Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich, left) and brother Eric Green (Kenneth Mitchell) weren't strong enough to hold Jericho, the town or the series, together. (CBS)
A Los Angeles Times blogger yesterday attempted to examine the various reasons why "Jericho" — the nuclear-aftermath drama CBS canceled and then brought back for a second try this spring to appease rabid fans — finally imploded and aired its series finale (for good this time, we mean it, really) last night. The writer discusses myriad business issues — the strike, the time slot, network decisions, etc. — but utterly ignores the one thing we too often overlook in these discussions, and the one thing that really matters when it comes to ratings: the story.
This kind of practical analysis is fine for the business pages, but there are artistic elements to the entertainment we can't get into the habit of ignoring. Simply put, the story on this new "season" of "Jericho" was weak.
The show was beloved in its first go-round because, I think, it was a tale of true patriotism and America's core values (and it creeps me out a little to write those phrases, given how they've been so commonly co-opted by the right wing as rhetorical weapons). It had (again, shudder) family values. It was a story of what really matters in people's personal lives; the political stuff was a vehicle for that. But when it came back, the political vehicle was a runaway train. It became just a sub-Tom Clancy political thriller, with a byzantine plot that involved shadowy figures and conspiracies — absent of the real people with real motivations that made the first season so engaging.
Last night's finale sealed things off ably enough — even despite what had become this season's trademark leaps in logic (and, man, travel time between Cheyenne, Wyo., and Jericho, Kan., must be among the best airline service in world history) — and ended things on a broader note of American values (freedom, truth, justice, if anyone remembers those). It was disappointing only for those of us who wished the show would go on.
But that disappointment set in long ago, and I think most fans would admit that the loss of Gerald McRaney (his character was killed at the end of season one) was the real death blow to this show. His character's son, our hero Jake (Skeet Ulrich), couldn't hold the center, especially while splitting the moral high ground with his brother, whose personal flaws overcame his sympathetic qualities too early in the story. And when they killed Bonnie for, apparently, no good reason, well, the humanity had clearly leaked out of the story.
(There's actually a business aspect to how that happened: The show's original writers did not return for this second season. After the show's cancellation, they moved to another new series, and when the show was renewed they were stuck in contracts for that other show and couldn't escape. So the source material in their heads likely was lost.)
So "Jericho" joins the heap of other great series that died prematurely (see "Invasion," "Sports Night," "Wonderfalls," etc. etc.). It's still available on the CBS web site and likely will remain there for a while. Meanwhile, we'll be watching YouTube, hoping the alternate, cliffhanger ending that was filmed (in hopes a third season would be picked up) is eventually leaked. It would be interesting to see in which direction they intended to point the show.
There are rumors, of course, that "Jericho" could find new life on cable, but the show's high production costs surely will prevent that. What should really be considered, though, is the route taken by a show like the clever and funny sci-fi series "Firefly," which misfired on the small screen for one beautiful season but then was reborn in a spectacular feature film on the big screen ("Serenity"). No matter who wins the election in November, an action-packed movie about a divided America struggling to remember and instill its core values would surely ring true — and ring box office cash registers.