I still can’t believe I’m doing this. There have been a number of shows over the last couple or three decades that generated loyal fan support and efforts to save these beloved programs from the cancellation gallows. Hill Street Blues was the first I remember. Generally, since I don’t watch nor like most television, I have found such efforts kind of silly and as easily ignorable as the shows they tried to save. But sometimes we all stumble down paths we never intended to explore. Like this one.
Anyway, I don’t mean this to be a self analysis of my own feelings for television in general, but rather some musings about the characters, actors, and other relevant aspects of the show itself. So, here we go…
Probably best known for his work with Neve Campbell in 1996 (The Craft and Scream) and a prominent role in The Newton Boys in 98, Skeet’s film career sort of petered after that. I’ll not list his other projects, film or TV, but he seems to have found a really good fit in Jericho. Sometimes the right role supported by the right directors/producers makes the actor, reinvigorates a flagging career, and takes the artist’s skill to a new level. Quality begets quality. The stepson of a NASCAR driver and nephew of another, Skeet is a southern boy (No way! “Skeet”?) who grew up in North Cakalaka and ended up at New York University, where he was all ate up by the acting bug, it seems.
His character, Jake Green, is the eldest of the two sons of the mayor of Jericho, the heir apparent and scion of local nobility, as well as the wayward prodigal son come home... Ah feudalism, such a natural way to order human society, and much like the sons of medieval barons Jake never exactly lived up to the high character ideals of democratic American style noblesse oblige, as personified by his paladinesque father, Johnston Green, played by Gerald McCraney. “We were both born on third base…” he angrily quips to his goody goody two shoes little brother, Eric, early in the series (although we find out that Eric has his issues too). In fact we find out that Jake should probably have been in prison for his involvement with the local good old boy mob as a direct result of a hold up gone bad in which his girlfriend’s brother was killed, but intervention by his respected and influential father prevented such. After this, Jake hit the road, partly to find himself, partly to become the man his father wanted him to be. He returns to Jericho five years later to pay respect to his recently deceased grandfather (and hopefully cash in on the 30 grand inheritance awaiting him, which he fails to do since the stipulation of the will provided for Johnston to hold the money until he deems young master Jake ready for it…kind of insulting in that young master Jake is in his early 30’s).
The questions revolving around Jake involve his whereabouts for the previous five years. From time to time various characters (most of them his old friends) ask him about this to which he gives a number of evasive replies, indicating the military, the navy, minor league baseball, and in one humorous exchange with the other mysterious main character, Robert Hawkins, “I was a pool guy…” (to which Hawkins eventually replies, “I was a pool guy too…”). Eventually we find out he was at least part of that time employed by a sinister fictitious mercenary company known as “Ravenwood” (ie – Blackwater, a real life sinister mercenary company which itself is mentioned in passing on the show…heehee). At some point during his Ravenwood service, he did something for which he is ashamed and tortured, it seems, that resulted in the death of a young Iraqi girl. But when the shit hits the fan Jake finds himself stuck in Jericho, and quickly proves his value to the community, both in terms of being the guy who gets things done, but also in terms of moral as well as physical courage. The cream eventually rises to the top, and for Jake the horrible events depicted in the show provide a vehicle for his redemption. As Johnston tells him in the fifth episode, after buttloads of self sacrificing heroism on the part of his wayward son, “A stupid little punk may have left…but a pretty decent fellow came back.” Another scene comes up later when the town needs “someone” to go do something dangerous, and in the middle of the town meeting everyone looks to Jake as that “someone”. This was a role made for Skeet.
You may have seen Lennie in Guy Ritchie’s hilariously soulless Limey crimey movie, Snatch (2000), you know, the one with Brad Pitt playing an incomprehensible pikey fighter and a dog that swallows a diamond and squeaky toy or something? Lennie played one of “the black guys” who get in over their heads in some ugly business. It appears that Lennie is an accomplished and well trained actor as well as play writer. You can tell he is a quality actor in Jericho. His character, Robert Hawkins, is a dark, workmanlike angel of death, a believable everyman Bond, a chameleonic enigma not to be effed with… Apparantly Mr. James, during the making of the series, insisted he not be told whether his character was a good guy or a bad guy. Cool, eh? Because Lennie is so damned good, Mr. Hawkins remains a questionably sinister presence in the series until near the end of the season. There are so many darkly intriguing scenes with Hawkins. He was definitely connected with the government and somehow involved in the mass terrorist nuking – the question being, however…on which side? Despite the fact that he is a Bondlike agent, his relationship with his family is, largely due to his demanding and stressful career, broken and dysfunctional and throughout the series Hawkins struggles to be half as good a husband and father as he is an agent.
There is this one scene where the town comes out to help Stanly Richmond, local farmer, old friend of Jake, and second tier character, and harvests his corn crop before it becomes infested. Hawkins has been investigating Jake, whose past he suspects and has found out Jake’s passport was flagged by the US government, that Jake has been all over the world over the last five years… So there’s the whole town out there, coming together to help out their own, you know, all folksy and happy and heart tugging rustic and Mayberryesque, with the sun shining and happy feely goody music, and Hawkins’ daughter, who is finally coming to respect and love her distant father, looks at Jake and asks her father, “Daddy, is he a good guy or a bad guy?” Hawkins flashes an inscrutable look in Jake’s direction and replies, “Baby, there is no such thing.” OHHHHH! AWESOME!
Oh, and he also has a 20 kiloton nuke in his basement…oops, should I have said that? Heehee…
I don’t mean to minimize the rest of the characters, but must save my commentary on them for a future shoutout. Suffice to say for now that it is an “ensemble cast” sort of deal, chock full of talented thespians (and actors too). All characters are well fleshed out and believable, and if the show tends to flip back and forth in a somewhat A.D.D. frenzy sometimes, well, it works and allows the kind of multiple storyline experience that showcases the talents of a very talented cast. I am amazed to find myself saying this, but I love the soap opera aspect of the show. It is well done, believable, relevant, and brilliantly juxtaposed with post apocalyptic desperate drama and occasional spurts of gritty, grainy, realistic, meaningful, and tension filled violence…none of which is gratuitous.
The endings of Jericho’s serial episodes are not always happy. Even when they are, they are often laced with sinister undertones and/or foreshadowing. But even the most depressing endings are done with dignity and the promise of some nobility and hope. In one the town arrives too late to help a group of refugees from Denver. There is a scene where they find them already dead from radiation sickness, strewn around a beautiful country lake. Silence is a powerful tool in this series, and often used, along with the visuals, to say more than a thousand words ever could.