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TV Review: Jericho Returns and the Peanut People Rejoice

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Jericho: The Return could easily be subtitled “Revenge of the Peanut Gallery.” After diehard fans flooded CBS with thousands of peanuts (by some counts, 40,000 pounds worth) protesting the show’s cancellation, Jericho got a seven episode reprieve. It’s do or die time now for the post-apocalyptic series set in Kansas, and it’s returned as a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream.

It appears now that the “September” attacks launched against 23 cities and resulting in some 15 million deaths didn’t originate in North Korea and Iran, after all.

Nope—it was an inside job plotted by some kind of shadow government in collusion with equally shadowy corporations. And they were so meticulous in their machinations that the dim-witted American public was utterly clueless. Nukes have that effect on people.

What made the first season of Jericho a ratings fiasco was its mom and apple pie version of the apocalypse. The premise of a small town in Kansas cut off from the world, struggling for survival in the face of unimaginable destruction, was never explored in anything resembling reality—or even satire.

The kind of uncertainty that was the premise of the series breeds either panic or ennui, but in Jericho, a lets-pull-ourselves-up-by-our-bootstraps speech by Gerald McRaney’s character invariably brought the town together. Admittedly, in the second half of the season, a bit of paranoia was brought into play, mostly in the form of the town’s feud with the neighboring town New Bern, but even that came across more as high school rivalries than survival instincts. Even as they warring factions prepared for their final showdown at the season’s finale, it came across as a crosstown rivalry.

If the first season didn’t hold up to scrutiny, Jericho nonetheless built a small, but dedicated fanbase. Perhaps the campaign to save the show was based on economics, or maybe they just didn’t know that peanuts are more akin to beans than nuts. Either way, they’re unlikely to notice that the amped up, albeit abbreviated, Season Two takes the series more deeply into the valley of the lowest common denominator.

Where Season One focused on survival, however naively, Jericho now claims to focus on rebuilding and reconstruction. Taking its cues from everything to the American Civil War to the war in Iraq, with a little bit of the American Revolution thrown in for luck, the series now goes for a play at relevance to current events. It ends up being a series of clichés we’ve seen too many times before. Even more sadly, any “statements” it makes come off more as comic book morality than three-dimensional realism. Things take an ominous turn to be sure, but they presuppose that Baghdad and Jericho are interchangeable.

What was America is splintered into three different regions—west of the ‘blue line” (defined as the Mississippi River), the newly formed Allied States of America, based in Cheyenne, Wyoming has set up a decidedly right of center government, replete with revisionist history, an appointed president and a drive for a constitutional convention designed to redefine inalienable rights.

East of the Mississippi is the tattered remains of the United States, now headquartered somewhere in Ohio. Which side will win apparently depends on an alliance with the reformed Republic of Texas. For reasons that may have logic in a parallel universe, Jericho becomes the focal point in the struggle for America.

To be sure, there are any number of allegorical allusions the series could have touched upon with such a setup. The show’s producers failed to hit on any of them. In a rush to either put the dog to sleep or keep it on life support. They’ve opted for the latter, crueler option. Rather than actually tackling the issues they’ve set themselves up to confront, they’ve fallen back on the future as Old West cliché, thrown in the inevitable Big Brother on a big screen TV, as well as a renegade secret agent and a sympathetic military commander, dashed in equal parts conspiracy and tossed it to the viewer like so many table scraps.

The days of Jericho are numbered. Hokey romance and daft conspiracies can only fuel the imagination so much. Having seen three of the seven episodes, I see very little hope for either a satisfactory conclusion, or a promise of a third season.

Then again, I hate peanuts.

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About Ray Ellis

  • Glen Boyd

    Aww, come on Ray…

    I understand your cynicism and all, but there’s gotta be a softie lying somewhere in that hard as nails (or maybe “peanuts”) exterior of yours.

    I actually like this series a lot, and I was glad they brought it back even if only for the brief run.

