Thursday, September 28, 2006

TV REVIEW: Jericho: "Fallout"

Readers here on the blog know that I was "iffy" about the new CBS drama Jericho after the premiere episode last Wednesday. I found the debut installment preachy, soap-opera-ish and truth be told, a little dull given the premise (a Kansas town survives a wide-ranging nuclear attack on America). It was too much melodrama and too little action/sci-fi for my taste.

Well, after "Fallout," the series' second episode, many of my complaints have not only been addressed, but rectified. In it's sophomore sortie, Jericho is commendably leaner and meaner. The program is shorn of the patriotic pabulum that was formerly at center stage, and this episode focuses instead on a batch of impending crises facing the burg. Accordingly, the hour is like a pressure cooker, and I found myself thoroughly involved in the play. Ah...I love it when a series comes together...

In "Fallout" a storm cloud of radioactive rain is bearing down on Jericho (population: 5,000) and the citizenry is forced to evacuate to two bomb shelters that were long ago forgotten (and not in very good shape.) Meanwhile, the Mayor has some kind of collapse (a heart attack?) And, making matters even more difficult, some of the population doesn't want to leave the local saloon, run by the sexy bartender Mary. Therefore, the deputy mayor, Eric (Kenneth Mitchell) paints the recalcitrant patrons a not-so-pretty picture of what they face if they don't evacuate: "You're going to get radiation poisoning. Your hair is going to fall out in chunks...your skin will blister...your organs will start to fail..."

After this description, the denizens re-consider their position and decide to take shelter...

Meanwhile, self-confessed "screw-up" Jake (Skeet Ulrich) is proving to be too much the hero too soon, at least for my taste. In this episode, he (almost...) fixes the shelter's ventilation system, safely gets much of the population into a nearby mine for safety, and then seals the group in the mine (and away from the rain...) by correctly and safely deploying dynamite charges. Who is this guy, MacGyver? And then, in the last few minutes, Jake braves the storm and rescues Emily Sullivan (Ashley Scott) - on a distant farm, no less - from two murderous prison escapees masquerading as cops. And this kid is the prodigal son? I don't think so...

The other sub-plot on Jericho this week involves Emily dealing with those ex-con wolves in sheep's clothing. There are a few Hollywood-style conceits here. For instance, everyone who needs to know it, conveniently understands sign language. And, of course, the final battle between spunky Emily and the prison escapees comes down to an old-fashioned (and cliched) gun-fight in which the heroes win without getting a scratch on them. That made me groan, but heck, this is still TV, right? I gotta give Jericho it's due for creating an involving and interesting hour.

One of the best and most chilling aspects of "Fallout" involved the coda. Robert Hawkins (Lennie James) - my favorite character on the series so far - has de-coded a Morse Code message from a ham radio transmission. Anyway, he's penned a list from his translation, and while sitting in front of a map of the United States, Hawkins begins marking (with stick pins), the location of nuclear strikes. Bombs have struck Chicago, Philadelphia, San Diego, and on and on. After a few seconds, the camera stops highlighting the names of the cities destroyed and instead focuses on Robert's hand returning again and again - over and over - to the bin of stick pins. The message is plain: this has been a devastating and huge attack. At this point, however, we don't know who the attackers are...

If next week's installment of Jericho is this good - this dark and this serious-minded, the series has at least one new fan: me!

1 comment:

  1. You hit the nail on the head. fallout is much more intelligently played.

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