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Throwback Thursday - Jericho - Pilot

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Throwback Thursday is a weekly article in which we look back at our favorite TV episodes from the past.

Director - Jon Turteltaub (directed second episode too)
Creators - Jonathan E. Steinberg and Josh Schaer
Writer - Stephen Chbosky (wrote second episode too)

In celebration of being able to get Netflix on my TV again and to practice the sometimes sticky navigation, I took a stroll down Netflix’s sci-fi lane.  Past Supernatural and Stargate SG-1, beyond The 4400 and the super creepy looking The Order, I stumbled upon Jericho.  I thought I had seen a few episodes in the past so I decided to rewatch the pilot and reacquaint myself.  Turns out, I had never seen the pilot and oh, what a ride it is!  The show starts with Jake Green coming back home after a multi-year absence.  He’s not there to reminisce; he wants his inheritance.  Now.  Jake’s ultra shady, telling everyone a different story about where he’s been, so that means he’s gonna save the day.  Yep, we’ve got a full-blown millennial bad boy here, and what’s a bad boy without family drama.  Jake and his father, Mayor Johnston Green, have some deep seeded issues that the pilot only teases about.  Long story short, Jake has to prove he’s grown up before his dad will release his inheritance to him.  Jake:  “When are you going to realize, I’m 32-years-old.”  Dad:  “When you do.”  To prove that he is grown up, Jake basically storms out, visits his grandpa’s grave, refuses money from his mom, and tries to leave town.  I’m not sure that’s gonna convince MayorDad.  Still, with Jake’s sweet Plymouth Road Runner, I’d take every chance for a road trip, too.

California has to wait because Jake’s road trip is stopped short in the most dramatic way possible - a nuclear bomb is detonated in the distance.  That’ll distract your driving!  One car accident later and Jake’s leg is all bloody and the other couple is dead.  Neither car is going anywhere so Jake tries to hoof it back to town, as a crowd gathers at MayorDad’s house.  Knowing the town will be in crisis mode, MayorDad heads to headquarters where people panic and a bus load of kids is missing.  He proves his leadership mettle by being the voice of reason.  MayorDad:  “Folks, folks, folks!  Now look, I know that every part of you wants to just rush out there.  I don’t blame ya’, but as your friend, I’m asking you to think about that.  You’re safe here.  What if, God forbid, you go out there and you get stranded and your child comes back an orphan.  You know the Sheriff and his men.  You know they'll find your kids, so please…”  Having stemmed the chaos, he sends all police out to look for the bus.  Mmm, maybe make volunteer patrols for this, MayorDad.  People with nothing to do will become a problem sooner rather than later.

As daylight starts to fade, Jake hears some kids while he’s hopping down the road.  He follows them back to the missing school bus, where the driver is dead, the teacher’s leg is busted, and a little girl named Stacy can’t breathe.  Things get dire when she becomes unconscious and Jake is forced to problem solve.  (I totally called Jake saving the day.)  In emergency medicine fashion, Jake asks for a ballpoint pen to open Stacy’s airway but this is elementary school and these kids were on a field trip.  Of course they don’t have pens.  One kid, Julie, offers up her CapriSun straw but it’s too small.  Jake has Julie collect straws from all of them and band them together.  Lucas gets the dubious job of holding Stacy down while Jake uses his knife to open a hole in her throat and inserts the straws.  Lucas:  “How’d you learn how to do that?”  Jake:  “Uh, military school.”  Lucas:  “Were you a soldier?”  Jake:  “No, a screw up.”  Bwah!  Stacy starts breathing but she’s not out of the woods yet.  They have to get help.

Meanwhile, the sheriff organizes the police to find the bus when Robert Hawkins introduces himself.  He’s a former St. Louis police officer with a lot of common sense but no internal Jericho GPS since he just moved there.  Without knowledge of Jericho’s streets, the sheriff dismisses Robert’s offer of help.  Robert keeps trying, pointing at the Jericho sign on the police car.  Robert:  “You might want to get some black spray paint.  You know, cover that.  Look, I know you’re telling people it was an accident, and I hope it was but if it was an attack, Sheriff, and it’s chaos out there, you might not want the wrong people knowing that Jericho is still here.”  It’s solid advice that the sheriff ignores but I’m thinking it will come back to haunt the town in subsequent episodes.  Robert, like Jake, is a very mysterious character but with common sense ideas like his, he should team up with the mayor.  

Speaking of, MayorDad is desperate to get news, but the only way to do that is by ham radio.  The only person in town with a ham radio is Oliver, the local conspiracy nut job.  In the funniest scene, Oliver agrees to let them use the radio but MayorDad has to pay him 50 cents first.  Ha!  MayorDad handles it beautifully but Jake’s brother Eric is frustrated.  I am worried about MayorDad though because that coughing fit makes me think he’s ill.  In another part of town, Dale, the teen stocker from the opening, listens to the answering machine over and over again.  His mom explains that she’s staying on vacation a little longer, but in the middle of the recording, there’s a boom and the line goes dead.  Dale takes the tape to MayorDad’s house where Gail, the mayor’s wife, is keeping everyone calm.  Dale plays the tape for them and then destroys all hope.  The bomb that went off was close by but Dale’s mom was in Atlanta.  This was no accident and the damage is more widespread than they thought.

