(Guest) For Your Consideration: Jericho

In opening up part of this site to fans of CBS’ Jericho in order for them to express their love of their show and how it deserves Emmy awards was done for a key reason: I didn’t want to make those readers who visit this site thanks to its coverage of the Save Jericho campaign from being angry with me when I did not feature the show in my extensive For Your Consideration series.

My reasoning for this is simple: I never found the show’s acting to be all that good in the amount I watched, and even what late season stuff I saw could never overtake the other candidates I had in mind. Basically, I’m not a huge fan of the show, but I know that others are. And, expectedly, what has poured in has been people who enjoy the show explaining why. Do I agree with all of them? Of course not, and that’s the nature of different tastes and all that jazz. But I think that it is important that these different views be heard. Because, whether we agree or not, there is something to be said for passion.

Now, admittedly, I am always skeptical of this level of fan support. And, when some of the praise has come in for Jericho, I’ve questioned it slightly (I’m only human, and only overly a critical human at that). However, when Rebecca Smith sent in this piece, I found that I had nothing to really criticize. While I can’t say I agree with her overall assessment of the series, she even admits that I and many others might not. It is a wholly rational, observational, analytical approach to why she, and so many others, dig this little drama that could.

As fans of Jericho face the tough task of turning angry activism into positive action, I think they need to take the approach that Rebecca has taken. I might never become a true fan of the series (I’ll be watching the reruns this summer to see if it is possible), but I know that after reading Rebecca’s piece I’m much more likely to be open to the idea. While all of the submitted pieces have been well-written, I think Rebecca’s stands in a league of its own. And, for that reason, I share it with you here.

For Your Consideration: Jericho

Submitted by Rebecca Smith

According to Roger Ebert in his 1999 review of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a film student asked Frank Capra back in the 1970s “if there were still a way to make movies about the kinds of values and ideals found in the Capra films.” Capra’s response?

“Well, if there isn’t,” he said, “we might as well give up.”

What does this have to do with a little television show called Jericho? Well, it seems that the cynicism that Capra treated in much of his work, is alive and flourishing in 2007. The show’s detractors would compare Jericho to Frank Capra’s work, saying that small town values have limited relevance in the wider world. Most people just aren’t interested in the classic portrayal of heroism anymore. We’re geometric snobs, and square is no longer art. On the contrary, I think if he were alive, Frank Capra would most vehemently disagree.

Likewise, Peter C. Rollins, Regents Professor of English, Oklahoma State University writes:

“Our heritage is rich in uplifting role models and we could be inspired by them if we took the time to reflect. To convey this message, Capra has Longfellow Deeds (played by Gary Cooper) visit Grant’s Tomb during a tour of New York City. His guide, a cynical reporter named Babe Bennett (played by Jean Arthur), looks at the grim edifice and observes that most New Yorkers think of it as a ‘disappointment, a washout.’

Longfellow Deeds sees something quite different–indeed, the sight inspires him:

‘It’s wonderful. I see a small, Ohio farm boy becoming a great soldier. I see thousands of marching men. I see General Lee, with a broken heart, surrendering. And I can see the beginning of a new nation, like Abraham Lincoln said. And I can see that Ohio boy being inaugurated President. Things like that can only happen in America.'”

The question is, does Capra’s answer still ring true today? Can the things that moved our grandparents still move us today, or are we too jaded as a society to embrace “Capracorn” in all its delightful optimism? Is the cross-cultural populist vibe that Jericho telegraphs passé? It seems that mass culture is caught up in a love affair with the grim and morose for the moment. The unprincipled anti-hero is the new pink. Apparently, we have reached a level of so-called sophistication wherein a classic loses its universal appeal. Or have we? Isn’t the classic portrayal timeless by definition?

If the response to Jericho is any indication, the same things do still speak to the hearts of people everywhere. Indeed, it indicates a longing for them. We still hope that dignity and nobility exist in our fellow man. It’s not that we want to turn a blind eye to reality, but for a few minutes, or an hour here and there, we’d like to believe that a person can make a difference. We’d like to believe that a group of people unified can make all the difference in the world. The magic of Frank Capra’s body of work is not that he painted pretty pictures of the world, but that he helped us to face what was harsh in it with the hope that principled individuals working together could triumph over disaster. It’s the kind of magic that Jericho seems to have tapped, stirring passions in its audience that provided the impetus for an online filibuster that the fictional Mr. Smith (of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” fame) would surely have approved. Call it corny. Call it self-indulgent. But I want to believe.

Unlike its contemporaries, Jericho presents the viewer with a hero for our times, not exactly a wide-eyed innocent, but a hero nonetheless. It’s a classic prodigal son story. Jake Green, having left his small town home in a whirlwind of controversy and disgrace, goes out into the world to experience the anonymity that is impossible to attain in a small town. Unfairly or not, he blames himself for the death of a friend, and feeling that he has lost everyone who matters to him in the aftermath, a new start seems his best option. He distances himself from all those who know him to live on his own terms, without having to encounter disapproving looks from family members or the fallout from the inevitable gossip that follows public scrutiny. In short, he runs away.After a series of missteps, Jake eventually finds himself caught between two treacherous forces. Federal officials are attempting to coerce him into informing on a mercenary group accused of brokering weapons that will be used to kill our own soldiers overseas, an action that will likely get him killed. Meanwhile, the mercenaries, believing that he is informing on them, are breathing down his neck. When the mercenary group kills a friend, who he considers more a brother now than his straight-arrow biological one, he runs away once more.

