One usually doesn't think of the end of the world as being a popular theme for entertainment, but it is. There is a whole sub-genre of science fiction that examines life in a post apocalyptic world. [I was surprised by how many there are. I started making a list of books and movies with this theme while watching this series, but stopped when I reached 30 or so.] J. Michael Straczynski, creator of the excellent science fiction series Babylon 5, decided to try his hand at this well plowed field with the made for cable show Jeremiah.
An incredibly contagious disease has killed everyone who has entered puberty. Six billion people died within six months. Civilization was destroyed. As the series opens, it has been fifteen years since the Big Death. The children that have survived have grown up, but civilization has not returned. Various groups band together in isolated city-states, and there is the constant danger of marauding bandits. Most technology has been lost, and people are living not unlike people did in the middle ages. All the major cities have been deserted because you can't grow food in a parking lot. Survival is a daily struggle.
In the fifteen years since the Big Death, all the spare parts have been used, and no one has the ability to make any more. Batteries and bullets are precious things. All the canned food and supplies that were left are running out. As bad as things are, they are getting worse. The people that are left are now at a crossroads. They can continue the way they have been and decline into barbarism, or they can create a new civilization out of the ashes of the old.
Living in this grim future is Jeremiah (Luke Perry,) a man who thinks his father may still be alive. He believes that his father may have been involved with the experiment that caused the Big Death. As the disease was getting worse and spreading quickly, his father left, saying that had work to do at Valhalla Sector. Jeremiah has been looking for this place ever since. On the way he meets Kurdy (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) and they start traveling together. Not because they are bosom buddies, but because of necessity. They each need someone to watch their backs.
Eventually, the pair find their way to "The End of the World," what is left of Thunder Mountain, a SAC base sealed off inside of a mountain. Even though no adults survived inside the base, technology did. The End of the World has electricity and hydroponic gardens, weapons and knowledge. But only enough to support a small number of people. Afraid of being attacked by some of the other groups, they have been hiding. Jeremiah and Kurdy are recruited as scouts. They venture forth in a truck and keep tabs on the various groups in the area and bring back information. Jeremiah figures it will be a good way to look for Valhalla Sector.
Traveling widely, the pair discovers a lot of strange things that are happening. Odd events that seem to imply that the Big Death is going to return. Soon.
Jeremiah sounds like a "search" show, where a character or group spend the series looking for something, having an adventure each week that brings them no closer to their goal. (The Logan's Run TV series or The Starlost for example.) But that description sells the show short. It is much more than that. There is a story arc throughout the first season. Things progress, and discoveries are made that do bring them closer to their goal. Small things that seem inconsequential take on bigger meanings as the story goes on. There are many interesting sub-plots that are expertly woven together. The show never gets too complicated but it doesn't drop story lines either. Much like Babylon 5.
It is hard not to compare Jeremiah to Babylon 5, since most people's initial interest in this series is because of Straczynski's involvement. The five seasons of B5 are some of the best SF that television has ever produced, and while Jeremiah does not fall into that category, how many shows do? The show is very good. Like B5, Jeremiah is a layered, fully developed world. There are complex relations between people and events. Things are not always as they seem. The program has a wonderful texture to it, and several mysteries that keep the viewer's interest.
One thing I kept asking myself while watching this set was whether this was a character driven story with a strong plot, or vise-versa. The two main characters get developed very well through the show. They are both filled with contradictions and foibles, just like real people. Neither is one pure, and both have character flaws, but even more interesting is the fact that they are not easily pigeon-holed. It's not the 'smart guy' and the 'tough guy,' though it may seem like that at first. Jeremiah is intelligent, but he has a dark side to him, and while Kurdy is strong and more likely to want to solve a problem in a direct confrontational manner, he's also gentler than Jeremiah in many ways. You really feel that these two people have lived through hell, having seen every authority figure in the world die. The interaction between these two, though a little stiff in the early episodes, is excellent and very engrossing. It is one of the driving forces of the show.
While there are similarities, Jeremiah is much darker than Babylon 5, and suited for a more adult audience. There is a swearing, nudity and sex, and women get rapped. It is a grim and gritty show.
While the show is dark, Straczynski has succeeded in doing something amazing: he has filled it with hope. No other post-apocalyptic fiction that I can think of has so much optimism. Even though the world is in a rotten shape, there is the expectation that things can get better, maybe even better than before the Big Death. That is what sets this show above others of the genre.
