I’m just gonna come right out and say it: Jericho is not a great show. The production values can’t even begin to compare with the lush beauty of a show like Lost. Many of the premises are utterly implausible and the “science” is generally laughable. The directing is sometimes clumsy, the dialogue can be embarrassingly stilted, and the acting occasionally veers into the downright awkward. And yet…
I can’t stop watching it.
The more I see of this little show that could, the more I need to see of it. When I decided to catch up with the series last summer I ended up burning through all 22 episodes in a ravenous frenzy. I couldn’t just watch one episode and then quit; I had to know what came next. (And after the supremely unsatisfying cliffhanger we were left with, it’s no wonder Jericho fans went into a nut-buying furor.)
Despite its flaws (which are many), I am undeniably hooked on the story of this little Kansas town and the brave citizens who populate it in the aftermath of a large-scale nuclear attack. I long to see Jake grow into the leadership vacuum left in the wake of his father’s death. I need to know that Stanley and Mimi are going to carve out a slice of post-apocalyptic happiness. I’m dying to find out what Robert Hawkins does with that nuclear warhead, and whether he’ll be able to expose the shady forces behind the bombings.
Jericho is the television equivalent of a page-turner–one of those books you stay up reading long into the night, not because it’s great literature, but because you simply can’t put it down. But it’s something more than that, too.
There’s a visceral appeal to the story, one that plays on our deep-seated fears–and our secret hopes–for the post-9/11 world in which we’ve found ourselves. As I watched the new flag of the “Allied States of America” raised in front of the town hall on the season two premiere, I felt my guts churn in an instinctive reaction. That flag–with its vertical stripes and its 21 stars–is just plain wrong. And let me tell you, it’s a rare television show that can affect me that strongly.
The very same issues of liberty versus security that confront us abstractly in the headlines are cast in the stark relief of life and death on Jericho, and played out against a rich backdrop of noble sacrifices, unconditional love, and the unwavering instinct to survive. And when it comes right down to it, isn’t that what the best stories are supposed to do?
It’s certainly one of the things that science fiction has always excelled at, and in its re-energized second season Jericho isn’t afraid to let the cultural and political metaphors fly, unsubtle though they be. Sure, the execution is mediocre, but the spirit behind it is reminiscent of the best of old Star Trek and new Battlestar Galactica. Not to mention, that Skeet Ulrich dude really knows how to brood fetchingly.
Okay, so maybe Jericho is a little bit great.