Bringing the walls down, a review of “Jericho” season 1 (and only)

Of all the shows I’ve followed over the past year, Jericho was the one I really wanted to succeed. Too bad it is not getting a second season.

Its premise is simple: the people in a small town in mid-western America see a mushroom cloud on the horizon. Then all communication to the outside world is cut, and the town is immediately thrown into isolation and self-reliance.

Ratings-wise, the show started out strong. The first half of the season dealt with the immediate fallout of the nuclear blast. Episodes were devoted to hiding from radioactive rain, ensuring their food supply (and fending off thieves), and securing medicine and other supplies. This felt similar to the first season of Lost where their priority was survival and getting off the island. Fortunately, a compelling cast of characters has been written to deal with the nuclear fallout.

The Green family formed the show’s core group of characters. There is Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich), the reluctant hero and prodigal son returning from a self-imposed exile, his brother Eric Green (Kenneth Mitchell), the son who stayed behind, their mother Gail Green (Pamela Reed) and their father and mayor of Jericho, Johnston Green (Gerald McRaney).

Johnston, Gail, Eric and Jake attend to an ailing April (Eric’s ex-wife)

They were the de facto leaders of the town, rallying the good people of Jericho into fall out shelters, hospitals, mines and elections. Even when a change of leadership happens in the middle of the season, it becomes clear who the people still look up. The differences in leadership philosophy among the key members of the cast is also one of the best focal points of the series. It’s fascinating how many ways you can slice the phrase “for the good of the people.”

The drama within the Green family is an integral part of the series, illustrating how their perceivably strong family cracks under the pressure of having an entire town rely on them. There is Johnston’s lingering resentment of Jake, Gail’s disappointment in Eric’s having an extramarital affair, and an initially tense brotherhood in Jake and Eric.

To ensure that the spotlight doesn’t remain with the Green family, a supporting cast weaved in and out of their stories. There is Emily Sullivan (Ashley Scott, in picture), the girlfriend Jake left behind, Stanley Richmond (Brad Beyer), the loyal best friend and Gray Anderson (Michael Gaston), a rival to Johnston and the town’s future mayor.

And hovering around all these characters is the one person we could consider the mythology character of the series (in the similar way John Locke was the mythology character in Lost.) He is Robert Dawkins (Lennie James, in picture), a police officer from St. Louis who seems to make his way around pretty well. Things are never as they seem with this guy, and it takes all the way to the 18th episode of the season to reveal all his secrets, particularly his involvement with the bombs.

Jericho‘s mysteries begin to pile up in mid-season, with reports of other cities hit by nuclear attacks and most interestingly, a reconfiguration of the political structure in the United States. (Here’s a hint: six presidents.) The survival of the town is complicated by the arrival of other groups and factions such as Ravenwood, Jonah’s thieves, the plane crash survivors, Black Jack, and the people of New Bern. A conflict with that last group leads to the show’s epic finale.

I find it unfortunate that the ratings sagged in the second half of the season since the show improved tremendously after a rather slow first half. While the second dealt more with the mythology of the show and the other groups intruding into Jericho, it highlighted the desperation and survival even more. Jake Green and Richard Dawkins are further elevated as the show’s two protagonists as they make a formidable team in the second half of the season.

It is just too sad that the show won’t be seeing a second season. I’m hoping against hope that the producers manage to finish their story in another network. Richard Dawkin’s story has still a lot left in it, considering his knowledge and involvement in the bombings. Also, the producers once mentioned that they will be exploring the civil war that ensued after the bombs. That is an amazing thread to follow.

So what contributed to the show’s cancellation? We can only argue that it lost the ratings war to the juggernaut American Idol up to a point. The season was also split with about three months in between. Then they come back with American Idol to go up against. That is practically a death sentence for a new show such as Jericho still finding its legs. But eventually, we will have to judge the show based on its merits.

I can compare this show most comfortably to Lost, and I think that this is one such series where a rich mythology would’ve helped. But unlike Lost, the resolutions and payoffs would have to come much quicker since the good people of Jericho do live in desperate times. The post-apocalyptic drama in the beginning was great, but the mythology dragged a bit in its first half due to Robert Dawkins’ story being too overextended. And this is why the show improved in the second half: the mysteries — particularly those of Robert Dawkins’ — paid off big time and set up a lot of what is to happen in the second season.

The season finale is one huge cliffhanger that begs to be resolved. After a season of surviving the nuclear fallout, Jericho is about to reenter a wider world. And this would have been a story too many fans of the show would’ve wanted to see.

But as it stands right now, Jericho will be remembered as one of the best shows to last only a season. It definitely deserves more, because it is rare for shows these days to promise so much and deliver consistently as Jericho did.


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