Although he doesn’t plan to stay long, Jake visits his hometown, hoping to acquire the inheritance left to him by his grandfather for a fresh start somewhere. To his dismay, his father refuses his request for money. As has become his customary response to overwhelming emotion, Jake’s father’s reproach drives him to run. Then, fate deals him a mighty blow. A mushroom cloud on the horizon changes forever the world he is rushing headlong back into, and necessity outstrips the value of the comforting anonymity he seeks. He can’t afford to be invisible anymore, because it takes everyone supporting each other to survive. Jake is forced to stop running.

Over the course of the first season, Jake is repeatedly placed in situations that require courage and skill to overcome, and we see that he has both. The townspeople recognize it, and begin to look to him in times of trouble. Whatever has transpired over the last five years, Jake is no longer the surly kid he was when he left home, but a man of worth. He has returned from a world full of moral relativism with a stronger sense of self, of what he will, and will not, do.

The season finale finds Jake at a turning point. The loss of his father, his hero, has brought Jake to the brink, where his usual modus operandi is to run. He is somewhere “between the devil and the deep blue sea.” Armed with a new found sense of self, bolstered by the return to his heritage, and inspired by his father’s dying words, Jake makes the courageous choice. Instead of running, he turns to face the devil with the historic World War II battle cry learned from his deceased grandfather years ago. “Nuts!”

It’s a “triumph of will,” no matter the outcome of the battle. While Skeet Ulrich may shrink from comparisons to the legendary Gary Cooper, Jake’s simple resounding answer to Constantino, the devil personified, rings true to the type. It turns out Jake is a closet idealist, like many of us seem to be these days. He’s the everyman hero, who chooses a place and a time to make a stand on moral grounds.

The rich tapestry of Jericho is brimming with round, vibrant characters. From the spy/terrorist Hawkins, desperate to protect his family at all costs, to the urban IRS agent, just learning that home is truly “where the heart is,” Jericho has a hefty list of qualifications for best drama. It may be corny, but I like corn, especially the sweet variety grown fresh in Jericho, Kansas. As long as they keep producing, I’ll keep tuning in for more. And whatever geometric shape you want to call it, I still call it art worthy of your consideration.

14 Comments

Filed under Emmy Awards, Jericho, Television

14 responses to “(Guest) For Your Consideration: Jericho

  1. Katherine

    Thank you…. you have stated in essence what this series is about…. for us “closet idealist”…. a world that we know is still there somewhere but not always evident…. thank you excellent.

  2. cynthia

    Beautiful! It is truly all those things and more — this show embodies drama, intrigue, relationships — multifaceted viewing that makes you stop and think – ponder – what one would do if you were cut off from the outside world? And all you have are the people around you to survive?? It is such a refreshing tv option from the other ‘hurry up and finish the plot in an hour — crime series/dr. show” — not that these don’t have a place, but there IS a place for JERICHO!

  3. Thank you for sharing this & many thanks to you, Rebecca, for a beautifully stunning piece. It is true that Jericho fans are emotionally bonded to this show. That’s a powerful bond that continues to grow.

  4. Alison

    Thank you Rebecca. What a beautiful piece of writing capturing what has been the hearts of so many of us. Jericho is a tv show, but it is also art. Story telling at its best, it speaks to hero in us all, the patriot in us all, whether the lover of hearth, home or country, and asks what each of us as individuals would be willing to do to preserve that which is most dear to us.

  5. Kay

    I can only echo the the above comments with a heartfelt ‘thank you’, Rebecca. You so eloquently described how we have all been touched by this show.

    Whether the industry critics ever recognize (and/or reward) “Jericho”, it’s the rich humanity in the writing and portrayal of this story that made us ‘fight for something we believe in’. And that’s what will remain with us long after the show is off the air.

  6. Debby Balcer

    Rebecca, your review of Jericho is wonderful. It describes the heart of this show. I don’t watch it because of the nuclear war aspect, I watch it in spite of it and for all the reasons you describe. It is fulfilling to watch a show where good wins out.

  7. Sonya

    Rebecca, I was not sure why I am so hooked on Jericho but now I know. Thanks!!!!!!!!!

  8. Lillian Santiago

    Wow! what more can I add! Jericho is a truly great show, it does have some faults (what show doesn’t?) but at it’s core it is a story about love, hope, survival and courage in the face of extreme adversity, and that is what brings me back to it every week. I hope that CBS realizes what a treasure they have and keep it on for many years to come.

  9. Rebecca

    Hi, everyone. If you’re wondering why I haven’t commented, it’s because I’m just kind of floored by how my rambling has been received. In truth, it sort of wrote itself. Over the last few weeks of reading what others had to say about the show, I just took this opportunity to sort of respond to what I had been hearing in various corners of the web.

    To me it’s like shouting a truth from the rooftop because you can’t believe that it isn’t apparent to everyone. 😉 If this helps to change even a few minds about the artistic value of Jericho and other uplifting shows like it, I’ll take that. If it helps someone else struggling to find the words to say something similar, I am humbled. If it influences a few Emmy voters here and there, I’ll be overjoyed!

  10. I can honestly say that I am speechless… wonderfully written and honest in a respects. Great job… I wish I could state my thoughts like that. WOW! With that said we should definetly get an Emmy!!

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