Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Watching Jeremiah

J. Michael Straczynski's series Jeremiah (2002-2004) is set fifteen years after a plague wiped out virtually all the adults on the planet--in which time the surviving children have since grown up. One of these is the titular character, who originally wandered the United States looking for "Valhalla Sector," the place where his father may have found a refuge. Along with a recent acquaintance named Kurdy, he finds his way to Markus Alexander, another young man, now residing in the remains of the Air Force's Cheyenne Mountain headquarters, who is working toward the rebuilding of the old world.

The show is comparatively obscure now, its profile on the Internet low (as the brevity of the Wikipedia article discussing the series demonstrates). Loosely based on a Belgian comic book of the same name, it is a spin-off from a property all but unknown in the American market, and ran for just two seasons and thirty-five episodes on the cable channel Showtime before its cancellation. It has not been rerun much (the only instance I can think of is the Sci-Fi Channel's airing the series in a four-hour Thursday night block in 2008, after which it broadcast a few daytime marathons), and all these years on Season Two has yet to have a proper release on DVD (though since 2010, Amazon has been manufacturing discs "on demand using DVD-R recordable media"). As a creation of J. Michael Straczynski, it has also been overshadowed by the huge success of Babylon 5, and perhaps, also received less attention than it otherwise might have had due to his departure from TV land for comic books and writing for the big screen (which has recently included work on the past summer's hit Thor, and the upcoming World War Z).

Still, underwhelming as the commercial response has been, I still found it a worthwhile show, enjoying it rather more, in fact, than the other postapocalyptic drama on television in recent years (CBS' Jericho). Granted, there were ways in which it felt like a repetition of Straczynski's earlier work. The show's first season might be unkindly described as a scaled-down (and given its starker setting, stripped-down) Babylon 5, especially in its first season, with Thunder Mountain analogous to the titular space station, and the heroes' conflict with Valhalla Sector to the Shadow War. There were strong echoes of particular episodes, too, Jeremiah's "Man of Iron, Woman Under Glass" reminding me of B 5's "A Late Delivery From Avalon."

Still, the essential material's solid stuff, and on the whole well-executed. Unlike J.J. Abrams' Lost, Jeremiah (like Babylon 5) did not simply string the viewer along, testing their patience past the breaking point, but rather told a story. Additionally, the series did boast a genuinely different cast of characters, and make use of its setting as more than an alternative dressing for the same concept. The show also moved into fresher territory in the second season, which tied up several of its plot threads while leaving enough possibilities for a third, which I for one would have welcomed. However, Straczynski's well-known difficulties with MGM over the show's creative direction, and the turn away from the genre on television (Showtime abandoning its previously heavy investment in science fiction programming at about that time), resulted in the show's ending when it did--a casualty of the end of the "Golden Age of Science Fiction Television."

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