai Morales
Created by Stephen Chbosky, Josh Schaer and Jonathan E. Steinberg

Months after the attacks that crippled the United States and shattered its government, the small farm town of Jericho, Kansas, finds itself at war with its more industrialized neighbor, New Bern.  With the death of Johnston Green, his sons Jake (Skeet Ulrich) and Eric (Kenneth Mitchell) find themselves leading an army to defend their home against their neighbors.  But before the war can go on too long, a startling event occurs: a new government, based in Cheyenne, Wyoming, arrives and puts a stop to the action.

A military unit is stationed in Jericho, led by Major Edward Beck (Esai Morales), and charged with helping to restore order in the area.  But while life begins to return to some semblance of normalcy, with electricity, food, even television, the residents of Jericho begin to notice something disturbing.  The new Cheyenne government is making wholesale changes to the America people used to know.  With a new flag, new history books, and even a new Constitution, the Cheyenne government has most of the United States in an iron grip.  But only a few know the truth: the Cheyenne government is corrupt to the core, with a corporation called Jennings & Rall responsible for pretty much everything.

States east of the Mississippi are aligned under remnants of the US government, while states west of the Blue Line fly the flag of Cheyenne.  Only Texas remains independent, the swing vote that could change the course of history for decades to come.

But Cheyenne has one weak spot: Robert Hawkins (Lennie James), former CIA operative who has the proof that could bring the corrupt government crumbling right down.  Jake and Hawkins must figure out how to get their proof to Texas, and point the next chapter of American history in the right direction.

The second season of 'Jericho' is remarkable for its mere existence.  The show was canceled after its first season, but a fan campaign managed to convince the network to bring it back for a shorter second season. The show was retooled, ditching a number of its less important characters, utilizing fewer locations, and was only 8 episodes in length.  But the shorter length means that the show is more focused, and this second season roars past.

Each episode feels jam-packed with info as the writers try to cram 22 episodes worth of story into 8.  Most of the romantic subplots that had a tendency to grind thing sto a halt in season 1 are ignored entirely, with only the upcoming nuptials of Stanley (Brad Beyer) and Mimi (Alicia Coppola) given any screen time at all.

While a number of characters from the first season are dispatched, season two adds one new main character in Major Beck, played by Esai Morales.  Beck is a great character, a man who is smart and honorable, but just happens to be taking orders from the wrong people.  His friendship with Heather (Sprague Grayden) is well-played by both, and offers a few nicely sentimental moments.  The way he and Jake circle around each other, each trying to accomplish different goals but with different methods and rules they must follow, is quite fun to watch.

The only problem with the season, conceptually, is that it ends right when you want it to keep going.  The cliffhanger this show ends on is huge, full of promise for a third season that would have been epic television.

Elsewhere, the show does have a couple other problems.  A budget cut means that the show doesn't look as slick and professional as it did in the first season.  Shot on HD video, and obviously so, image quality is fairly low.  Too often, 'Jericho' has the plastic, video sheen of a daytime soap opera instead of a prime-time drama.  This can be distracting, but thankfully the show is good enough that it doesn't ruin things.

But for the most part, these 8 episodes rocket along and are a blast to watch.  The unraveling of the conspiracy, and the promise of the cliffhanger, are addictive.  I wish the show had continued into a third season, even if it was just another truncated batch of episodes like this one.