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The Return of "Jericho"

By admin Published: February 12, 2008

Same title, kind of a different show ...

One of the things I liked a great deal about the first season of "Jericho" was its consideration of what makes a community. In the wake of nuclear disaster, with all the old support systems gone from the outside world, people had to figure out how to run their lives and their towns. People within the town of Jericho had different ideas of how to do things, and the good guys would not always win; one of the more effective twists in "Jericho" was having the mayor (played very well by Gerald McRaney) voted out in favor of a guy who, in better times, had not stood a chance of taking over.

In addition, even as the town of Jericho was working out its issues, other towns were coming to different conclusions. Their ideas, and their needs, then became an issue for Jericho. This wasn't the United States, after all. This wasn't even a united region.

I know that, in addition to all that, "Jericho" was a mystery, with lots of hints and guessing about what had led to the nuclear attacks, who was behind them and what role some people in the town would play, now and in the future. But where that was entertaining enough, it was the question of community that gave "Jericho" its heft. And it's a good one now, as the presidential campaigns ask us to consider what we are as a nation.

So we come to the second season, beginning tonight. The war that loomed at the end of the first season has ended, rather abruptly, as a military force bigger than either town's has arrived to restore order. And not just order. It is offering restored services, a return to normal life, a promise of peace and rebuilding.

So the big questions of the first season have been replaced with a more basic one: What do people want most from their government? And what will they give up in the way of freedom in order to get what they want?

While the first season's story had its roots in 9/11, the second season draws far more on that experience, and on issues that resonate in the current presidential campaigns. (Think just of Mitt Romney's national-security rationale for suspending his quest for the presidency.) But the current questions make "Jericho" a different kind of show, more of a thriller, more of an heir to "Red Dawn," than it was in the first year.

I can understand the reasons for the show making such a tonal shift. After all, CBS brought back "Jericho" reluctantly, after massive lobbying from fans, and then only for seven episodes, and with a loud warning that it had better get an audience quickly, and keep it around. So in going for more of an action/suspense tale, the show is trying to grab folks who were not going to sit through meditations on what a shop owner should do when goods are in short supply.

But in adding new characters, among them a military commander played by Esai Morales, the show has shifted away from some of the first season's players. At least one is not seen at all in the early episodes, and others are shown less frequently. (I suspect some of the change is a budget decision.)

Not that I actively dislike the new season. In fact, I went through those three episodes rather rapidly, and I still have plenty to think about with the show. But I wonder if the longing for new viewers has prompted the show to morph into something that the original fans will view less enthusiastically.

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