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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Jericho - The Second Season
Jericho - The Second Season
Paramount // Unrated // June 17, 2008
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Don Houston | posted June 9, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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Series: Jericho: The Complete Second Season comes out on DVD next Tuesday, the show itself having survived numerous corporate assaults, a premature cancellation and then a second cancellation after CBS gave fans seven episodes to tie up most of the loose plot threads. I was a late bloomer to the series but having watched it last year in the form of the boxed set I reviewed (Jericho Season One), I found it much more appealing than the intermittent schedule it was placed on by the network. Before I go into detail about this upcoming set where the entire season was compressed into a mere seven episodes on two discs, here's a recap of my comments from before to set the stage for newcomers (because if you're a fan of the show, you'll already have several copies pre-ordered to send out to your closest friends). The overview of the season is that the show went from the first seasons discovery phase of what happened and who was assuming power to this season's spy drama of a decidedly unfriendly group taking over the country only to be stopped by heroes Jake and Hawkins. Here's the recap: While Biblical scholars can look for obscure references in the writing to the show's episodes, let's take a quick look at the show's premise before dissecting the six disc boxed set I was sent to review. Never having seen the show for more than a couple of minutes, my two sitting marathon brought me into seeing why so many fans enjoyed the show. The premise is that in contemporary times, a terrorist plot to explode numerous nuclear weapons in large American cities succeeds; approximately 22 of the devices reeking havoc on the population of the country during a Presidential address to Congress. This actually jumps the gun a bit since the vast majority of the show is dedicated to a small town in Kansas where a single explosion in Denver is seen on the horizon, scant evidence of another explosion in Atlanta being the only other information forthcoming (thanks to a phone call cut off). Without the power grid and satellite communications, all means of finding out what happened are lost and the people of the small community find firsthand what it is like to see the after effects of the situation.

The title page looked pretty interesting (not so much in a still though).

Not knowing if an accident took place or if it was a coordinated attack, the majority of the populace try to seek solace in the comfort of their small town community life; assisting others and hording foodstuffs while hoping for the federal government to save the day. As time marches on, no rescue appears eminent and dark, ominous clouds from the blast sight move towards town; presumably with radioactive fallout that will kill all living things and contaminate the top 18 inches of soil that the farming community needs to grow crops. The logistics aside, numerous subplots are tossed into the mix to personalize the drama of the day; a missing school bus full of children on a field trip worrying parents, escaped convicts on the loose, and a man with a lot more knowledge about events than any "retired St Louis cop" should know, regardless of his post 9/11 training.

A brand new flag.

The show builds suspense slowly as a result of these rabbit trails, an initial hiatus after the 11th episode looking like the end of the series back in November of last year. The powers that be on both sides of the issue (the creators and the suits at CBS) thankfully getting on the same page to air the remainder, leaving a cliffhanger ending that will hopefully be solved with the limited run ordered up for airing later this season. See, the hero of the semi-ensemble cast is a man by the name of Jake Green (aptly played by Skeet Ulrich); the bad boy son of the long standing mayor, who left town under a cloud of suspicion regarding some criminal activity he was allegedly a participant of. It is now five years later and he is in town for a long delayed inheritance, showing a sense of urgency that is not explained to anyone he knows, the little clues building up as he tells everyone he meets a different story of where he has been (most of them related to the military, though it is a certainty that any military activity he has been involved in has been related to covert operations at best). He becomes the focal point of the entire show, though he has been off for years and some still consider his past as rather shady.

Jake was the main protagonist here so he was prominently displayed on the menu pages.

The other alpha male of the cast is Robert Hawkins (equally well played by Lennie James), a black man that just moved to town with his family having paid cash for a large house and claiming to be a retired St Louis police officer. As the smaller and larger crises' of the moment come into play, he offers up his services, providing far more insight than can be easily explained away by his story. The viewer is let on early about his background, though never quite told enough until the The Day Before and AKA reveal more than a little about what he knows, how he knows it, and what he intends to do with his knowledge in his newfound home in small town Jericho. As the show develops, it is clear that all the smaller side adventures and plots are secondary (if not tertiary) to these two men as they each struggle with their pasts conflicting with the present day circumstances that have thrust them into the limelight. Their pasts are always on the near horizon, threatening to come down on them harder than the radioactive rain moving in from the Denver blast, though bounced around for the most part rather than completely let loose.

There were lots of deleted scenes and commentaries.