Interesting stories wouldn't be enough without a good cast, and Jeremiah has an excellent group of people working on it. I was initially skeptical of Luke Perry in the staring role. How would the Beverly Hills 90210 pretty boy do in a gritty drama? Very well indeed. He makes Jeremiah's contradictions seem natural and subtly hints at the characters darker side. At first, I thought Perry was under acting a little. Jeremiah did not react sufficiently to the things that were going on around him. But after a couple of episodes, I realized that this was intentional, and that it added an extra dimension to the character. It made Jeremiah more thoughtful and set him apart from just about everyone else he encounters. Though not as good at the more physical aspects of the role as his co-star, Perry does a very fine job with the character.
Though I had misgivings about Luke Perry, I was very intrigued to see how Malcolm-Jamal Warner acted in the show. Best known for playing Theo Huxtable in the long running and popular Cosby Show, I was wondering how this comedic actor would play in a dark drama. (In a nod to his old persona, there is a supporting character in the first episode who is named Theo.) I was astounded. Physically, Warner has beefed up a lot from his Cosby days. He is muscular and has a tough look about him that fits in well with the series. You could believe that he's spent his life fighting for food. He does very well in the frequent fight scenes that he's in. But Warner is also able to bring a soft side to his imposing physical exterior. He is able to take a very complex character and make him seem natural. But, like the show itself, there are many layers to his personality. I really thought that Malcolm-Jamal Warner stole the show. He is intense and kind at the same time. A perfect match to Perry's Jeremiah.
There rest of supporting cast is generally very good, especially Jason Priestley who plays a psychotic who beleives he's God in one episode.
While I enjoyed this show very much, it was not perfect. Due to the nature of the show, first thoughts are likely to be about how realistic the scenario is that the show puts forth. As I saw the first towns and villages, and the squalor that the people are living in, I couldn't help but think that things would be different. Would it be very difficult to rig up a steam engine to generate electricity? After all they would have libraries at their disposal. I thought that after fifteen years more progress would have been made. But since it's one of the underlying tenets of the show, I can suspend my disbelief.
I had a harder time with some of the continuity errors throughout the series. People entering a cave for the first time in days but having it filled with lit candles for example. Small things like that drive me crazy, and there were more than a few.
The other problem I had with the show was that fact that Jeremiah and Kurdy rarely used guns. They seemed to prefer having a life or death fight, than just shooting a villain. In one episode, Jeremiah even lays down his weapon when the guy whose shooting at him runs out of bullets so that they can have a fair fist fight. It makes for nice drama, but I had a hard time swallowing it.
Jeremiah is a very good show. The actors are good, and
the story is compelling. Though it does take a few episodes to get
used to the characters and situations, it's well worth the time investment.
The show has a surround sound audio track but no subtitles. The audio quality is pretty good. There is fine bass reproduction in the explosions, which are fairly powerful. The more subtle noises such as the sound of leaves crunching underfoot are easily discernable, and the dialog at an appropriate level. A nice sounding disc, even if it's not showy.
For the most part the video quality is pretty good. The blacks are black, and the details are easily discernable in the many dark scenes. The main problem are digital artifacts in large white areas. When there is a shot that involves a lot of sky, for example, the white clouds seem to flicker and have black specks in them. This is particularly bad in one scene that takes place while it is snowing. Other than that, a good transfer. The show is presented in standard 1.33:1.
Commentary by Luke Perry and Malcolm-Jamal Warner: On the first episode only. While not the most informative commentary I've ever listened to, it was very entertaining. Perry and Warner banter back and forth like two old friends. While this track is not filled with chatter, there are long gaps when they have nothing to say, they do tell a lot of jokes and amusing stories. I laughed several times. A fun commentary.
Deleted Scenes: 10 deleted or shortened scenes from the first episode.
Behind the scenes: A five minute promotional piece. Mainly fluff.
Other extras: There is also
a photo gallery with production stills, a production design gallery with
preliminary drawings for the sets, and trailers for Escape from New
York and Terminator.
Created by J. Michael Straczynski, Jeremiah is fated to live in the shadow of Babylon 5. This is too bad, because Jeremiah is a very good show, just not as brilliant as its famous predecessor. The story and premise is very interesting, and the fact that Straczynski was able to imbue with such hope and optimism makes this a show that much more amazing. A series worth checking out. Highly Recommended.