SHARK And JERICHO

July 14th, 2006 | brainjuice

Through the magic of electric space message telegraphs, I have the pilot episodes of new American network tv series SHARK and JERICHO here.

SHARK (which comes in at a healthy 44 mins, something I’ll return to in a minute) is the first of the post-HOUSE shows. He’s old, he’s brilliant, he’s a thoroughgoing prick, he has a single person in the world who likes him and who he treats miserably. He’s a tired-looking James Woods, a defense attorney whose last successful defendant turns out to be a mad killer after all. James Woods’ friend the mayor offers him a way out of his personal meltdown by making him the head of a high-profile special prosecutorial team, against the wishes of the DA, who’s played by Sixty of Nine from STAR TREK: VOYAGER. Actually, that’s not fair: Jeri Ryan’s knowing, laconic performance isn’t bad. She just gives up verisimilitude to setting up James Woods’ lines. Which isn’t a bad choice, given that Woods has rarely met a bit of scenery he hasn’t wanted to chew the shit out of. There are three reasons we like to watch James Woods. One, he’s super-verbal, and seeing him work a good script is a joy. Two, he’s always a charming scumbag, so he’s fun to watch. And three, he always gets crushed, and gets that look like someone’s just slit open his chest and ripped out his heart, and we like that because he kind of deserves it. This being network tv, we get all three, but in the Lite flavour. He just looks tired, a lot of the time, and the writers refuse to take their guts in both hands and give us a real double-barrelled blast of James Woods inside what network tv will bear.

Only once does Woods really let it out of the box. He’s got a fake courtroom built under his home, where he hones and perfects his arguments. To illustrate a point, he puts one of his team of attractive young doctors lawyers into the witness box. He turns away from her, faces the camera, takes a deep breath — and suddenly his eyes go utterly dead. The barest glimpse of what it’s like to have an honest-to-god fucking actor on the stage.

SHARK’s going to be ordinary. It’s going to be HOUSE with lawyers, with a production team who seem not to have the bravery of HOUSE’s. If they find their balls, I bet you James Woods will wake up a little bit. If James Woods’ attention was fully engaged by words he could dance with, this would be a brilliant bit of entertainment.

JERICHO clocks in at 38 minutes. This is for an hour-long show. That’s a full six minutes shorter than SHARK. That’s six minutes more ads for you to sit through in order to glean something from this thin little show. The first two minutes are beautifully photographed. After that, sadly, people start to talk. Skeet Ulrich is impersonating Adam Sandler for no reason I can see, as a thirtysomething ex-army indigent returned home to screw his inheritance out of his dad’s clutches. Dad is George Hearst from DEADWOOD, so you know that’s going to go badly. And, frankly, after a minute or so of Skeet’s whining, I was hoping Dad would produce the pickaxe that took off Al Swearengen’s finger.

Everyone in Jericho, Kansas hugs each other. A lot. It’s because it’s a nice place full of nice, well-meaning American people. Skeet doesn’t get the cash, and pisses off out of it.

And then a mushroom cloud appears in the distance.

It appears that at least two nuclear devices have been detonated in the continental United States. The nearest knocks out power in Jericho, but with no hard flash, radiation or shockwave. All contact with the outside world is lost and everyone shits themselves. Except at the end George Hearst, who is the mayor, gives a little speech and everyone hugs again.

JERICHO is a post-LOST show: a microcosm of (American) humanity in a sealed geographic location. You could in fact call it LOST for Middle America, without any of those troubling Iraqis or Koreans to distract. It does seem at this early stage like it’s going to be a paean to the indestructibility of the common man and the small town. It could pretty easily turn into a survivalist anthem. One of the dodgier choices is that the sole black face I saw could well be an absconded prisoner whose transport crashed when the power went out.

It annoyed me that Pamela Reed, who’s just a terrific actor, had next to nothing to do. But what annoyed me more was that pretty much bugger all happened. There was very little meat, and very little virtuosity to distract me from that — I have no problem with lack of linear plot progression if you’ve actually got something to show or tell me. And that’s partly, I suspect, down to some idiot hacking the thing down to 38 minutes so an extra six minutes of ads could be sold.