The other stories that interact with these two men involve the politics of fear, the inadequacy of government to be all things to all people at all times, and the despair of the larger picture which involves horrible refugee camps in the distance, the rise of powerful regional warlords, and the problems of balancing the available resources with the overwhelming needs of the time. In some cases, the secondary threads are artfully woven into the tapestry that fans enjoyed the most (particularly in the latter episodes) while in other cases, the writers clearly had no concept of how the people would react or what they would have to react too (the matter of the contamination is dropped faster than the need for radiation suits and Geiger counters since that would cause too many problems to handle). All the minor quirks aside though, the larger plots were getting especially good as the paranoia crept up in some of the stories and Jericho had to defend itself against known enemies such as the criminal syndicate led by Jonah Prowse (James Remar doing a solid imitation of Willem Dafoe and proving to be the #3 reason to tune in) or old rivals from the town of New Bern; a nearby town that did not have the initial leadership to survive as intact as Jericho has.

Major Beck had seen better days.

The politics of shortages were a constantly shifting matter handled poorly by the writers too; not a single person in the series EVER looking like they missed a single meal, despite the Chicken Little proclamations of shortages in the food supply driving several of the key episodes; including the resulting war. Perhaps if a couple of dedicated writers were handed the series outline and were the only ones allowed access to knocking out scripts, it would have been a more consistently well written show but as a parable of hope, humanity, and human nature, the basics were covered pretty well from where I was sitting. Okay, Jericho: The Second Season began months after the events of the war with Bern, told largely in flashback form as the military converged on the battle and took control via Major Beck (Esai Morales). He is a "can do" military type that believes the end justifies the means and makes it clear to Jake that he has dealt with all sorts of troubles in his role since the bombs went off; amassing an impressive death toll in his wake. Much of his character is played very low key, his threats implied instead of open, and that adds to the danger factor of his presence in the small community of Jericho. Jake is appointed Sheriff of the town and Hawkins stumbles across an old ally with connections to Texas; the state resuming status as a major player in the country's development.

John Goetz was a great "bad guy".

The Cheyenne government is aggressively trying to solidify its position as the one true government, needing Texas to seal the deal and the one thing they want most in the world is to reclaim the bomb Hawkins has stashed away. They are still under the belief that another agent has it and is trying to broker a better deal so they have intensified their search which puts Jericho firmly in their sights. Beck is results driven enough to satiate them until events unfold that give them doubts about his ability so they send out a black ops agent by the name of John Goetz (D.B. Sweeney) that Jake had dealt with in Season One. This Ravenwood mercenary (the company hired to instill order as a means of assisting the military) is absolutely in control of any region he is sent to with no limits imposed on him such as the major still appears to have, Jake wanting to shoot him on sight. The tension mounts quickly as the two opponents try to get the upper hand, Mimi's new job as a high level accountant in Jennings and Rall placing her in the direct line of fire. After a huge loss to the community (I'm keeping spoilers down to a minimum), events are set in motion where Hawkins and Jake find themselves subject to a manhunt to retrieve the bomb and deliver it to Texas with the planner of the attacks intervening along the way to attempt to finish what he started.

"Tanks for the memories".

One of the major developments of the season was the way Jennings and Rall essentially took over the entire country of the Cheyenne government. Politically speaking, this is linked to the real life example of Blackwater overseas; the model for the company Jake himself used to work for before he had an acute attack of guilty conscience that led him back home in the opening episode of Season One. J&R want to be the only corporation and as profitable as possible so they work with the government to require all community based "needs" to be supplied by them or vendors they approve of, adding to the pressure of local sellers like Dale as they are squeezed out by the company. This sets up a company town type of atmosphere where everyone is dependent upon the company and government when diseases threaten the population, for products they want, and the noose is slowly being tied around the necks of the entire populace. But for the aforementioned tragedy, they might have succeeded too but killing off a popular character always has consequences and the community rallies to the idea despite Beck's increasingly destructive use of curfews and force.

Helicopter gun ships made life miserable for nuclear bomb smugglers.

Those of you that watched every episode as it aired for season two (even the late night one on Primary Night) will also know that the show trimmed right to the bone in terms of character development, the formerly ensemble nature of the cast, and the multitude of plot lines that had to be greatly reduced to allow for the remaining episodes to cover the truncated story but I have to admit that a full season probably could not have kept up the levels of tension and energy such as these seven episodes did so I again rated the set as Highly Recommended. The price seemed a little high (look for sales or the price to come down in the future) but this was first rate drama and certainly a welcome presence during the writer's strike. I appreciated that every episode had at least one audio commentary and that the creators suggested that while this is the end of the story, it might still find another outlet; be it follow up TV movies, cable networks picking it up, or perhaps a series of novels that describe what amounted to the Second Civil War once the guys succeeded in their mission. The dual ending of the series lets the story go off in two different directions but fan fiction is already blooming in terms of resolving some of the other stories like what happens to Jake, Hawkins, Beck, and Jericho.

Jake was in a bad spot when this was taken.

