Monday, June 4, 2007

Last Minute Bloginess

So, between the three days of MEDIA: Overseas Conversations (IV): An International Conference on Media Literacy-Ecology-Studies-Education that I reported on in my last 3 posts, and getting ready for the MEA Convention in Mexico City (see Media Ecology Mexico), which begins on Wednesday morning, there just hasn't been time for the old blog.

I'm not sure how much time, if any, I'll be able to devote to blogism for the next week, but please feel free to tune into the convention. I am told by our hosts, Tecnológico de Monterrey,
Campus Estado de México, that a live video feed will be available from the official convention website,, and you can also review the schedule there to see what you might want to catch, if anything.

I had hoped to squeeze in an entry on last night's penultimate Sopranos episode, which was a very powerful piece of television, but I really don't have the time to compose an entry that would do it justice, so it will just have to wait until I get back, and have time to work on it, which means I'll write an entry for the final two episodes together in about a week and a half.

I did want to note that my prediction about Battlestar Galactica (see Battlestar Galactica Finale and Battlestar Galactica Finalized) has now been confirmed on the SciFi Channel website:

Battlestar Ending Next Season

The producers of SCI FI Channel's Battlestar Galactica confirmed that the upcoming fourth season will be the show's last. Executive producers Ronald Moore and David Eick said that it was a creative decision to end the acclaimed series with the upcoming 22-episode season.

"This show was always meant to have a beginning, a middle and, finally, an end," Eick and Moore said in a statement on May 31. "Over the course of the last year, the story and the characters have been moving strongly toward that end, and we've decided to listen to those internal voices and conclude the show on our own terms. And while we know our fans will be saddened to know the end is coming, they should brace themselves for a wild ride getting there: We're going out with a bang."

In November, a special two-hour Battlestar episode, "Razor," will air. The fourth season kicks off in early 2008.

At last month's Saturn Awards, Edward James Olmos said that the upcoming season would be the show's last, prompting Eick to say at the time that no decision had been made. "I promise you that when Ron and I make a decision about Galactica's future, we'll let you know," he said then.
There also was a column by Michael Cassutt on the same site where he expressed similar sentiments to my own about the quality of Jericho, and its unnecessary cancellation (see my previous posts, Jericho Fit and Audience Abuse), and also introduces the welcome news that CBS may at least approve a TV movie to wrap up the storyline. Here's what he had to say:

June 04, 2007
The Cassutt Files
The Walls Come Tumblin' Down

By Michael Cassutt

The science behind science fiction suddenly makes sense, thanks to Hard SF novelist and working scientist Wil McCarthy.

Award-winning critic John Clute informs and entertains as he shines a light on the most important new books in SF and fantasy.

Scott Edelman, Science Fiction Weekly's editor-in-chief, sounds off about everything and anything that matters in the sci-fi universe.

Apocalypses are hot right now. So saith no lesser authority than Entertainment Weekly, at least when looking at recent novels.

For example, Cormac McCarthy's The Road won the 2007 Pulitzer for fiction—though the novel is impossibly grim, the reading equivalent of being stomped in an alley by monks from A Canticle for Leibowitz. Even more strangely, it was picked up by Oprah's book club. Less strangely, The Road is going to be filmed from a script by Joe Penhall.

Two other recent novels, James Crace's The Pesthouse and Matthew Sharpe's Jamestown, have also been much discussed and possibly even read.

My family's fave, 28 Weeks Later, is still somewhere in theaters, those that aren't running this year's trequels.

Yes, apocalypses are hot—except at CBS, where the promising sci-fi series Jericho, about a small town in Kansas dealing with the horrific aftermath of a nuclear strike on several American cities—was canceled in mid-May.

As the John Mellencamp classic says, more or less, the walls "came tumblin' down."

Jericho was the bomb

Like all baby boomers, I grew up in the shadow of nuclear war. I had nightmares from exposure to early Twilight Zone episodes. I went through the "duck-and-cover drills." I remember feeling a good deal of fear—and sleeping in the basement, as we did during tornado alerts—during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. My small hometown in Wisconsin was near a Nike missile base—for shooting down not Soviet ICBMs, as everyone assumed, but only Soviet bombers.

I read more apocalyptic post-nuclear literature than was probably good for me, notably Pat Frank's chilling Alas, Babylon (1959), about the aftermath of a nuclear war as seen from a small town in Florida, and the classic Walter Miller Jr. novel cited above—the wonderful A Canticle for Leibowitz. I was disappointed (as an action-seeking youth) and later chilled (as a more mature adult, or so I fool myself) by the book and movie On the Beach.

