Jericho: Season 1
October 18, 2007
Jon Turteltaub, Martha Mitchell, James Whitmore Jr., Sanford Bookstaver,
Starring: Skeet Ulrich, Ashley Scott, Lennie James, Michael Gaston, Sprague Grayden, Erik Knudsen, Kenneth Mitchell, Brad Beyer, Shoshannah Stern, Pamela Reed, Gerald McRaney, James Remar,
In the 1980s, as the Cold War between the United States and Russia was intensifying, there was a real, palpable fear of nuclear war. This was reflected in our popular culture with literature like Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka’s Warday, films as diverse as Testament (1983) and Miracle Mile (1988), and made-for-TV movies like The Day After (1983) and Threads (1984). Many of these films dealt with how society would come to grips with the threat of nuclear war and the subsequent aftermath. Needless to say in every scenario the outcome was very grim. If the initial blast didn’t kill you, there was radiation sickness and fallout to deal with.
In the 1990s, the fear subsided as the Cold War ended but with the splintering of Russia and the rise of terrorism after 9/11, the threat of nuclear war is still a real and frightening possibility. Enter Jericho, an hour-long drama that debuted last year about the residents of a small, Kansas town dealing with the reality that most of the U.S. has been obliterated by multiple nuclear attacks. Jake Green (Ulrich) returns home after being away for five years to visit his family for the day.
Jake’s father (McRaney) is the town mayor and clearly disappointed at what his son has become. There is visible tension between the two and this is exacerbated when Jake asks for money that his grandfather left him. His father has final approval and denies Jake’s request. Disappointed, he heads back to San Diego but on the way out of town spots a chilling sight on the horizon: a mushroom cloud explosion.
Meanwhile, several of the townsfolk see it too and quickly surmise that it came from the west, possibly Denver. The mayor, being the stand-up guy that he is, takes charge, calming people down and getting them organized while trying to figure out if this is some kind of freak accident or an all-out attack. Jake becomes a reluctant hero when he rescues a school bus full of kids. Among the townsfolk is Robert Hawkins (James), an ex-cop who just moved into town but the way he carries himself and his knowledge of how to deal with the current emergency suggests that he is much more than an ex-cop from St. Louis.
The pilot episode does a fantastic job of setting up the town and its inhabitants while also establishing the nightmare scenario of a nuclear attack. There is a good mix of pulse-pounding urgency as Jake races to save the kids and emotional weight as the drama unfolds between various townsfolk. The writers maintain this consistency over the rest of the season as subsequent episodes deal with radiation poisoning, the effects of an electromagnetic pulse, threats from outsiders who want to take, by force, what they want, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and remnants of the U.S. military.
Naturally, Jericho delves into the past of several characters, most intriguingly Jake and Hawkins, both of whom harbour a lot of secrets. Who would’ve thought that a T.V. show could help resurrect the career of Skeet Ulrich? Often considered the poor man’s Johnny Depp, Ulrich’s career never took off as he might have anticipated as crap like Chill Factor (1999) cancelled out strong turns in films like Scream (1996). However, he is well-cast as the black sheep son of his family who redeems himself by stepping up when his family and town needs him. Ulrich responds to this strong material by playing a character with a mysterious past that is gradually revealed over course of the season.
Sadly, the ratings for Jericho were not as strong as the network had hoped and they cancelled the show. However, a strong and very vocal fanbase had developed and campaigned relentlessly to save it. It worked…sort of. The network let the show’s creators crank out a half dozen more episodes to wrap things up that will hopefully air sometime in the near future.
The first disc features an audio commentary on “The First Seventeen Hours” by executive producers Jon Turteltaub and Carol Barbee. They talk about how Calgary, Canada and California double for Kansas. They talk about the differences between the Pilot and the rest of the series that was shot months later.
There is also a commentary on “Fallout” by Turteltaub and Barbee. Originally, the emphasis was on the feelings of characters but the urgent pace of the Pilot episode resulted in changes so that the focus changed to story. They talk about the challenges of portraying a post-apocalyptic world on a weekly basis.
There are deleted scenes for three episodes with optional commentary by producers Dan Shotz and Karim Zreik.
The second disc features deleted scenes for two episodes with optional commentary by Shotz and Zreik.
Also included is a commentary on “Rogue River” by Turteltaub and actor Skeet Ulrich who talks about the challenges of shooting driving scenes with a green screen. Not surprisingly, the two of them talk about Jake and his backstory. They also speak admiringly about the performances of other cast members.
Disc three includes deleted scenes for two episodes with optional commentary by Shotz and Zreik.
There is a commentary on “Red Flag” by Barbee and actor Lennie James. He talks about what it’s like to have a fake family on the show and how he bonded with the boy who plays his son. She talks about how the food drop in this episode commented on the relief efforts (or lack thereof) for Hurricane Katrina.
Also included is a commentary on “Vox Populi” by Barbee, Ulrich and James. They discuss the themes explored in this episode. James talks about his character and how he relates to his family. They also tell a few filming anecdotes.
Disc four includes deleted scenes for one episode with optional commentary by Shotz and Zreik.
Disc five includes deleted scenes for three episodes with optional commentary by Shotz and Zreik.
Disc six includes deleted scenes for one episode with optional commentary by Shotz and Zreik.
“Building Jericho” is a 24-minute look at the creation of the show. Originally, the creators envisioned it as a film and drew their inspirations from real-life tragedies like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. They also wanted to examine how a small community bonds and survives a devastating tragedy like a nuclear war. This featurette takes us through various aspects like the casting, location scouting, production design and so on. One really gets a sense of how this show came together.
Finally, there is “What If?” a sobering look at the history of the nuclear arms race and its current status. This is a fascinating if not scary look at how real the threat still is.