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Scaling the Walls of "Jericho": An Early Look at the Winter Premiere

One show that I am constantly getting emails about is CBS' post-nuclear drama Jericho, which always prompts the question as to why I don't ever seem to mention the series. (For the record: I did watch the pilot last May and caught the second episode when it premiered last fall, but never fell under its spell.)

So when CBS offered me the opportunity to take a look at Jericho's winter premiere (airing February 21st), I knew just who to turn to: Televisionary reader Brock (an LA insider himself), who has been hounding me via email about how I keep neglecting the show. I invited Brock over to Televisionary HQ to watch the Jericho screener and here's what he had to say. (There are some spoilers lurking in the below, so be forewarned.)

When we last left off, eight weeks have gone by and Jericho is isolated from the rest of the world. Prodigal son Jake (Skeet Ulrich) was about to make a move on his ex-girlfriend Emily (Ashley Scott), when her thought-to-be-dead husband arrives back in town, towing a crew of nuked survivors. As the mysterious FBI Director Hawkins (Lennie James) corresponds on his laptop to an unknown person, he discovers he is being tracked by satellite… But more on that later, as most of its spring premiere takes place during the 36 hours leading up to the attack, covering most of its important characters (though Jake-obsessed school teacher Sprague Grayden seems to have vanished from the cast). The final act of the show is back in the present, mostly concerning Emily’s husband and his whereabouts over the last eight weeks.

The most interesting parts of the spring premiere concern the most intriguing characters: Jake and Hawkins. Unfortunately, the episode seems to devote a lot of wasted effort to the mundane storylines of Jericho residents, most of which just provide additional back-story to information we already know. April gets divorce papers from her lawyer, while her husband Eric (Jake’s brother) continues his affair with barmaid Mary Bailey. Stan flirts with a rude woman at Mary’s bar, only to find out later that she has flown in from DC to audit his farm (and we all know that the flirtation has built to a real romance after the bombs). Jake’s father, Mayor Johnston Green (Gerald McRainey), decides to retire and go to Paris with his wife, and hopes that Eric will take his place in his reelection campaign.

Meanwhile, Gail is worried about Johnston’s health, which obviously foreshadows his near-death-bed experience during the middle of the fall season. Emily and her husband argue about his job interview in Chicago; Emily wants to stay in Jericho and raise her family there, giving him an ultimatum. He takes off and heads to Chicago, but by the episode’s end, we listen to his voicemail to Emily where he has turned the job down and is on his ill-fated plane trip back to Jericho. This information spoils nothing and barely even fills in the blanks. It’s just filler and minor character development, meant as pacing between the scenes of Jake and Hawkins. Too bad.

We finally learn on where Jake had been for the last five years (though we still don’t know where he learned how to do a tracheotomy with a juice box straw); Jake spent fourteen months in Iraq and six months in Afghanistan working as an independent contractor, often running cargo to and from some scary, dangerous places. 36 hours before the bombs went off, Jake was broke, trying to get a job piloting charter jets for executives and celebrities. Apparently he was a better pilot than driver. (Hmmm, I can foresee a crop duster action sequence coming up). Apparently he was flagged by the Justice Department as a “person of interest” (which we learned from Hawkins’ computer search of Justice Department files a few episodes back). But though Hawkins believes it could be related to the terrorist attacks, Jake claims his government status stems from an incident that happened when he and a buddy were driving trucks through enemy lines and some innocent people were killed. These incidents seem to follow Jake around…

Of course, the most interesting story concerns Hawkins, who is at the center of the terrorist attacks. All we knew about Hawkins so far was that he was the FBI Director, had gone undercover and discovered the terrorist plans, and brought his estranged family with him to Jericho to escape the attacks. Hawkins has been in communication with some mysterious people... perhaps some of his allies, or perhaps the enemy he had infiltrated.

At the end of the fall finale, Hawkins was being tracked by the enemy, all the way back to Jericho. But in the spring premiere, we learn more about Hawkins and his intentions. We learn how deep Hawkins was undercover in the conspiracy and possibly that he possesses something far more dangerous than his special electromagnetic pulse bomb resistant laptop (no, it’s not an Apple, but Jack Bauer would be jealous), something the enemy may want back at all costs. We also learn that just like his ex-wife, Hawkins had someone special in his life too, and a whopper of an ending may yet disturb the sleepy suburban dress-up game he’s been playing with his family over the last eight weeks. The lengths Hawkins took to get his family to Jericho may also surprise audiences as well.

The violent-paramilitary group Ravenwood (who battled Jake and Eric several episodes ago, as well as half of the Jericho townspeople) pops back up again in Jake’s pre-bomb life, and is a major catalyst of why he returned to Jericho. Something tells me that their involvement in the terrorist attack is more than just securing America in place of the National Guard. There is also a startling revelation about the leaders of the attack, how widespread their group is, and a glimpse of their target list. Did the Chinese orchestrate the attack or is it another sinister force? My bet is on Ravenwood, attempting to take control of the government, and a way for Jake and Hawkins’ story to converge.

It’s a fun, surprising, and revelatory episode, answering just enough questions. I would rather the show focus on the conspiracy rather than the Eric/Mary/April love triangle, or at the very least, more of how the town as a whole will cope with the dangerous new world its characters are living in. Still, it’s full of action to rival FOX’s Monday lineup, soap twists and relationship turns to match ABC’s serialized fare, and enough answers to old questions and new questions to move the plot along. Jericho can take the crown of one of the most under-rated shows of the current season.

