Wow, Wednesdays may be busy viewing nights for me this fall. Jericho‘s pilot episode, which aired last night on CBS, seemed to hold some promise, despite some trips to the well of clichÃ©. The basic premise is intriguing – a nuclear explosion far on the horizon signals the end of life as a small Kansas town has known it. The cast is appealing enough, though I have a feeling that future episodes will lean more and more on the younger cast members, and the ongoing mystery of precisely what is happening and who is responsible is something I’m looking forward to unraveling. There’s a zinger of a moment where we find out from one of the characters that more than one nuke has laid waste to the American landscape that suddenly makes the whole story that much scarier. Though large portions of the pilot episode are clichÃ©-ridden, this is a case where a few of the moments outweighed that. The imagery of the mushroom cloud in the distance is an awesome sight, and the stunned reactions of the people who see it make for cinematic moments that are almost Spielbergian in intensity, combining an unearthly quiet with a horrifying vision. I’ve literally seen that scene in my nightmares. And I have to give them credit – it looked a lot like this. Only without Skeet Ulrich.
Ulrich may, sadly, prove to be the weakest link in the show’s ensemble cast, but that may just be because his character doesn’t get any kind of a profound moment here that lets the actor shine. Surely this will change, and he’ll have that opportunity, as the show goes on. There’s another character who intrigues me in that he seems to know exactly what to do and how to help when it’s needed most. Is he just a really helpful guy? Or does he know more than he’s letting on?
The mainstream entertainment media is billing Jericho as CBS’ answer to Lost, when structurally I find it reminds me much more of Invasion and, to an extent, Jeremiah. The comparison to Invasion makes me a little uneasy; sometimes it seems like Lost and Battlestar Galactica are fulfilling everyone’s need for entertainment that often ends on a downbeat note and there isn’t room for more. Ongoing suspense pieces such as Invasion, Threshold and Surface have failed to cut it in the last year, and there have even been complaints that popular shows such as Lost and Galactica just weren’t advancing their respective plots enough.
The writing seems to be on the wall for the serialized drama, which is a damn shame because (A) I prefer it to manufactured competition “reality” shows anyday, and (B) the day of the serialized drama should be here and now with the advent of DVD. But networks don’t make shows for DVD – they make them to grab prime time ratings. And the sad fact is that the general audience whose money the networks want are going to gravitate toward Dancing With The Stars, not toward a downer show about the aftermath of an assault on civilized society and its effects on the families in a small town. Top that off with the fact that Jericho is going up against Lost in its Wednesday night time slot, and you can probably kiss this show goodbye.
Jericho seems like it has an opportunity to be an engrossing, intense show. Enjoy it for the fraction-of-a-season that it’ll probably get.