It's been a while since we had a good post-apocalyptic series on TV. Jericho [CBS, Wednesdays, 8 p.m.] may well develop into just such a show. The series relates how the people of Jericho deal with the possibility that they may be the last enclave of civilization in America…
Jake Green [Skeet Ulrich] has returned home for the first time in five years, and plans to stay just long enough to claim his inheritance from his grandfather. For every person who asks where he's been, he has a different answer [The Army. The Navy. Playing minor league baseball….]. When his father, Jericho's mayor, Johnson Green [Gerald McRaney] refuses his request, Jake hops in his car and heads out of town. Then it happens – a mushroom cloud appears on the horizon, in the direction of Denver.
The rest of the premiere finds Jake and the people of Jericho dealing with one seeming calamity after another: a school bus is late returning from a field trip; a teenaged boy plays back a disturbing phone message; the town's power goes out; things fall from the sky… The basic problem with as ambitious a pilot as Jericho, is that there is so much initial set-up required that most of the show's core eleven-to-thirteen characters don't get a lot of character development.
What Steven Chbosky has done, in writing the pilot, is focus on the characters of Jake Green and his father, the mayor of Jericho, Johnson. We get a good sense of their dynamic, which leads to peripheral encounters with other characters being informed by it. Thus, we see Jake's better side when he's placed into a pressure cooker situation on the school bus, and Johnson's better side comes to the fore when he has to deal with a rapidly deteriorating situation at a gas station.
Chbosky also gives us glimpses of the spunk of Heather Lisinski [Sprague Grayden], a schoolteacher on the bus; the pain of Dale Turner [Erik Knudsen], the young man who receives the disturbing phone message; and the sense of mystery around former St. Louis policeman, Robert Hawkins [Lennie James] – who seems a lot about a lot of different things…
In next week's ep, Fallout, Chbosky focuses a bit more on Emily [Ashley Scott], who has an apparently not-so-hot past with Jake, and Bonnie [Shoshannah Stern], a deaf woman who livers on a farm just outside of town. The action concerns a couple of escaped convicts and the impending arrival of radioactive rainfall – and the town's preparations to survive it.
While the premiere shows a lot of potential – there's so much going on and so little character development – that it might not seem like a must-see series. I'd suggest you give the show a couple more eps before making a decision. By the second episode, we're learning more about the townspeople and getting a bit more information about the nuclear event witnessed in the premiere. Indeed, by the end of Fallout, we'll know more than all but one of the townspeople…
Jericho is an ambitious series, and while it barely skims the surface of its potential in the premiere, it appears that each successive episode builds nicely upon its predecessor. The technical aspects of the show [cinematography, direction, etc.] are top-notch, and the cast is more than up to the challenge of adding depth to their characters while each ep spotlights one or two more.
The main thrust of the series is to examine a post-apocalyptic world that isn't necessarily a worldwide desert, where the immediate threat isn't gangs of bloodthirsty bikers. This is a world where small town values get examined, in detail; a world where even the littlest child can show surprising courage. There may even be some aspects of Jericho deal with redemption and corruption. If you go into Jericho with any expectations, at all, you may find them being dashed. It's that kind of show.