Confessions of a Jericho Fan
It's not good. It's not so-bad-it's-good. It's just plain mediocre. And yet I watch.
Jericho's flawsstem from a structural problem—the clash of high concept and low budget. For some, the lesson of Lost was that highbrow television could make it on a broadcast network, and that a blockbuster hit didn't have to be all things to all people. By choosing to alienate some viewers—It's too complicated!—you could make mouth-breathing fanatics out of the cognoscenti. But for others, the lesson of Lost was that it was blown out of the water by American Idol,and later by CBS's brain-dead Criminal Minds. Why take any chances? Instead of making Jericho a daring drama with pricey special effects and a first-rate cast, why not cut corners? And why rip off one smash hit when you hedge your bets by ripping off three or four? So, instead of just Lost in Kansas, we get Lost in Kansas, plus post-apocalyptic 24 (terrorist intrigue), irradiated Grey's Anatomy (weepy hospital melodrama), and a dash of NCIS (patriotic glory). I happen to think it all holds together, but it's no wonder the show struck many viewers as a confusing mishmash.
We're all familiar with television that is "so bad it's good," like old episodes of American Gladiators (go, Nitro!) or many of today's reality hits, whether I Love New York or Beauty and the Geek. Loving one of these shows demonstrates that you have a wry, ironic sensibility. Television that is "good," by contrast, merits lengthy discussion during first dates. These are personal favorites you advertise, and, whatever the genre, they tend to be beautifully produced. I'm thinking of shows like Arrested Development, Veronica Mars, and of course the full complement of brainy cable dramas—The Sopranos, Big Love, Dexter, etc.
Jericho isn't "good" by these lofty standards. But it's not "so bad it's good," either. Loving Jericho isn't tongue-in-cheek embarrassing; it's just embarrassing. Having loudly proclaimed Jericho's virtues in mixed company, I know this for a fact. Instead, Jericho is both bad and good at the same time. That is, it's bad enough to induce frequent groaning and eye-rolling (damn it, all Jake ever wanted was his father's love!), yet just good enough to inspire high-minded theorizing (how dependent are we on our technology?). The same can be said of the new sci-fi classics like Babylon 5 and Stargate: SG-1, shows that aimed low yet kept exceeding expectations. Both shows eventually found their level on basic cable, where a modest audience equals a minor hit.
Earlier this year, CBS canceled Jericho due to low ratings. Plucky Jericho fans across the country immediately launched a guerrilla campaign to keep the show on the air, a campaign that for reasons too obscure to explain involved shipping enormous quantities of peanuts to the network. This massive outpouring of fan support led CBS to reconsider, and the show will return as a midseason replacement, with a season's worth of story lines crammed into a handful of episodes. This may appease the diehard fans, but it's unlikely to reel in any new viewers, and Jericho's future can't be said to be bright. That's too bad, because it made me laugh and it made me cry. I'm not proud of this, but I'm not kidding, either.
Reihan Salam is a writer in New York.