Tuned In: A worthy revival 'Jericho'

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After CBS canceled "Jericho" last May, fans bombarded the network with nuts -- a reference to dialogue from the show's season finale -- and three weeks later, CBS revived the post-apocalyptic drama. It was a near-miraculous turnabout, fueled by equal parts fan fervency and the network's desire to experiment in an uncertain, new media-driven TV culture where ratings are no longer the sole factor in determining a show's fate.

Now the question becomes, was this resurrection worth the effort?

In a word, yes.

"Jericho" (10 p.m. Tuesday, KDKA) will never be a great show but over the course of its first season, it did develop into a pretty good show, particularly in the latter half of the season, when about 3 million fewer viewers were watching. That was a shame. The pace of storytelling picked up, stakes grew higher and characters with murky motivation came into clearer focus.

In season two, "Jericho" maintains that tension, but the show continues its odd dichotomy: While the story is complex (borderline confusing), the characters, their motivations and their actions remain frustratingly simplistic.

In picking up "Jericho," CBS insisted on some concessions from producers; these included paring down the show's ballooning cast. There are now only six series regulars, but many of the former regular and recurring characters turn up in the seven episodes ordered for season two. In the three episodes sent for review, the only character I truly missed was matriarch Gail Green (Pamela Reed), who has left Jericho to visit family or friends in another town. (A CBS publicist said she'll be back in a future episode.)

The show's focus remains squarely on brothers Jake (Skeet Ulrich) and Eric Green (Kenneth Mitchell). When we left "Jericho," the town was at war with neighboring New Bern. The new season opens with troops from Cheyenne, Wyo., the new center of government for states west of the Mississippi River, breaking up the battle. Maj. Edward Beck (Esai Morales) leads efforts to rebuild the two communities, and he taps Jake to be Jericho's sheriff.

Robert Hawkins (Lennie James), a mysterious figure for much of season one who turned out to be a good guy, gets intel suggesting that the Cheyenne government may be populated by those responsible for the nuclear attacks, despite news reports that pin the blame on Iran and North Korea.

In next week's episode, new textbooks arrive in Jericho that rewrite the past 50 years of American history. The books suggest the new Allied States of America is rising from a society that was already on the decline. The new season also features a Blackwater-like security force, so it's clear "Jericho" puts forth intentional parallels with the United States' presence in Iraq.

But it's not all conspiracies and dark intrigue. "Jericho" makes time for lighter moments, particularly between Stanley (Br ad Beyer) and girlfriend Mimi (Alicia Clark). Tuesday's episode features not one but two engagements.

If CBS hoped new viewers will be drawn to "Jericho," the network may be disappointed. The season premiere crams a lot of story into a single hour and the uninitiated are bound to be confused.

As a casual viewer last year, I was left wondering about the identity of a character who returns at the end of episode two. It's clear viewers are expected to be surprised and fearful when the character steps out of the shadows, but if you weren't paying close attention last year, the impact of the reveal is nil.

But the return of "Jericho" is cause for celebration. Who among us hasn't cursed a network for canceling our favorite show? Reviving "Jericho" may not assuage the pain of our own favorite show's cancellation, but it's nice to know some TV fans had their wishes granted.

TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. Ask TV questions at post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A. First Published February 10, 2008 5:00 AM


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