'Jericho' returns with promise of answers
By Mike Hughes
Gannett News Service
By Mike Hughes
Last fall, CBS' "Jericho" accomplished the near-impossible.
It introduced a fictional Kansas town, coping with life after nuclear blasts had hit cities. It made viewers care about quiet people with fuzzy pasts.
And then it took a long break. Fans fussed; bloggers buzzed.
"They love the mystery of 'Who is Robert Hawkins?' and 'Where has Jake been?' " says producer Carol Barbee. "And then (there are) people who just blog about who's sleeping with who."
Now, after a 10-week break, they will find out. "Jericho" recaps the first half of the season on Wednesday; a week later, it starts the second half, which has 11 episodes.
And that first new episode, Feb. 21, will tell Hawkins' back story.
"It's a doozy," says Lennie James, who plays him. "It's great ... 'Doozy,' (I) just learned the word."
American expressions don't come easily to him. James is British, with a background in Shakespeare, theater and short TV series.
"Back home in England, a season is six episodes," he says. "So this is already the longest I've played a character."
At first, James tried to do it without knowing Hawkins' story. "I thought it would make the producers think I was a really deep actor," he jokes.
He knew only what viewers know: Hawkins reached Jericho shortly before the explosions, with his estranged wife and their kids. He bought a house with cash and seemed to know a lot; he had monitoring equipment in the basement.
The Feb. 21 episode — showing the days before the crash — will explain the basics of Hawkins, leaving room for more. "That's not even half of it," James says.
It will also start to explain Skeet Ulrich's character, Jake Green, the prodigal who returned home after five years and has acted heroically since the explosions.
"He's not a hero, necessarily," says Ulrich. "I think the guilt of his past doesn't allow him to think in that way."
He is, however, at the core of the town of Jericho.
His father, Johnston Green (Gerald McRaney) is the mayor, a hard-edged guy whose political opponent, Gray Anderson (Michael Gaston), is even harder. Jake's mom, Gail (Pamela Reed), is solid; his brother Eric (Kenneth Mitchell) is a sturdy sort who has atypically left his wife for another woman.
Jake's own love life is complicated. By all logic, he should have married Emily Sullivan, a beauty who savors their hometown.
"I think she's always been in love with Jake," says Ashley Scott, who plays her. "Jake went away, and she had to kind of start a life again ... and found Roger. He was 'that guy' — that stable, good guy."
Roger was gone during the explosions and was presumed dead. Jake rescued kids on a school bus and befriended their teacher Heather Lisinski (Sprague Gordon). He was also drawn to Emily, creating a romantic triangle.
That became complicated in the final moments of the Nov. 29 cliffhanger: Tattered survivors wandered into town, including Roger.
Questions will be answered, Barbee promises.
"By the end of the season, you will know where Jake's been for the past five years. You will know ... who was behind the bombings, who did it."
That will leave more questions, including why they did it, and what the second wave will be. Life is rarely simple in Jericho, Kan.