TV Preview: Jericho

Jericho is an oddly optimistic apocalyptic drama, with sinister overtones overshadowed by a can-do, in-it-together attitude.

Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich) returns to his small Kansas hometown after a mysterious absence, where he’s embraced by his mother, Gail (Pamela Reed), but not by his disapproving father Johnston (Gerald McRaney), who’s the town’s mayor, or by ex-girlfriend Emily (Ashley Scott).

When a mushroom cloud appears in the general direction of Denver, and power and communications go out, the town is isolated and unsure if there are other survivors, or what led to the devastation.

The pilot sets up the characters and relationships, such as that between the estranged father and son, and a potential love triangle with Jake, Emily, and teacher Heather (Sprague Grayden). She adds some of the only bits of humour in the mostly earnest and slightly contrivevd drama, with Ulrich in particular constantly wide-eyed and frantically rushing from heroic act to heroic act.

Since a mushroom cloud just isn’t high-stakes enough, Jericho adds additional menace through prisoners on the loose, children in peril, and the mysterious pasts of Jake, who is both an impossibly self-sacrificing hero and a possibly shady failure, and Robert Hawkins (Lennie James), who seems to know a bit too much about nuclear disasters in general, and shares a bit too little about what he knows about this particular one.

There are enough engaging characters with enough hinted-at backstory to fill a series, but the real test will be to see how the show settles into a weekly format while maintaining the suspense. The first couple of episodes set up the premise and some of the characters well, but the story is lacking a sense of urgency when you take into account that they’re not all likely to die as soon as the cloud reaches the town – unless CBS planned a quick cancellation from the outset.

Still, while Jericho is not the kind of show I’d watch regularly, it is a show I’d recommend – with some reservations – for others looking for action and suspense with mostly intriguing characters.

Jericho premieres Wednesday, Sept. 20 at 8 p.m. on CBS.

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