So there you have it, Jericho fans. The winter premiere of Jericho, reviewed by an avid watcher of Jericho. Ah, what a warm and fuzzy feeling I have now. Sometimes it feels good to make some TV-related magic happen.

"Jericho" returns to CBS on February 21st at 8 pm ET/PT.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: NCIS (CBS); Dateline (NBC); Gilmore Girls (CW); America's Funniest Home Videos (ABC); American Idol (FOX); Wicked Wicked Games (MyNet)

9 pm: The Unit (CBS); Law & Order: Criminal Intent (NBC); Veronica Mars (CW); Primetime (ABC); House (FOX); Watch Over Me (MyNet)

10 pm: The Unit (CBS); Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC); Boston Legal (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: American Idol.

Simon, Randy, and Crazy--I mean, Paula Abdul--continue their search for the next great American Idol, but first the show's producers want them to sit through some truly ear-splinteringly bad auditions. Tonight, they're in San Antonio. Tune in for the music, stay for the humiliation.

8 pm: Gilmore Girls.

Le sigh. I'm not sure why I am still watching this, as it's just so damn depressing to watch this once-great series continue to fall off the tracks. On tonight's episode ("I'd Rather Be in Philadephia"), Lorelai, Rory, and Emily wait for word on the stricken Richard's condition. But while Logan, the best BF, like ever, borrows a helicopter to get to Rory, Christopher is nowhere to be found. All in favor of ending this once great show, say aye.

9 pm: Veronica Mars.

YAY! Veronica *finally* returns (at least for a few weeks, before the dreaded Pussycat Dolls reality show knocks it off the schedule again) with new episodes. On tonight's installment ("There's Got to Be a Morning After Pill"), Veronica confronts Logan about his tryst with Madison during their break-up and investigates the curious case of a promiscuous classmate who claims she was slipped a morning-after pill and miscarried. Plus, could Veronica be pregnant? (Doubtful, that, but it does make for good promo material.)

Comments

Anonymous said…
I'm sorta glad I read the Jericho piece. Its been such a looong wait. The hiatus was waaaay toooo long CBS. I know they want to avoid AI, but still.

I also don't care much for the Eric and April story, but I do like the Jake-Emily-Heather relationship. Sorry to hear that Heather has disappeared, but I've heard from the Jericho website/producers that she makes a reappearance in future episodes.

I can hardly wait!
TxGowan said…
A few points and questions:

Emily isn't married. They had a whole episode about her thinking about what her wedding day was supposed to be like. She's engaged. Although now that he's back, maybe there'll be a wedding, although I doubt it considering they already DID an episode all about her imagined wedding.

I have never seen anything that said that Hawkins was the FBI Director. Did I miss that? Was it in the supplemental online content? It's always been a mystery who or what he was. When was that revealed and where?

Chalk me up as another viewer who doesn't care about the Eric/Mary/April triangle. There's just no chemistry between any of them and frankly they're not that interesting. I don't think the show would even miss the characters, honestly, other than Eric butting heads with his brother.

Anyway, thanks for the review. I agree it's been gone too long and I await the return!
rockauteur said…
Yeah I can't wait for Jericho to come back too! Thanks for your piece on it! And I hate the Eric/Mary/April storyline as well...

I was rereading with Brock said, and I think I remember when Hawkins said he was the FBI Director - I believe it was when Gray discovered that Hawkins was not exactly who he said he was... Of course Hawkins could have been lying, but I believe it was revealed in the scene where Gray and his deputy were questioning Hawkins and his family.
Anonymous said…
I tried to resist reading this piece, but I just couldn't! The upcoming events sound really interesting (except for the Eric/April/Mary stuff, ick) and a good direction for the show to take.

Despite the fact that Jericho has some execution problems, it is still highly addicting and a lot of fun to watch. It's almost so ridiculous that it is fun, if that makes any sense. I'm looking forward to the winter premiere!
Anonymous said…
I read somewhere that on Jericho, they are going to get into making ethanol or biodiesel fuel for their cars etc. That is the kinda stuff I want to see.....RESOURCEFULNESS.

It is okay to have a few 'relationships' because that is life too. But does everyone have to be in a love triangle/quadrilateral? That is why I DON'T watch Grey's Anatomy.

Love Jericho and hope that more of the 'critic's' wake up, eat some humble pie and start talking about this show, no matter how bitter they are that they predicted this show to fail miserably -- and it thrived despite their harsh words. The acting is strong from the majority of the cast, thought there are a few weak links (Eric and Emily, I'm talking to you both!)

Oh, and the commentaries at the cbs site by the producers, Skeet, Lennie James are funny and insightful. I like the cast off screen as well. They seem like a humble, fun bunch that really get along well. No premadonnas ala Grey's etc.
Unknown said…
I stopped watching "Jericho" after the bridge episode. When I thought about it, I realized that everything that "Jericho" did, "Heroes" did better. It's a shame too; the set-up for "Jericho" was genius.
Anonymous said…
Bloody hell. I watch this show for two things -- the premise, and Sprague Grayden -- and they've been depriving me of my Heather Lisinski fix since episode nine, three months ago. Her absence is a waste of an adorable character and a very talented actress. I'm eager for the return of the series, but for crying out loud, CBS, put Sprague back on the screen!

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