When we fantasize about the end of the world, whether through science-fiction novels, a nebulous Mayan “prophecy,” or this year’s Senior SING!, our hearts pound with uneasiness at the futuristic gloom. “Jericho,” a TV show that aired from 2006 to 2008 and has now risen to cult status, captures this anxiety in a dynamic and mysterious storyline.
Jericho is a small Kansas town that has luckily avoided the nuclear fallout of the coordinated bombing of 22 large American cities. The show starts with the return home of Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich), the son of Jericho’s mayor. Jake is the classic anti-hero, quickly overcoming the flightiness of young adulthood and taking the lead during a troubled time. He visits nearby settlements in search of desperately needed supplies, he volunteers for the sheriff’s department to help maintain peace, and he attempts to uncover the conspiracy that led to the bombings.
Like many shows deeply rooted in science-fiction, “Jericho” has a complicated story that unravels slowly to heighten its excitement and suspense. And like many of its brethren, “Jericho” instills in viewers a feeling of dire urgency. From its title card with a message in Morse code to its fast-paced fights—when Jericho’s vigilante police force and pilfering mercenaries duke it out—each episode maintains the psychological unrest that keeps hearts racing well after the traumatic bombings.
Much of the show deals with the aftermath of the bombings as the town struggles to distribute resources, locate supplies, and restore communications with the outside world while quelling the chaos. These harsh circumstances force many characters to rapidly mature, and their development as the show progresses prevents one-dimensionality and emphasizes the apocalyptic anxiety of the program.
Dale (Erik Knudsen) and Skylar (Candace Bailey), for example, grow up quickly after both of their parents die. They begin a romantic relationship, while simultaneously starting a supply transport business in the dangerous roads surrounding Jericho. Their relationship is much more complicated than that of the average adolescents, with their post-apocalyptic struggle for survival mixed in between the romance.
Another set of characters that makes “Jericho” worth watching consists of farmer Stanley Richmond (Brad Beyer), his sister Bonnie (Shoshannah Stern), and Stanley’s love interest Mimi Clark (Alicia Coppola). While Mimi starts the show as a IRS agent auditing Stanley’s farm, she ends up staying there after her home city—Washington, DC—is destroyed.
The unlikely romance between a tax collector and an indebted farmer, as well as the natural rivalry between Mimi and Bonnie, adds a lighter touch to the generally grave plot. The larger mystery of the bombing that Jake explores adds to defining suspense and urgency of the show. Along with fellow volunteer to sheriff Robert Hawkins (Lennie James), Jake tries to find out if the bombings were caused by terrorists, domestic groups, or a foreign military power. Hawkins, a character seemingly at the forefront of this conspiracy, engages viewers through his mysterious nature: the show purposefully makes his motives dubious, causing us to wonder if he is a conspirator himself. As Jake and Robert work together secretly, they come across mercenary organizations and separatist governments established in the U.S. after the bombings, all of which imbue the story-arc with enough drama to outdo its rival programs.
While “Jericho” quickly became a television show of cult fame (its fans successfully convinced CBS to revive the show upon its initial cancellation after the first season), it was ended after a short run of 29 episodes. In spite of its early cancellation, “Jericho” tells a thrilling story about an unthinkable catastrophe, catapulting viewers into an engaging sci-fi, nuclear-era plot that preys on their anxieties with chilling suspense. Especially in the year of the apocalypse, “Jericho” is well worth watching.