SHARK might get two seasons if someone there works out what they’ve got. JERICHO doesn’t even raise the hope that PSYCH did — PSYCH being a show that really really bloody wants to be good but doesn’t know how. JERICHO is a show full of misused talent that commits the worst sin in storytelling — it’s just fucking boring.


29 Responses to “SHARK And JERICHO”

  1. [...] Warren Ellis on TV pilots « links for 2006-07-13 The first two minutes are beautifully photographed. After that, sadly, people start to talk. Skeet Ulrich is impersonating Adam Sandler for no reason I can see, as a thirtysomething ex-army indigent returned home to screw his inheritance out of his dad’s clutches. Dad is George Hearst from DEADWOOD, so you know that’s going to go badly. And, frankly, after a minute or so of Skeet’s whining, I was hoping Dad would produce the pickaxe that took off Al Swearengen’s finger. Warrenellis.com [...]

  2. bleah. I’ll stick to new episodes of The Venture Bros., my backlog of anime, and DVD rentals of shows I know are good, then. Too bad about Shark, James Woods is awesome.

  3. See James Woods’ _amazing_ performance as himself in Entourage’s otherwise poor season premiere (3×01)

  4. Originally I read your lede as “Shark and Jericho” which to me sounds like a great title, if nothing else.

    Warren, you know better–the only good television is on HBO. I’ve fallen for Deadwood hard, all because of you.

  5. Thanks for this review! I’m stumping for Shark over at fandomtalk.com, because while it is a House clone I think it could be a really good one — and considering the writing quality of House (though…not necessarily the plot quality, I admit), we could use more TV like it. I’m ridiculously happy to see those extra two minutes added back in, as well. TV drama has lost ten minutes in the last fifteen to twenty years, and Jericho’s now only eight minutes from sharing fully half its time with adverts. Maybe a few more shows will add time, to keep up.

    Pilots are so tricky. They’re supposed to show you everything that’s right about the show, and all too often that gets lost in building information for the rest of the season — a season that often doesn’t happen.

  6. [...] Warrenellis.com » SHARK And JERICHO [...]

  7. Both sound bad, its why i dont watch Network TV. Only HBO and Daily show/Colbert Report for me. Oh and FOx News when i want to laugh.

  8. This fall will be good for AmerTV pilots, at least if you’re an NBC show planner.

    You’ve already mentioned “Studio 60″ — the first episode is excellent, by the way, and pops with electrified dialogue like vintage “West Wing” did.

    But “Heroes” is almost as impressive, though the sheer density of that initial episode might threaten the attention span of the average viewer. Not one or two, but SIX distinct storythreads in a tightly-packed hour. While four of the six– plus a bonus partial thread — have started to intertwine by the end, I have some fear that “Heroes” might break under its own weight before it has even a chance to fly. From looking at the promo material, there’s at least one more “hero” left to introduce in the second episode.

    And “Friday Night Lights” … I shouldn’t like it, as I don’t believe I’m the target … but I might end up watching it for the scarilly accurate smalltown dynamic.

  9. Is this one of those “douschebag feminist scripts” that Jimmy Woods is constantly railing about being offered to him?

  10. “Shark and Jericho”

    They fight crime!

    (I’d watch that, if it were a real shark.)

  11. I’d watch it if it were a real shark and a real Biblical site who fight crime together.

  12. I swear Jericho was already a show with Skeet Ulrich on another channel, but I can’t find anything about it.

  13. So let me get this straight: It’s 20 yrs. later and Jimmy Woods is playing the exact opposite of whwhat he played in TRUE BELIEVER? oKAY…..

  14. Mal – The other show that Skeet Ulrich was in was MIRACLES, one of the pilots that ABC had put together in their hunt to make themselves different back before they had LOST. I remember David Fury of Buffy/Angel/Lost/24 fame being involved… or was it Tim Minear (Angel/Firefly/The Inside)? Not a bad show, but not terribly good either.

    Personally I am excited about SHARK simply because of Woods. He’s one of those actors thats great to watch even when he’s just phoning it in.

    As for PSYCH, i’d say give it another episode or two to find its footing. It obviously has the desire to be great, they just need to figure out the language a little more first.

  15. Speaking of pilots…Have you guys seen the pilot for “The Amazing Screw-On Head” over at sci-fi.com? I think that’s the first comic adaptation I’ve ever seen that retains, and even improves upon, the spirit of the comic. Great crap, man!

