TV fans don't always have much power when it comes to saving canceled shows. (And you thought the networks cared about you? Sorry.) But in the case of "Jericho," a post-apocalyptic CBS drama that was axed last spring, salvation came at the hands of vocal viewers and 40,000 pounds of nuts.
That's what rabid "Jericho" fans sent to the network offices, in reference to a line - "Nuts!" - uttered in the season one finale. (It meant, "We won't give up without a fight.") The campaign turned out to be media-savvy and convincing: CBS sort of caved, ordering a scant seven new episodes, which begin their run at 10 tomorrow night.
CBS made the right decision for two reasons. First, given the network's dubious crop of new fall offerings - how long did "Viva Laughlin" last? - "Jericho" clearly deserved a second chance. More importantly, though, "Jericho" is good, an intriguing mix of soap opera, social drama, and conspiracy that deserves to be promoted as the thinking-man's "24."
That's the show that springs to mind as you binge on "Jericho" episodes, available online and on a four-episode mini-marathon that airs on Sci-Fi tonight. Except that "Jericho" is a post-9/11 fantasy that's far more dark, nuanced, and plausible than anything Jack Bauer has stumbled into.
The series began with the sort of plot Bauer has always managed to foil: a string of nuclear bombs detonates, destroying much of America. But some towns far from the population centers are intact, including Jericho, a picturesque hamlet in western Kansas.
It's a place with the expected amount of soap-worthy pathos. As the series began, the mayor's prodigal son (Skeet Ulrich) returned to make good, patch things up with Dad, and find common ground with his straitlaced brother. Over the season came a fair amount of love in a time of fallout, plus a mystery driven by a covert federal agent (Lennie James) who was camped out in town, searching for the truth.
But mainly, last season was a meditation on frontier justice, as Jericho and its neighboring towns began competing for scant resources and settling disputes with ammunition. Some of what played out was fairly paint-by-numbers. The town's newly elected, appeasement-minded mayor turned out, of course, to have the wrong idea. But there was creepy realism in the disconnect between old-world-order and new. "I am about to go to war with New Bern, Kansas, the home of the nearest Costco," one character said at the end of last season. "Today is already just about as weird as I can handle."
In season two, which picks up four weeks after that battle, things get weirder. Jericho is occupied by what looks like the US Army, but flies a bizarro flag: stars arranged in a circle, stripes arrayed vertically. It turns out, there's a power struggle for America. The old federal government has regrouped in Columbus, Ohio, while a challenger government - which calls itself the "Allied States of America" and is already busy rewriting the history textbooks - has set up shop in the growing metropolis of Cheyenne, Wyo.
That's Dick Cheney country, if you weren't taking notes, and the vice president was clearly the inspiration for the conspiracy theory that unfolds, which focuses on who was responsible for the bombings. The uber-villain, a homeland security official played by Daniel Benzali, is a bald, bespectacled voice of doom. The foot soldiers of evil work for Jennings & Rall, a
OK, network TV isn't famous for its subtlety. But if the plots in "Jericho" can be a little too transparent, the ideas are fun to chew on, in a what-if sort of way. The world is well-constructed, down to the details: By the third episode this season, Ulrich's hair has grown into a messy and convincing frontier mullet. And the characters are intriguing; Esai Morales is notable as an Allied States Army major who might soon be convinced that his superiors are up to no good.
Seven episodes don't give him a lot of time to figure it out, but the writers strike lends "Jericho" some hope for a season three. Good scripted drama is hard to come by these days, and "24," good or bad, is nowhere to be seen. If viewers make their way to this intriguing doomsday tale, it will be proof that the worthy can survive.