[UPDATE: Episode streaming link below.]
See what all the fuss was about. Monday's marathon of the initial episodes of Jericho (Feb. 23, 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Sci Fi) reminds us why so many viewers cared so much about a show that could have been great.
And often was, I hasten to add, lest fans think I'm dissing what they're devoted to. When CBS' September 2006 debut of Jericho was getting so-so reviews, mine was definitely positive -- filled with hope and admiration for a show about people fighting for their lives and values, a show that looked to be smart enough for the discerning, exciting enough for action fans, warm enough for family viewing, and topical enough to really mean something.
That's a lot to juggle, and the producers of Jericho did pretty well most of the time, crafting a gutsy portrayal of a small Kansas town reacting to a nuclear attack that devastated major American cities and threw their own cozy community into disarray as it was cut off from civilization. Some citizens got small and selfish. Others got big and brave. And some fit both categories as circumstances snaked their way through all kinds of deprivation situations. (Some nifty intrigue, too, what with that new guy/furtive spy in town.)
Jericho thus aspired to be both sweeping and intimate, encompassing pretty much every aspect of humanity, at a time most network series were content to focus in on The Case of the Week or even The Microscopic Evidence of the Week. That's what really drew such devotion: Viewers flocked to feel, and think, and indeed share the sense of community the show celebrated.
You know the rest -- especially the "nuts" that fans famously sent to CBS executives after the show was canceled (playing off the "Nuts!" response of the heroes to a bad-guys offer worth refusing). That grassroots outpouring persuaded CBS to order a truncated second season. It wasn't as satisfying, with a chopped budget requiring wholesale excision of key characters, leading to a lessened sense of family and an emphasis on "opening up" to new viewers.
(Which you and I know never works, serving only to talk down, water down and tick off those who're already on board -- i.e., The John Larroquette Show.)
But Jericho was a solid success in one way -- proving there's an audience for smart TV, ambitious TV, even if it maybe isn't network-sized. Eventually, somebody will realize there's an entire channel in that, and one that viewers would actually be willing to pay for.
They gotta catch up to us someday.
(By the way, you can also watch every episode of Jericho on DVD.)
[UPDATE: CBS must still have some faith in Jericho -- episodes continue to stream online (some with commentary) here.]