That said, here is an episode guide with dates of original airing as provided by the liner notes on the back of the DVD cases:

Jericho: Second Season

1) Reconstruction (2/12/2008)
2) Condor (2/19/2008)
3) Jennings & Rall (2/26/2008)
4) Oversight (3/4/2008)
5) Termination For Cause (3/11/2008)
6) Sedition (3/18/2008)
7) Patriots and Tyrants (3/25/2008)

Picture: Jericho: The Complete Second Season was presented in the usual 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen color it was shot and aired in on CBS earlier this year. The colors and other visual queues reflect the troubled times so they were not consistent; a large part of the understated crafting of the show that I don't recall being mentioned much in the forums here at DVD Talk when the show first aired. The times changed and the look of the cinematography changed with it; instead of the bleak look of the early first season, the show was much lighter in most cases this time; eschewing some of the trickier camera work for an easier to shoot straightforward method that was needed due to the shorter (only seven day) schedule per episode. Some of the camera work was still done on the fly rather than the static shots usually employed in a show like this, lending it an air of instability as certain characters were more prone to project; but it was something I noticed right away and throughout the series as I sat glued to my TV. There were some minor issues with aliases and edge enhancement, the stark contrasts more likely to have been done on purpose than those; and the rapid paced editing seemed almost an attempt to generate an action feel to it at times but not done so routinely as to weaken the effect. In all then, it again showed some need of polishing up but it worked better than average for me and the special effects from the first and last episodes helped seal the deal for me to enjoy it much like a movie.

Sound: The audio was offered up with a choice of either a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround or a 2.0 Dolby Digital track; both in English with optional subtitles in English, Spanish, Brazilian and Portuguese. The stereo track seemed confined at times but more realistic than the surround track that used so little of the rears as to be effective; even in action sequences. The bass response during the initial explosion and some of the firefights was decent but even then it appeared to me that the audio was the bastard stepchild of the production compared to the interesting visuals. On a related note, the back of the box cover mentioned that some of the episodes may have been edited though I had no means to compare this to the original (and no one at Paramount seems willing to definitively state what changes were made; probably for fear of getting bombarded with more nuts). In all though, while some of the corners were definitely cut in the production of the series, little of that translated into any meaningful drop in quality for the seven episodes that I could tell.

Extras: Both discs had some extras on them, the main ones being the wealth of audio commentaries I listened to; one on each episode (technically one on each edit of each episode since the last episode had two cuts and two commentaries). Each provided some background spoiler information so listen to them after you see all the episodes unless you don't care about spoilers. Writers, directors, and creators like Carol Barbee, Jonathan Steinberg, Matthew Federman, Dan Shotz, as well as actors like Skeet Ulrich, Lennie James, Ken Mitchell, Alicia Coppola, and others were present on them to give their impressions less of the individual episodes than their experiences as a whole for the show; some of them acting wide eyed about seeing episodes for the first time (like Skeet). I took the time to listen though and it was clear that they did a whole lot to overcome any production troubles and "make it happen" even if they wanted to do so much more with the storyline. Barbee and Steinberg both stood out as providing the best information and I was more than happy to listen to all they said; the background mirroring some of the drama seen on the screen. There were also a lot of deleted scenes this time, each with commentaries but the main thing being that almost all of them added something to the episode. They were largely trimmed for time alone and I just wish there was a way to have added them using branching technology instead of in the extras section but watch them and you'll see what I mean (I think several of them have already made the rounds on You Tube or fansites for the show but they looked better here). There were some small featurettes too; including the unaired ending so prominently advertised on the cover. The ending added some depth and a great hook for a third season or follow up set of TV movies, a much darker ending too and one that stood out as ominous as the series had proven it could be. There was another segment called Rebuilding Jericho (25:56 minutes) where it was made clear by staff and cast that being cancelled made it tough to get things on track again, serving up slices of the perspectives they had to offer. I found Nut Job (9:46 minutes) funny too, showing how the series was saved from the first cancellation by the massive campaign to send peanuts to CBS; from the fans themselves to the producers to the peanut vendor that was enterprising enough to encourage people.

Final Thoughts: Jericho: The Complete Second Season had a lot of powerful themes and borrowed heavily from shows such as Red Dawn, The Day After, many spy movies as well as some ideas taken from more recent events such as the Hurricane Katrina disaster that I saw firsthand. The strength of the shows second season was how it evolved to become something decidedly different, preferring to build on what took place before rather than mimic it as so many other shows seem to do. With only seven episodes to tell a rather expansive story and tie up major threads, I think the team did a fine job of selecting which aspects would work best as the more intimate aspects of the occupation and covert thriller came to the forefront. It would have been nice to see some of the fluff stories added in to flesh it out but the revival of series is rare enough that I can't expect to have it all so kudos to CBS for at least allowing us one last look at a show many of us came to enjoy.

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