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Jericho: The First Season (2006-2007)

Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 10/2/2007

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/7/2007

It would be foolish to say that American television doesn't tackle serious issues. On the abundance of police, hospital, and lawyer shows on TV, we get stories about murder, rape, disease, and an assortment of humorless topics. But, only a few have tackled the ultimate serious topic: the end of the world. TV movies like The Day After and to an extent, the sci-fi show Dark Angel showed civilization dealing with Armageddon. Now, we have a modern series, Jericho which examines what life would be like after a nuclear war. The show combines drama and science-fiction (we hope) in an impressive way.

As Jericho opens, family black sheep Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich) returns to his hometown of Jericho, Kansas to ask his father, Johnston (Gerald McRaney), for money. His mother, Gail (Pamela Reed), is relieved to see her son after so many years, while his brother, Eric (Kenneth Mitchell) is reserved. Jake is surprised to run into Emily (Ashley Scott), who is clearly an old flame. As Jake is leaving town, a mushroom cloud, presumably from a nuclear device can be seen in the distance. This throws the town into panic. Johnston, who is the mayor, with the assistance of Eric, rallies the police and attempts to restore calm and gather as much information as possible. A newcomer to the town, Robert Hawkins (Lennie James), suddenly pops up at town hall with a wealth of information about how to handle the situation. Eric’s wife, April (Darby Stanchfield), works at the local medical center, and she begins to treat casualties. Unable to leave town as planned, Jake finds himself thrown into this nightmare scenario in Jericho.

The idea of a show focusing on a group of people surviving a nuclear war certainly isn’t an original one. (In fact, many parts of the series reminded me of the Robert R. McCammon novel Swan Song, and others of Stephen King’s The Stand (yes, I know that isn’t about nuclear war...).) However, Jericho handles the proposition in an interesting way. The show isn’t about nuclear war -- that idea floats around in the background, but it’s never the focus of the show. Jericho focuses on the characters and the challenges which they now face. This is truly an ensemble piece as the show highlights the stories of many characters. The series could have easily focused on Jake’s family and only given them limited interactions with others. Instead, Jericho is a very ambitious series as it brings the viewer into the world of the town and allows us to get a detailed look at the lives these people lead.

The synopsis above only touches on the storyline in Jericho. Jake remains the main character throughout the series and the show is about a town dealing with the aftermath of a nuclear war. Beyond that, the show brings in many peripheral characters (many of which have very important stories) and dozens of subplots. The writers of Jericho have wisely chosen to let the story unfold in a very organic way. The Pilot episodes brings up many questions, most revolving around Jake’s past. In most shows, we would quickly learn the answers to these questions. However, in Jericho a nuclear bomb literally goes off. Thus, the questions about the characters and their backstories suddenly become frivolous as we watch the characters struggle to survive. Following this, we learn a little more about the townspeople as the story progresses, usually in very “normal” ways (such as two characters chatting while waiting for a planned event). This narrative style gives the show a nice flow, but it also makes the show highly addictive, as we are left waiting to learn more not only about the present, but about the past as well.

Jericho also does a nice job of balancing genres. In theory, the show is science-fiction, as it deals with the aftermath of a nuclear device going off near a small town in Kansas. But, other than that fact, the show is firmly rooted in reality. (I kept my fingers crossed for mutants, but they never surfaced.) Being a fan of shows such as Lost, I actually expected the show to take a supernatural or sci-fi turn at some point, but it never did. Instead, the show offers a mixture of drama, suspense, and action. The show’s main premise leads to many deaths, as well as domestic squabbles, medical traumas, and betrayals. Thus, we get a ton of drama and there are many gut-wrenching moments on the show. Some characters, most notably Jake and Robert Hawkins, have shady pasts, and the unfolding of their stories brings about suspense. As the series progresses, the struggle for survival leads to violence. The last few episodes feature some action set-pieces which are very impressive for network TV.

If Jericho has one flaw, it’s that it bites off far more than it can chew. The show features many, many characters and it struggles to keep us updated on all of them. These leads to two unfortunate results: 1) the show can easily stray from the main characters and their interesting stories, and 2) when the show is focusing on the main characters, smaller characters can disappear, sometimes for several episodes. (Several times while watching the series, I commented, “What happened to _________ ? Are they off filming a movie?” This can also cause some characters to be underwritten. There’s a difference between making a character mysterious and failing to give us enough details about them.

I’ll be honest, I was hesitant to jump into Jericho, as I thought that the show would be too depressing. (And, I don’t have a great history with CBS series.) But, I was pleasantly surprised to find a show which is very well-written, engrossing, and thanks to its cliff-hangers, addictive. Speaking of cliff hangers, I can’t believe that CBS let the show get to that ending and then cancel it. It’s great that the fans of the show let their voices be heard and convinced CBS to bring it back. I for one will be tuning in to see what happens.

Jericho: The First Season explodes onto DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. This six-disc boxed set features all 22 episodes from the show’s first season. The shows have been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The show has a visual style very similar to that of a feature film and the transfer here looks very good. The picture is sharp and clear, showing only a minute amount of grain and no defects from the source material. The image is well-balanced, as its never too bright or too dark. The colors look fine, although the show sports mostly muted tones. I did note some very minor moments of video noise, but otherwise the image is very nice. The DVDs carry a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. But, compared to some other TV-on-DVD presentations that I’ve seen, the audio is disappointing. The stereo effects are OK, as are the subwoofer effects, but both are used sparingly. The surround sound effects come into play only during crowd scenes.

The Jericho: The First Season set contains several extras. There are AUDIO COMMENTARIES for the episodes, “Pilot: The First Seventeen Hours”, “Fallout” (both Disc 1), “Rogue River” (disc 2), “Red Flag”, “Vox Populi” (disc 4), and “Coalition of the Willing” (disc 6). These commentaries are casual and informative, most notably the chat with director/executive producer Jon Turtletaub and produce Carol Barbee on “Pilot”, as they discuss the challenge of having a pilot get picked up for series and not having the actors from the pilot available for continued work. The episodes “Pilot: The First Seventeen Hours”, “Four Horsemen”, “Walls of Jericho” (all disc 1), “9:02”, “Long Live the Mayor” (both disc 2), “Crossroads”, “Vox Populi” (both disc 3), “Black Jack” (disc 4), “One Man’s Terrorist”, “A.K.A.”, “Casus Belli” (all disc 5), and “Coalition of the Willing” (disc 6) all feature DELETED SCENES which are accompanied by optional commentary from executives from the show. Most of these scenes are very brief. Disc 6 offers some additional extras. “Building Jericho” (25 minutes) is a behind-the-scenes featurette which offers an overview of the creation of the show. From there, we get comments from the actors about casting and characters (with audition footage). The segment then examines the making of the pilot, the creation of the sets, the special effects, and the music. “What If” is a 9-minute documentary which contains comments from experts and lots of stock footage from the 1950s, as it examines what would really happen in the event of a nuclear explosion.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long