Even that creepy sequence in George Pal's version of Wells' The Time Machine—the atomic satellite looming in the London sky—left an impression on me.

Oh, heck, it would be difficult for me to compile a comprehensive list of the post-nuclear stories I've absorbed.

So I was both pleasantly surprised by CBS' announcement last May that Jericho would be on its fall 2006 schedule, and more than pleased by its first episode.

Here's what I liked about Jericho: That instead of dealing with the nuking of America at the level of, say, 24 (where you talk to the president of the United States on your cell phone), it focused on a small town. It felt like the proper way to view such an event. ...

I also loved the character of Jake Green, the prodigal son who returns to town after a long, painful absence and is forced not only to stay, when the mushroom cloud rises in the west ... but to deal with his estranged family, and his ex-girlfriend.

The casting was good—particular Gerald McRaney as mayor of the troubled town and Lennie James as the mysteriously knowledgeable Robert Hawkins. The writing was smart. The events proceeded with a ruthless logic: the breakdown of civil authority, shortages of food and medicine, the problems of refugees and freelance paramilitary groups ... Jericho touched on all of them.

It also perfectly captured what is alluring about a post-nuclear world—the chance to be free of the past and the complications of everyday life, and to start over.

When the series returned in February, it was with a striking story that explored Jake's backstory as well as the larger conspiracy behind the nukes.

(By the way, has anyone commented on the similarities between Jericho and the climactic revelations on Heroes? I'm not talking about influence and certainly not plagiarism, but that whole zeitgeist thing.)

Unfortunately, the gap between the first half of Jericho's season and its return—from late November to early February—was fatal. The 2007 episodes reached 1.9 million fewer viewers than the first bunch. With viewership falling below CBS' threshold for renewal, Jericho was gone.

Too much flash, not enough bang

Tempting as it is to blame the network, it isn't entirely fair. Jericho's writing and production team made several choices that hurt the show's chances.

NOT ENOUGH LIGHT—Here I'm talking about tone. Yes, we've had a nuclear exchange; yes, people are starving; yes, the citizens of New Bern are being badasses. Every now and then you've got to lighten it up. Jericho permitted itself no jokes, none of the battlefield humor found in, say, Band of Brothers. There ought to have been a storyline about, say, what happened to the high-school basketball team—or some citizen with a quirky hobby. Something with a few laughs.

TOO MUCH LIGHT—In this case, I mean physical light. Limited by a television budget and schedule, downtown Jericho was a backlot and its outskirts some of the same locations seen in C.S.I.—the golden hills around Valencia, a town north of Los Angeles. You can get horror out of a sunny sky: look at the Mad Max movies. But it never played as a convincing Kansas winter to me.

BACKSTORY VS. FRONTSTORY—The writers who originally developed Jericho—Josh Schaer and Jonathan E. Steinberg—reportedly imagined a fabulous five years' worth of developments. But the series didn't get a go-ahead until that original pilot was reshaped by Stephen Chbowsky into the compelling first episode we saw, with Jake's return. The backstory as finally teased was interesting, however, and should have been exposed earlier.

HEROIC CONFUSION—I noted this in my last column ("The Mikeys"). Jake Green failed to be the central hero—am I detecting resistance by actor Skeet Ulrich? There were great action set pieces where he was off to one side observing, or letting some other character seize the moment, or absent. The series let Lennie James' Robert character dominate the screen time. It was a natural mistake—Robert was the mystery man with the cache of weapons and the ties to the forces behind the bombs.

Maybe Jake needed to be the one who knew about the big conspiracy.

CBS executive Nina Tassler, responding to criticism from fans over the cancellation, has opened the door to some sort of concluding episode—perhaps a TV movie? I hope so, but it won't change the fact that Jericho joins the long list of promising sci-fi series that died a premature death.

Too bad. I would have enjoyed seeing it develop.

Some good points, not that I agree with everything he had to say, but when does that ever happen?

So, so much for my last minute bloginess, time to go finishing packing, get a few hours sleep, and it's off to the airport and south of the border.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Skeet is a very selfless actor. He is not the type to want to be the big-action-hero, one-dimensional character like, say, Keifer on 24. Most characters he has played are flawed and have more failure than success. That is why I loved his performance. It was layered. His character was impulsive and could make gutsy decisions, but also, WRONG decisions. This was sooo refreshing about Jake and Jericho. There was no real good and bad. Just people struggling to do what was right and getting tripped up along the way, just like real people.