Sunday, July 29, 2007

Diana's Adventures in TV Land: Jericho

I missed "Jericho" during its initial run, but with the summer hiatus reducing the number of TV series I watch to a neat round zero, I figured I might as well give it a shot. By the time I finished the season finale, two things became clear to me: I understood how the show had gained such a passionate, active fanbase, but also why it would never break out of its cult status.

"Jericho" has a lot going for it: appealing characters (even three-time Show Killer Sprague Grayden pulls off decent chemistry with Skeet Ulrich), a premise that twists the usual cliche (the tendency with post-nuclear fiction is to exaggerate into full-out Wasteland of the Damned and Mutating territory), some decent mysteries that don't outstay their welcome, the adorable romance of Stimi... there's certainly enough to create a solid, loyal audience, and strictly in terms of episode quality, there's really no reason for things to have gone south as badly as they did.

Except... well, look at the shows that, unlike "Jericho", had no reason to fear the axe this year. "Heroes", a series built on a juxtaposition of "ordinary people with extraordinary abilities". "Lost", ostensibly a realistic story except you've got Locke's Magical Mystery Tour and Smoke Monsters running around. "Smallville", still alive despite the fact that its ridiculous soap antics have long since passed the point of farce. What do they have in common? Each of them has a touch (or more) of fantasy to them.

"Jericho" doesn't offer that. Neither did "Drive" or "Veronica Mars", now that I think about it, but what "Jericho" does is deliver a relatively straightforward depiction of the worst-case scenario, a town in America's heartland that survives a nuclear attack by terrorists and has to deal with the fallout, both literally and figuratively. It's a reality that may have been a bit too plausible for the American audience, especially when the theme of people surviving hardships by banding together turns sour, and the uglier side of humanity rears its head, dominating the second half of the season (Dale, initially a sympathetic character, really goes off the rails in terms of becoming the very essence of obnoxiousness). I don't know that the overall message of the series is a positive one, and I can see how a large portion of the demographic would have trouble with that.

However, I can't fault the creators for telling an unpopular story, especially if it's a good story. And since it is a good story, I'll most definitely be tuning in when "Jericho" returns, because this tale deserves a proper ending.