To make matters worse, the sheriff checks out an overturned bus, only to find it is a prison bus with dead guards.  Whoever was being transported kills the sheriff as I groan.  Why does every show with an isolated town, voluntary or not, have to add a killer?  Looking at you, Under the Dome.  Trapped in a town with dwindling resources after a nuclear bomb feels stressful enough.  No need to add killers when the situation itself could drive people to murder.  Like any crisis, this one brings out both the best and the worst of the people in Jericho.  While Dale goes over to help his employer transfer food to the refrigerator so it won’t go bad, the adults of Jericho fight over gas.  Robert suggests that Fire Chief Carroll use construction floodlights to control the mob, but that doesn’t stop the fighting.  

It isn’t until Grey, MayorDad’s main competition in the next election, starts calling people by name that they stop.  Grey:  “Stop it right now!  Yeah, Morty, I’m talking to you.  Michael Stevenson, Carl Meeks...Carl!  Why are you turning on each other?  Stealing from your neighbors?  I mean, you are fighting the wrong people.  We are literally in the dark.  All I’m saying is that I think we need to get organized?”  Lest we think Grey is actually a decent human being, he starts using the moment to shift blame to MayorDad.  What kind of person uses a nuclear bomb to forward their mayoral campaign?  Unfortunately for him, MayorDad shows up at the gas station, too.  When he tries to reassure the crowd, they have none of it.  Especially Shep who accuses MayorDad of regurgitating old speeches.

As things get ugly again at the gas station, Jake has his own set of problems.  He is losing a lot of blood and the bus is almost out of gas but he has to get the kids to safety.  At one point, he almost passes out.  Realizing that they might not make it, Heather, the teacher, tells the kids that they might have to go on foot into town.  It leads to a charming discussion of how to tell your right from your left, something I often employ in my classes.  Luckily Jake and the bus hold it together and just as things reach a breaking point at the gas station, Jake comes honking in.  Now that they have their kids back safely, including Shep, the townspeople calm down enough to hear MayorDad’s awesome speech:  “Hey Shep, you said earlier that you had heard that speech before.  You ever ask yourself why I say it?  ‘Cause I happen to trust you people.  ‘Cause I love my town.  Now something happened in Denver and Atlanta, and it could be that we wake up to find out that’s where it stopped.  But until we know, are we gonna use our imaginations to solve problems or to cause them?  Now we can get the power back on.  We can find out how big this thing is.  If we have to, we can fight.  We can fight anybody; we can fight all enemies.  The only way that’s gonna happen is if we work together.  Now, go on home.  We’ll meet tomorrow at the town hall.  And folks, don’t you break my heart again.”  Wow!

After his speech, MayorDad truly shows leadership by shaking Shep’s hand and showing that there is no grudge between them.  Now all that’s left is to make up with his son.  Jake’s brother and mother help him into an ambulance, where Jake downplays his injury.  Gail:  “Look at you, you’re a mess.”  Jake:  “It’s fine.  Stop worrying about me.”  Gail:  “Well, good luck with that.”  Awww.  A mother’s love knows no age limit.  Gail tearfully tells him that she thought he had left.  Jake:  “Come on.  You think I’d let dad have the last word?”  MayorDad:  “Hey, quit talking about me.  You did a great thing out there tonight.”  Jake:  “Thanks.”  MayorDad:  “Your grandfather would have been proud.”  It’s not reconciliation but it is a step forward and it would have been a great place to end.  However, there is a tag on scene with Jake’s ex, Emily, driving to pick up her fiance and getting stopped by hundreds of dead birds.  Maybe this was supposed to amp up the tension, but it was anticlimactic to me in an episode that excelled at pacing and world-building.  Many times pilots are bogged down by too much backstory or too many characters.  While this does have a lot of characters, the constant action kept the story from collapsing under the weight of exposition, making it one of the better pilots I’ve seen.


Grade:  A

Best Reason to Watch
- the pacing
Best Quotes
1.  Jake to Eric:  “We were both born on third base.  Quit pretending you hit a triple.”
2.  Julie:  “Ms. Lisinski, are we going to have school tomorrow?”  Heather:  “We’ll figure it out, honey.”  Julie:  “I vote no.”
Best Speech - MayorDad
Best Music - Better Days by The Goo Goo Dolls
Best Throwback / Vehicle - late 1960’s Plymouth Road Runner 
Best Timing - Jake drives the bus to town right when the crowd turns worse
Funniest Scene - Mayor and the alien conspiracy theorist
Biggest Eye Roll - it feels like a love triangle on the way between Heather - Jake - Emily

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