Well, I wasn’t expecting this. With Heroes, Lost and Galactica all focusing on the humanity of supernatural and sci-fi themed stories I was given the first season of Jericho to review thinking that this would be more of the same. I was completely wrong. Jericho is in fact a drama in the more traditional sense, and while there are sci-fi elements in the show this certainly is not the focus, and usually the furthest thing from the viewer’s mind.
And you know what… it’s all the better for it. I have no perceived idea of what the show was about. So with no preconception of what Jericho was, or indeed the popularity of it in the US, I have over the past few weeks caught up with all the other Jericho-holics (gag copyright of WWE Entertainment) and found out what all the fuss is about and why nuts are so important to the fans of the show.
So with no aliens, mystical islands or super-powers what does the show have to offer? Well to start with the story, which involves survivors coming to terms with a nuclear blast, isn’t something you get to watch every day. With the poignancy of 911 and Hurricane Katrina in the US, Jericho proves to be a reflective human drama in the face of crisis. It’s written and directed by Jon Turtletaub (who provides commentaries on a lot of the episodes in this DVD box-set).
The storyline revolves around the residents of Jericho, a small, rural town in Kansas (probably not too far away from Smallville) which is cut off from all major cities after a huge nuclear attack.
Instead of focusing on the blast and the destroyed cities, the show instead turns inwards and focuses on a small town whose population gets only hints and rumour as to what has gone on in the rest of the States. From garbled phone messages to Morse code messages, slowly the population of this little cut off town piece together what has (well to a point anyway) happened. However this larger picture of devastation really is only one of their worries, as there are more pressing things to contend with, such as radioactive dust clouds, contamination, lack of food, not to mention the basic traits of self-survival. You only see the nuclear mushroom cloud in the first episode (which looks amazing for a TV series), so the wow factor comes pretty quickly, but really it’s not the effects of the show that make it so good. It’s the fact that the themes of the show – which deal with concepts such as the strength and need of family (dis)information, leadership, order and survival on limited resources – are so strong that the continual need to impress us with CG or effects is meaningless.
This idea of a community working and not working together is what makes Jericho so interesting. People, whether they like each other or not, have to pull together to survive and in much as the same way that John Wyndam showed in Day of the Triffids, there are many different ways for organisations and people to work together. Some work, some don’t, some are humane, some not, but no matter what goes on, episode to episode these little character studies are fascinating to watch.
And onto the characters themselves. Jericho, much like a lot of dramas in the States at the moment is an ensemble piece; the ‘lead’ actor I suppose is Skeet Ulrich, who hasn’t really done a great deal since Scream. He playsJake Green, a son of Jericho’s major and a character that appears in town in the first episode, hinting at where he has been and what he has been doing for the past five years.
Again much in the same way as the nuclear blasts are explained, Jake’s background and his relationship with both his father and brother are explored. As the entire Green family take centre stage for most of the show there are some other standout characters as well, such as the store owner Mimi, Gray Anderson the ‘would-be major’, and the enigmatic Robert Hawkins who it seems knows a lot more about what is going on in the outside world then he lets on.
As with shows like Heroes there are interlinking stories, and while there are no flashbacks as in Lost, a lot of the past of the residents is explored and whether it’s fighting over petrol, searching for lost children or trying to get communications working again, these tasks bring out the stories and characters of the residents of the town.
However there is only one problem, and that’s the show has a shaky future. It took a fan campaign to get a second season, with the studio responsible being sent huge amounts of nuts, and much hinges on the viewing figures for season two. If it doesn’t go well, the story arc of Jericho may never be complete.
So the trouble is that I think a lot of people will also pass over the DVD: why invest time in a show, only for it to be cancelled after just one season? It seems that there are rumours of seven to eight further episodes, so there is hope for the show, but it’s still an issue.
So with this in mind is it still worth buying the show on DVD? Well yes it. Right now, it’s hard to spend a better 30 quid (on Amazon anyway) on a more detailed, well plotted and creatively character-driven drama that relies on its strong cast and well structured stories rather than monsters, and layer upon layer of mystery. While there is enough depth and hints dropped that not everything is always what it seems – with undertones of Lost – Jericho doesn’t lead viewers through four seasons just to get some kind of answer. It reveals enough to keep your attention, and moves quickly enough to resolve dangling plot threads while also keeping you wanting to know more.
While the DVD is not crammed with extras, the commentaries are very well done and there an obvious passion from the creators and writers. There is not much in the way of hidden stuff or secrets you can add get your teeth into, though.
Jericho is a show well worth discovering on DVD. It’s a vanilla plus release, with not much in the way of added features, but this gripe aside this is still a superb show and a series that should not be overlooked.