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Thursday, March 27, 2008

On "Jericho" The Next Great American Civil War

Since Jericho is cancelled yet again, I feel compelled to talk about this awesome show.

It isn't art, but it is. It isn't revolutionary, but it feels new. It's grounded in the Western and Conspiracy tradition, but its storytelling defies traditional genre. Some of the acting is sub-par, some of it hammed up (as the scene in the finale between Alicia Coppola and Brad Beyer demonstrated). Sometimes it was a soap opera, others it was an excellent adventure.

It was clumsy and dirty, yet oddly endearing.

And I loved it.

Please, watch the finale on, watch the episodes available there.

A few throwaway lines told the audience what would have been that the next step for Jericho would be something huge, and that was always the promise of the show - that that huge moment is always around the corner. In this case, it didn't, but it was still a fun ride in anticipation. The Next Great American Civil War. The issue? In this case it isn't slavery vs. industrialization, but rather industrialization vs. freedom. For a show that took place in the Midwest, and appealed politically to both liberal and conservative, the politics was quite left wing (though a case could also be made for a libertarian anti-corporate stance as well).

Like every Conspiracy-based show, there's a challenge in the ultimate reveal and final action to conclude a series. "The X-Files" chose to just recap and show the conspiracy (revealing exactly how convoluted such a thing must become if a TV show goes on forever). "The Fugitive" also had the same problem, but chose to keep it a chase, and not deepen the mystery too much. "The Prisoner", possibly the best in this subgenre, simply didn't reveal anything up to the very end, and just kept the surreal, odd feel. They all have the same problem, that after several seasons, a continued conspiracy would become larger, more amorphous, and stranger and more convoluted as time goes on. "Lost" and "Heroes" have this problem coming up, which is why it's so exciting that "Lost" now has an end date.

But the Conspiracy is only one of the threads from which Jericho thrived. It faced a challenge in this last pod of episodes - only an 8 episode order to conclude something that would normally have been done in 44, or even perhaps decompressed to 110, a typical 5-season order. Likely, though, the American Civil War would have been that last season, filled with action, after the end of the Conspiracy reveal in season 4.

Nuts to that.

Jericho was about people, about family from the very start. Sometimes this led to soap opera moments (Erik's cheating on April with Mary, omg!), and sometimes it led to engaging drama (the relationship between Johnston and his son, Jake), but it was always about people, and how they'd react after this. After the September 11th attacks (I doubt that the repetition of "September attacks" on the show hid any allusion to this disaster), we got just a taste about how people would react to any great disaster. Anger, disillusionment, the need to unite, to unify, to come together as a coalition of the willing, to organize, to feel safe. To do anything to feel safe. And so Jericho imagined the attacks 23 cities stronger, and focused on a small, fictional midwestern town with its own class/political problems as a microcosm of the American populace. And as such, it was probably hard to watch.

Now I'm probably the very definition of an educated liberal elitist. I would talk about this show with my conservative christian co-worker in amazement. We both latched onto the same things, the same hopes, the same fears that this show echoed.

The promise of Jericho was this:

A small town would become an important history-making battleground after an inconceivable terror attacks. Much like Gettysburg, or battles like Custer's Last Stand, something IMPORTANT would happen here. The next great American story would start in Jericho, because the last great American story almost ended there (though no one knew about it - yet).

The Conspiracy in this case, was a financed rival Jennings & Rall employee pushed up the plans that the company prepared for anyway. The military industrial complex - represented by "Jennings and Rall" - made possible the unimaginable, and took full advantage of it - creating a fully financed, corporate-sponsored government - the ultimate fear of our private citizenry. It was, essentially, a hostile takeover of America that initiated too early.

The message of Jericho is ultimately anti-corporate and pro-brotherhood, local government, self-determination, all of that. It's pro-family (the Greens provide the majority of the drama), pro-small business (Dale Turner, a young stockboy takes over the local Market, hires his own bodyguards and men, and becomes one of the most important people in the town), pro Civil Liberties (the mayor runs to the new Capital of the U.S. and becomes an outspoken representative of personal freedom against security, including the 2nd Amendment).

There hasn't been a series that explored this issues as directly as "Jericho" in a long time, if there ever has. There were adventure stories (The Green boys go to a neighboring town for some medicine, only to find raiders in the way), relationship stories (Emily's missing husband makes his way to Jericho, just when romance sparks between Jake and her), political stories (Gray Anderson calls for a special election to oust the current mayor, Johnston Green, over some illegal refugees), etc.

I've rambled on enough. I'm continuously impressed by this series, and sad it's gone unless it becomes resurrected (yet again).

Watch and Enjoy.

It isn't great, but it's fun.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Viral Tangential Marketing?

Is this group of clowns part of Warner Brothers' marketing campaign for the Dark Knight, or just a group of fans expanding on the original meme?