Tuesday, February 12, 2008

CBS series "Jericho" on "the nation after" -- in a second season


Back in 1969, while in the Army, I handwrote the first rough draft of a novel to be called “The Proles” in which, in the middle, the United States suffers a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. I believed in the domino theory then (as with the movie “The War Game”). The second half of the book was to examine a post-apocalyptic, purification world. The boys in the barracks reacted to pieces of the manuscript with, “the whole world goes back to the bay.”

There were movies like “The Day After” in 1982, where Kansas City gets it, as bombs are released from silos in Lawrence, and Jason Robards struggles in the rubble. That was a two-day event to be watched with friends. Or “Testament” in 1983, where suburban families struggle after San Francisco gets it. Or, of course, Nevil Shute’s “On the Beach” and movie, with the waltzing matilda. Or the 1984 Weslet Strieber novel “Warday.”

But in the post 9/11 age, a more grisly asymmetric threat comes up: the idea of small nuclear weapons, possibly set off in multiple locations in a compressed time sequence. That is the premise of the mini-series “Jericho” which premiered in the fall of 2006 on CBS (from Paramount). The episodes were split up throughout the year, and many viewers lost track of the series, resulting in a drop in ratings. It seemed that it was canceled, but then CBS brought back a season 2 with seven episodes, the first tonight, Feb. 12.

The show is set in a fictitious town in western Kansas, Jericho. Skeet Ulrich plays Jake Green, a returning Navy man who wants his grandfather’s inheritance, which is tied up with a “dead hand”. Fifteen minutes into the Pilot, the bar TV’s go out and a mushroom cloud is visible in the west. In time, word gets out about multiple explosions around the country. A thunderstorm brings radioactive fallout down on the town.

In time, we learn that the federal government has floundered, and a new rival government (with right wing leanings) has formed in Cheyenne, WY. Since Washington gets destroyed, the remnant of the original fibbies form the Eastern government locates in Columbus, Ohio (note – that’s the part of the world that the soap “Days of our Lives” is supposed to be set – actually “Salem”; maybe a reference to Stefano!).

There are lies and videotape. One of the lies is that North Korea and Iran terrorists planted the attacks. There are bands of non-brothers, and multiple battles (and a great train wreck, recalling “The Peacemaker”, at the beginning of Season 2 – why a steam engine?) It sounds like it was the locals after all. Maybe some of our own nuclear material is not too secure, it seems. (What about the Tooele Army Depot in Utah?) This series certainly is a lesson in man-made mega-disasters, without the History Channel.

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