Saturday, April 5, 2008

Season In Review: Jericho S2

If the WGA Strike has taught us anything, it's that there are certain benefits to condensed storytelling. Exhibit A: the second (and final) season of "Jericho".

As I've said before, there are perfectly valid reasons why this show just can't grab a large enough audience to sustain itself, despite being relatively well-written, with a strong cast. Taking that into account, its revival is doubly impressive.

But coming back with a shortened (only seven episodes) season had an interesting impact on the series, especially given the grave - and eventually justified - doubts about any subsequent return. In effect, the writers had seven episodes to wrap up as many storylines as they could while still moving forward with some kind of seasonal arc.

Much to my surprise, they went and did just that.

Of course, compressed storytelling has a price - much of the supporting cast members were either relegated to the margins (Mary, Emily, Dale, Gray) or completely forgotten (Jonah, Skylar, Hawkins' kids, Gail except for that wonderfully subversive moment during Jake's interrogation). But at the same time, there was a great degree of internal continuity throughout the second season: Ravenwood's return, the ascension of Tomarchio, Constantino's schemes, Chavez's appearance and so on. I honestly didn't expect to get that feeling of completion, of a story drawing to its natural close, from such an abbreviated span of episodes... but I did. It's a sharp contrast to the cliffhanger conclusion we got last season, where it was nigh-impossible to walk away satisfied because nothing was resolved.

Looking back, I wonder if this approach could have helped other shows that didn't quite live up to their potential - it might've been better, in the long run, if the second season of "Heroes" had omitted Sylar, Maya and Alejandro altogether; that was a lot of screen-time given to a plotline that, in the final analysis, amounted to very little. Likewise, the strike has forced "Supernatural" to end its third season five or six episodes early, bringing the seasonal arc to a boil much sooner than is usually the case - and yet, that's an improvement, because what's normally happened is the "myth-arc" episodes get scattered throughout the season with very little rhyme or reason, to the extent that the episode prior to the two-part finales never had anything to do with the big climax. It's likely no coincidence that series with shorter seasons, like "Weeds", "Dexter" and "Burn Notice", manage to pull off a much more cohesive story with a minimum of useless filler.