Jericho S2E3: Jennings & Rall
Okay, I hate to say it, but this might be the first downright not good episode of Jericho I’ve reviewed since I started this series.
There are plenty of good reasons for that – most significant being the chaotic way this second season came to life in the first place, as well as the televisual landscape it takes place against – but watching it now, Jennings & Rall just doesn’t stand up to the rest of the show thus far.
I think a major part of my distaste for this episode is just how…24-esque a lot of the political intrigue stuff seems. Now, I love Lennie James as an actor, he’s an undeniably enormous talent who’s proved that across decades in his TV career, but this second season of Jericho really limits Robert Hawkins in a way the first didn’t. His kids are basically entirely out of the picture and off-screen, his dialogue would-be simmering but more sort of boiling over on the hob to make a great big mess, while the show scrambles to remind us of everything we need to know about his already-complex plot while trying their best to resolve it in seven episodes.
Lennie James is giving us full gruff, textureless Jack Bauer here, which is something, I feel it goes without saying, I never wanted to see Lennie James do. He’s a great actor, but this episode and this season in general have not been the best stage to show it off on. I get that Jericho was likely trying to capture some of the popularity of other similarly-toned political-action shows of the time, but you don’t get an actual thesp like Lennie James to do it, you know? In small doses, I don’t mind it so much, but it’s a huge part of this episode and it’s hard to ignore just how bad it is.
Even in the rest of this episode, things feel dissapointingly muted. Jake and company attempt to acquire vaccines for a deadly virus threatening to sweep through Jericho – a solid premise that should leave plenty of room for the usual frantic problem-solving that makes a lot of this show so entertaining. But instead, what I can only assume was a seriously limited budget and timeframe to get all these actors back together again renders almost all of the interesting stuff happening off-screen, while what we see is mostly limited to people quickly filling us in on what’s been going on since the last time we saw them. All the action occurs just out of frame, it seems, in this episode.
I understand how frustrating it must have been to put together this season under the time and budget pressure they faced here, but this episode, with stacks of hasty, overlapping plots and brutally obvious expositional scenes, just doesn’t stand up to what we’ve seen so far. Even with a lower budget and limited access to the original cast, there’s some downright bad writing here that’s clearly just pasted in to get us front point A to point B in the plot as quickly and cheaply as possible.
Take the conversation between Stanley and Bonnie this episode, for example – the two of them discuss his teenage ambitions of becoming a football player, and the fact he abandoned his scholarship to take care of her after their parents died. It should be an affecting scene, and, given the work that’s gone into these characters before, it shouldn’t even be that hard to pull it off. But the dialogue – what little of it you can hear over the cloying emotional background music to drive the point home, at least – clunks hard, stinking of first-draft issues and lacking the usual easy, conversational nuance Jericho usually lays claim to. I’m not asking for Tennessee Williams levels here, but this scene is so obviously shoved in to offer some emotion to this very businesslike and plot-heavy episode, it’s hard not to find it contrived and cheap.
This particular episode, which marks the halfway point of this season, really drives home the perils of putting together a season like this – yes, it’s a chance to return to these characters and these plots again, but it’s doing so under heavy time pressure and against the issues of budget and returning cast. With just four episodes to go, it’s hard to see how they can possibly wrap this up satisfyingly, with so much plot left to work through, but I’m interested to see if it’s possible – and, if so, how they can do it.
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(header image via Allocine.Fr)