The TV program Jericho from CBS studios was in many ways an uncomfortable show to watch, at least in the beginning. This was mainly due to the subject matter that it tackled so freely and bravely. The world that the town of Jericho entered was very different than the one that came before it, in the late 90’s the television world was populated by the likes of Seinfeld, Saved by the bell, Frasier, 90210 and Full House.
To call the 90s the era of sitcom comedy would be an understatement, the only show that really came close to the paranoia and fear that came in the 2000’s was the X-files. Even that show presented a very normal 90’s world where the government conspiracy was very sheltered and unknown to the public at large. The 90’s was an era of prosperity and happiness that was filled with leisure with little to no fear of attack and terrorism. Jake Vander Ark said it best in his book The Accidental Siren
94 was a good year to be twelve. Star Wars still had two more years as Box Office King, cartoons were still hand-drawn, and the Disney “D” still looked like a backwards “G.” Words like “Columbine,” “Al Qaeda” and “Y2K” were not synonymous with “terror,” and 9-1-1 was an emergency number instead of a date. At twelve years old, summer still mattered. Monarch caterpillars still crawled beneath every milkweed leaf. Dandelions (or “wishes” as Mara called them) were flowers instead of pests. And divorce was still considered a tragedy.
As someone who grew up in the 90’s the above quote hit me hard, I remember much of what Vander Ark is speaking of, I remember the time of no fear and a time when anything seemed possibly and futures were not cut off by the suddenness of death and economics. Sadly, it seems that time is forever behind us obscured by the mists of time and immemorial.
When 9/11 happened, American as we know it changed. With 9/11 came increased military spending, new federal agencies and the eroding of foundation freedoms that we had cherished for hundreds of years. With all these political and social changes came shifts in the entertainment and media field, gone was the dominance of the comedy and sitcom and in was the thriller, such as shows like 24, NCIS (and its many spin-offs) Criminal Minds and the like.
All through time the interest of the people has been reflected in art, and this is no truer seen then in television and movies. Jericho came in 2006, five years after 9/11 and four years after the war in Iraq began. Soldiers and military contractors were still fresh in people’s minds as was the potential for a new wave of terrorism on the home front. Jericho took several themes and expounded on them, specifically that of small town America, freedom, terrorism and the ability to trust and or distrust the government.
Jericho took the idea of 9/11 and took it to its maximum with what was known in the shows universe as “The September attacks” a wave of nuclear explosions that decimated 23 American cities and decapitated the federal government. The show also tapped into some of the 9/11 conspiracy theories by borrowing some elements of the so called “truther” movement, that theory being that parts of the government were a part of the 9/11 attacks. This was seen in Jericho as various members of the government were a part of the September attacks and conspired to form a new government. Jericho also displayed the idea of distrust in authority, as the main villains of the show turn out to not be those who perpetrated the attack but those in the new government who sought to use the attacks to their advantage mirroring a quote by Chicago mayor and political strategist Rahm Emanuel
You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.
Jericho built the idea of power to the people and that less government oversight was better; as it was shown many times that Jericho was a beacon of light and the rest of the region descended into darkness and tyranny fairly quickly. Jericho placed a strong emphasis on family and friends being your allies and people you could trust and that danger came when you let go of that. I’m reminded of a quote from John Steinbeck, in his novel East of Eden
This was shown in the show in the example of the murder of beloved character and general store owner Gracie Leigh; she is a good person yet drives a hard bargain when it comes to running a business. She respects her family and friends yet expects everyone to abide by the agreements they make with her when trading. She is murdered and this sets the stage for a small mystery story-line in the show, it is later revealed that her killer was Mitchell Cafferty a down and out individual who had taken up with a gang of outlaws that raided the roads outside of town. This murder further emphasized in Jericho that the only ones the town’s people could trust were themselves as outsiders were dangerous.
Jericho sought to reinforce that the salvation of the United States and its people were in fact found next door in the form of your friends, and your family. The core values presented that you can’t expect help or rescue to come from the government or authority when things go wrong, it was in this way that the shows presentation of small town America and its values was so widely praised and wished for by the viewing audience.