The cast of Jericho, which airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m.
THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT: I knew I wanted to see the debut episode of Jericho, CBS’ new post-apocalyptic drama (screening on the A Channel Wednesday at 8 p.m.) as soon as I saw the image the network’s been using to sell the show since upfront week: a little boy standing on the roof of a house, looking at a mushroom cloud blooming behind a distant mountain range. If you grew up during the Cold War, you’ve imagined a similar moment a million times in your head — provided, of course, you were lucky enough to be a few hundred miles from Ground Zero.
The mushroom cloud appeared about 10 minutes into Wednesday night’s premiere of Jericho, just after we’d barely had enough time to digest the people and particulars of Jericho, the small Kansas town where the show is set. Jake (Skeet Ulrich) is the prodigal son, returning home after some long, unexplained absence to collect an inheritance from his grandfather, but not before he has to run the emotional gauntlet of his sweet, supportive mother (Pamela Reed), competitive younger brother (Kenneth Mitchell) and disappointed father (Gerald McRaney), who also happens to be the town’s mayor.
We see glimpses of TV reports on a crisis of what is called, rather expansively, “global violence.” There’s an old flame of Jake’s, a buddy about to lose the family farm, his deaf-mute sister, a misunderstood, morose teen and an errant school bus full of kids set up like ducks in a line for dramatic possibilities when the big one hits, and the town is suddenly cut off from the rest of the world. In an otherwise positive review in New York Newsday, writer Diane Werts admits she’s troubled by one thing:
“How does an entire Kansas small town face the possible end of the world,” Werts writes, “or at least civilization as we know it, without somebody invoking the almighty? No clergy hold forth as everyone watches a mushroom cloud rise out west over Denver. Nobody warns of God’s wrath to rebuke people gone batty battling over the gas pumps. Parents throw fits at mayor Gerald McRaney when the field-trip school bus hasn’t brought back their kids, but prayers beseeching their safe return are never heard.”
Amazingly, somehow, the whole show passes without a shadow of the sort of unholy dread that animates the first 10 minutes of an episode of Lost. Even when the townspeople learn that Atlanta has also apparently been nuked, they barely manage much more than a halfhearted attempt at panicked looting before Mayor McRaney feeds them a chill pill with a “you’re all good people” speech.
I’ll tune in next week, but the pants-pooping sense of paralyzing terror had better kick in pronto, or else I’m going to start to worry that even the atomic bomb doesn’t have the same power to frighten us anymore.