    There’s a certain charm to the whole Andy of Mayberry meets the apocalypse scenario about it. Television has lacked the sort of stories about basic values like family and friends (note I didn’t mention religion here, because the show doesn’t either) for some time now. But I like the way that Jericho places ordinary folks in extraordinary curcuimstances.

    Yeah, I know it’s all been before in the eighties with movies like “Red Dawn”, and I suppose if I wanted to dig really deep into all of the right wing bullshit that this show pushes somewhat subtly, I could buy into the way you choose to intellectualize it.

    But I actually prefer to view it as the quite harmless family sort of drama that I believe it is.

    I’m a softie okay? And this show occasionally at least brings a tear to my eye. Guilty as charged…

    When I want to “think” a series out, I tune into something like “Lost”….

    Good review though.


  • Casey

    I think you’re being really harsh. They only had 7 episodes to tell an entire 22 episode season. Their budget was slashed and they did what they could with what they had.

    Yes, I am an avid fan and I am doing everything I can think of to make sure when this season is over, we have a proper 3rd season. So, stop spoiling the fervor that got us 7 new episodes after it was already dead once.

  • Yvonne

    Well, I respect your opinions (though I totally disagree with them), but your assessment of Jericho having a “small but dedicated fan base” is way off the mark. Even at it’s lowest point, Jericho still had over 7 million viewers. I’d say that’s more than a few fans. (source ). Just wanted to set the record straight on that.

  • http://www.tvjedi/ Wendy Fox Weber

    I have to agree with you. My kids love “Jericho,” but it’s too corny for me. Of all the shows to actually have a successful comeback!

  • Ray Ellis

    I don’t have a problem with ordinary people in extraordinary situations– it’s the foundation of good fiction. And I really wanted to like “Jericho”– that promo of the little kid watching a mushroom cloud erupt on the horizon was intriguing, at the very least. Unfortunately, the series never delivered. Whenever it came close to hitting on an issue, it backed gingerly away. So, no , Glen– there is no softie beneath my cynical exterior. I’m glad, though that you fess up to being a softie. But are you sure those tears weren’t caused by rolling your eyes back at the hokeyness?

    Casey, they had 22 episodes to tell a story to begin with, and they opted instead to drift aimlessly. The seven new episodes are a chance to get it down right. Even the show’s producers aren’t that optimistic. They’ve filme two endings–one that wraps it up if things continue to go south, and one that leaves avents open for a third season.

    Seven million viewrs is a small viewership from an advertiser’s POV, Yvonne. But thanks for pointing me to that site. It looks like the season two premiere had the smallest viewership yet, with only 7.1 million viewers. I wouldn’t bet the Kansas farm on a third season.

    Oh, and thank you, WEndy. Nice to know I’m not a lone voice in the wilderness, after all.

  • Karen

    I miss GERALD MCRANEY as Johnston Green.
    I LOVED him in that role.

  • KarenC

    I totally love this show. I think that your review is naive, actually. While granted, there are towns, quite obviously Jericho’s next door neighbor, that did not fair so well, that is rather the point. Communities survive, revengers do not. As for why Jericho is the focal point of a struggle, I don’t understand the mystery. It’s on account of the proof resting precariously in one man’s backyard. Not so mysterious to figure out.

    Jericho is about the only really good fiction entertainment ON television. I am so tired of criminal and law shows, the comedies are mindless, as is reality tv. This is an action packed, suspenseful, yet oddly realistic “what if” scenario drama. I enjoy rewatching eps as much as new episodes. I can only hope CBS continues to respond. Ratings barameters now are so out of touch with how tv is viewed it is not funny. Also, they have to consider that they have probably already permanently lost a significant portion of viewers from the strike. If Jericho does not come back after this season, I may be another casualty. I suspect next year to be awful, thrown together from desparation and lacking thoughtful entertainment more than ever.