  16. I wouldn’t base too much on the fact that Jericho is only 38 minutes. Pilots are sales tools and are not directly intended for air. Most pilots do end up being the first episode, but often times scenes are reshot or recut to make an airable master.

    Perfect example, the part of Willow was played by someone else in the pilot for Buffy, but was recast and reshot for the first episode. And a former teacher of mine (an editor) came in to save an hour-long pilot which ended up being 35 minutes when he was done with it. The show was bought and more content was shot before it aired.

    I can all but guarantee we won’t have to sit through 22 minutes of ads. No network is that stupid.

  17. James Wood’s best performance is still as Hades in that otherwise unremarkable animated adaptation of the Hercules myth, as well as in the Squaresoft games that use him.

    I agree entirely with your blurb about Psych. Interesting premise, decent cast, fair plotting, but the dialogue kind of peters out when it could get most interesting. I had high hopes for Dule HIll after West Wing. I still do, just not with this show.

  18. I wonder what Warren thinks of THE CLOSER. I like it for the characters, even if it occasionally craps out plot-wise.

  19. First, I couldn’t give 10 kinds of shit about Jericho but any show that isn’t using James Woods to the max is a loser show. Her’s what bothers me. I remember James Woods played a 60′s lawyer named Eddie Dodd in a movie called True Believer and he was at the height of his powers then. Had a game and sober Robert Downey Jr. as his assistant in it. I mean, damn,you could have put both of them in a tv. series and had a great show. This seems like, yeah, were going to bite off the House pheonomean. So sad.

  20. “I can all but guarantee we won’t have to sit through 22 minutes of ads. No network is that stupid.”

    You clearly have much more faith in them than I do.

  21. While reading the description of JERICHO, there was a little voice in the back of my head saying “Where did I see this EXACT SAME STORY before?” Then I remembered: Back in the late 1980′s/ 1990′s, I remember reading a black and white graphic novel called DEAD AIR. While I can’t really recall much about it, the setup was exactly the same: Small town America, mushroom cloud on the horizon, no one knows what happened to the outside world. Anyone else remember this?

  22. Battlestar Galactica did the “microcosm of (American) humanity in a sealed geographic location” a full year before Lost.

  23. DEAD AIR was Mike Allred’s first GN, I think, back when he was M. Dalton Allred.

  24. This JERICHO thing sounds a lot like the premise of Richard Kelly’s new film (and prequal series of 3 graphic novels) SOUTHLAND TALES. Some sort of post-nuclear Texas thing going on. Though I’m betting Mr. Darko has something a bit more mindfucking than what network TV have in mind..

  25. Okay, I took five minutes and I think I mentally untangled JERICHO (post-apocalyptic TV show, maybe biblical apocalypse since it has a biblical title) from JEREMIAH (most of the above plus J. Michael Straczynski).

    So now I just have to come to terms with the words “He’s got a fake courtroom built under his home”. I mean, jeez. I’d believe that about Idi Amin or Batman…

  26. Shark and Jericho:

    One is an alcoholic ex-cop who bends the rules to get the job done.

    The other is an ex-fundamentalist Christian militiaman with the semen of Christ-thulu running through his veins.

    Together, they fight crime!

  27. Just read your rewiew of Jericho, and I have to say you may be right but after watching the pilot myself, I found it entertaining. Good story line, hope the writers keep it up. But hey lest we forget, and opinion is like a fart sometimes we only like the smell of our own brand, and I think yours stinks!

  28. actually I remember reading a book in high school about a late 50s small town going through nuclear war and the fallout
    I believe it was Alas Babylon by Pat Frank, a good read.

  29. [...] Warren Ellis sums up why I want this to be better: There are three reasons we like to watch James Woods. One, he’s super-verbal, and seeing him work a good script is a joy. Two, he’s always a charming scumbag, so he’s fun to watch. And three, he always gets crushed, and gets that look like someone’s just slit open his chest and ripped out his heart, and we like that because he kind of deserves it. This being network tv, we get all three, but in the Lite flavour. He just looks tired, a lot of the time, and the writers refuse to take their guts in both hands and give us a real double-barrelled blast of James Woods inside what network tv will bear. [...]