Jericho definitely has promise. It starts off strong; the filming, editing, and scoring create an intriguing ambience. During the opening sequence with The Killers’ “All These Things that I’ve Done” playing, we see the young hero-to-be making his way home. It not only sounds good, but the lyrics work to set up the plot.
“When there's nowhere else to run
Is there room for one more song
One more song
If you can hold on
If you can hold on, hold on
“I wanna stand up, I wanna let go
You know, you know – no you don't, you don't
I wanna shine on, in the hearts of men
I want a meaning from the back of my broken hand”
The upbeat tune makes us feel hopeful, and we actually forget that trouble is ahead but honestly, trouble already begins when the characters start to open their mouths. Some of the dialogue is so immature it makes me wince. But we’ll get to that in a bit.
The premise of this show is that some sort of overwhelming disaster will hit the town of Jericho, Kansas. To introduce us to the town and it’s members, we see Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich), who has been away for the last five years, come home and reunite briefly with his family and friends. We also are introduced to some other folks who, presumably, will have their place in the story.
A conflict is illustrated right off; Jake is trying to win his father’s approval, and also needs trust funds or some sort of family monies Jake’s grandfather had left for him. His dad, Mayor Johnston Green (Gerald McRaney), plays it a bit on the gruff side, telling Jake he needs to prove himself first. Jake is frustrated but resigned, and when he says goodbye to his mom (Pamela Reed), we see him refusing money she tries to slip him. From this we learn his mom is on his side, and Jake is trying to not be sleazebag. It’s a few simple moments that convey what is needed.
But in other places, things are much more heavy handed. In this industry – sometimes those behind the scenes feel they need to make certain things more obvious, assuming the audience won’t pick up subtleties. Attention Jericho writers: Give us a little credit!
There’s a scene where Jake has been injured, but has enough strength to come to the aid of school children stuck in a bus. After performing some daring first aid he manages to get the bus rolling and attempts to drive the kids and injured teacher back to town. But now his own injuries are starting to flare, and as he fights exhaustion he mutters lines like, “Got to stay awake.”
Now, from what I have already seen in this pilot episode, young Ulrich is a handy enough actor. I would have trusted him to convey his fatigue laced with fear by facial gesture alone.
There’s more like that. Jake’s dad, Mayor Green is working his way into a motivational speech. Again, McRaney has the acting chops, he’s paid his dues and he’s likeable enough. But when he’s interrupted by a worried Jericho citizen with the comment, “We’ve heard this speech before” – I say to myself, “Yes, me too!” and I don’t live anywhere near Jericho!
I’m not saying the dialogue is consistently bad. But there are segments like those that slide into ‘contrived’ territory. Another scene, though intriguing, was pretty morbid. That ‘daring first aid’ I mentioned earlier was an emergency penknife tracheometry. Daring yes, but to have the rest of the children looking on? A bit gruesome, that.
I also found some of the editing to be a bit uneven. The first scenes have the requisite amount of expository dialogue so we can care about Jake and the rest of Jericho. But when we get to the actual reason why they all need to be cared about – the first glimpse of the horrific mushroom cloud – the scenes start jumping around like crazy. We are shown vignettes of everyone’s reactions to this catastrophe and the sudden shift in timing is disconcerting. Of course, I’ll grant this all could have been quite intentional to show peace and complacency suddenly changing to worry and confusion. It just felt odd to me.
I do find myself liking this show in spite of these shortcomings. I wanted to see what happened in the second episode, especially when an empty prison bus is discovered on the outskirts of Jericho. I also wanted to know more about the helpful but mysterious Mr. Hawkins, (Lennie James) the former cop from St. Louis.
About that second episode- I did enjoy it, perhaps even more than the first. There are escaped convicts, old friendships renewed, and new ones emerging. We learn a little more about Mr. Hawkins, and he learns more about what’s going on. There is also a closing scene involving red thumbtacks that was quite chilling. Watch for it.
Jericho airs tonight at 8:00 PM Eastern on CBS.