Until not very long ago this set was being billed as Jericho: The Complete Series. The show was originally cancelled and later revived through a fan campaign to save the show. It was never a ratings monster, and I must admit that I was never interested enough to watch it even once. Now the DVDs of that first season have arrived, and I’m given my first look at Jericho. My very first impression was that this show was very ambitious from the gate. Perhaps the show’s fatal flaw is that it attempts to tackle far too many serious issues, complete with complex undertones, with the largest ensemble cast I’ve seen yet. Add this to the fact that the world is still a little sensitive to terrorist attacks, and you have a recipe for keeping your audience relatively small. None of these things are bad elements in and among themselves, and I’m certainly not suggesting that these issues need to be abandoned. I’ve been a high school teacher, and one thing any of us can tell you is that there’s only so much a person can absorb in a given amount of time. What little enjoyment I did get out of these DVDs I likely would have lost if I also were contending with 20 minutes of mindless commercials to further distract my concentration. The series offers a lot of fear and panic with precious few moments of hope.
The premise almost sounds simple and unoriginal in the telling. Several terrorist organizations in a coordinated attack manage to nuke at least 22 American cities. Far enough from a Denver blast to survive are the residents of Jericho, Kansas. We’re talking small town with small town politics and mentality. Jake Green (Ulrich) has been away for some years. He was back visiting when the attack occurred and finds himself taking a lot of the town’s survival on his shoulders. He’d been kind of the renegade son of the town’s long time mayor. The series begins to resemble the popular Lost from here on out. We’re talking a group of people isolated from the rest of the world under mysterious circumstances. The characters remarkably mirror Lost, down to the pregnant woman and the man with a sinister past who happens to know a lot about surviving a nuclear attack. Also like Lost, the characters’ past is often explored, leading to common threads they might not even know they share. The nation’s surviving towns become almost sovereign states unto themselves. Each develops a unique political structure and raises fighting forces. Before long these other towns begin to engage in disputes and attacks. The problem for me is there are far too many characters and way too complicated situations, so that I was never able to connect with any one character on the series. It’s obvious we are intended to relate to Jake, but I was never able to do that.
The entire show is one long What If scenario. At first brush it looks like a psychological study of how a town might develop under these isolated conditions. There are unmistakable 9/11 and Katrina influences throughout, which the creators willingly acknowledge. The show’s advertising campaign was a little vague for me, and beyond the basic premise, I was never given a good reason to invest my time in a series that would by necessity require my loyalty enough to not miss a show or risk being lost from that point on. Fact is, I was lost even when I had every episode at my immediate disposal.
Each episode of Jericho is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. In today’s world of HD production, the video presentation for Jericho is a great disappointment. Colors are all over the place. One instant you see the emergence of some sweet color reproduction, particularly reds and yellows, but other times everything appears extremely washed and faded. Black levels are average but often show traces of compression artifact. The overall tone of the picture changes too often for my eyes to get comfortable. It is my suspicion that much of this is done creatively in order to set up a particular emotion. I just found it unsettling, and I was never allowed to settle into the story and allow it to engulf me.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is not bad at all. There is a lot of separation on the songs and many nice moments where ambient sounds add a convincing element to the show. I was so convinced during the fallout rain in the third episode, I had to pause and check out a window to see if it was real. Dialog is mostly up front and placed center stage. You’ll be able to hear everything pretty clearly. There’s a lot of mids in this show, so that dynamically it can tend to drone. Not much out of the subs even though there are plenty of opportunities.
There are 22 episodes spread over 6 single-sided discs. The discs come in 3 slim cases kept in a box.
Deleted Scenes: There are several episode-specific deleted scenes spread out over the 6 disc set.
Commentary Tracks: Many episodes sport commentary tracks with various actors and crew. Jon Turtletaub is in a lot of them, and they really spend most of their time on the story elements. I was hoping for more insight that would allow me to settle in better, but I was not to find it here.
Disc 6 contains the two main features for the set:
Building Jericho: This is a pretty complete 25 minute behind the scenes piece. There are plenty of sound bites from the participants and lots of on-set footage to see. There are some audition clips here, which I tend to enjoy. They are in a set backed by a blue screen.
You won’t find any real answers here, however.
What If? I’m too young to remember the “Duck and Cover” days of the height of the Cold War, so this was a fairly interesting 10 minute feature for me. The real possibilities of an attack are discussed as well as the actual likely ramifications. Old education clips teaching you to “duck and cover” are shown, as is other Cold War era preparedness stuff like personal fallout shelters.
While Jericho received a last minute reprieve and will return this year, I don’t expect it to finish. This series will not last the season, and there’s literally no chance of it returning next year. I felt let down. There are a lot of rich possibilities here to mine, but instead Turtleman opts for a Lost clone. Turtleman has done some fine work in the industry, and I expect he will again. Jericho’s just not an example of one of those times. I’ll certainly be looking for his next outing. Hey, Jon, “Don’t you break my heart again.”