Having survived not only the fallout from a nearby nuclear attack but also the cancellation of the TV show that bears their town name, the hardy citizens of Jericho, Kan., have now been resurrected in one of the few scripted series airing new episodes. Will this cause millions of new viewers to finally pay a visit to Jericho to satisfy their dramatic cravings? Not if the show has any say in it.
Indeed, watching the first batch of season 2 episodes (which begin Feb. 12), I was struck anew by how its prickly, anarchic presence on CBS makes little mass-audience sense. Did the home of such patriotic fare as The Unit and NCIS realize that the minds behind Jericho have been steadily building the TV-drama version of a conspiracy nut's bomb shelter, where a cabal of viewers can huddle together each week and have their worst fears about government confirmed?
Jericho is centered on Skeet Ulrich's Jake Green, a young, independent fella (you can tell because he has stubble and wears a baggy fatigue jacket) who fights to keep his family and community free. This week picks up with the ongoing source of Jericho's paranoia: the notion that the nuclear attacks were provoked by two-thirds of our real-life president's axis of evil, North Korea and Iran. Jake and some of his friends suspect that's a lie, a power play by the breakaway militant government led by a demagogic new president (George Newbern).
The producers drench the action with buckets of cynicism, despair, and helplessness all qualities any critic worth his salt usually gets off on, but here it simply feels limp. Jericho tries to lighten the heavy material with Jake's smoochy relationship with Ashley Scott's Emily, and the quirky romantic duo of Jake's best friend, Stanley (Brad Beyer), and high-strung accountant Mimi (Alicia Coppola). Scenes with these duos are wooden Ulrich has never been a warm lover-boy type and don't mix with what the show really wants to grapple with: the way rugged individualists must form communities to fend off organized threats. This is a drama that just can't commit: Jericho wants to disguise its survivalist agenda by having its hero say, ''I'm not a conspiracy nut,'' yet conspiracy drives its overarching plot.
But two characters are promising. The imperious baldie Daniel Benzali (Murder One) returns as an all-seeing, malign power bent on tracking down ''terrorists'' (i.e., anyone who disagrees with him). And in the second episode, we are reintroduced to a familiar foe sure to crank up the town tension. I'll never be a Jericho nut, but I'm all for performers like these who'll inject some cracked intensity into this grim fantasy. B-