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Via BBC America

Via BBC America

In honor of Charlie Jane Anders’ every Doctor Who episode ever list at io9, I am going to humbly approach a smaller task — ranking the new episodes. Because though technically the wise friend and her wise father who introduced me to the show did start with Three (Jon Pertwee), I have never yet had the attention span for Classic Who. Anders’ list may help me decide which arcs to tackle, however for now, I know only new.

Here we go, the top ten episodes of shiny new Who because I am way too lazy to do a count-down in reverse order. For additional laziness, multi-parters are filed under one average ranking.

We start with the best ten, and if I ever feel ambitious, I will keep on with the list.

1) “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances” (2005): This was my second NuWho, and the episode that hooked me for life. A sciencey plot that is not resolved with reversing the polarity of the neuron flow, a touching exchange about WWII that I constantly cite, Captain Jack at his most roguish, and GAS-MASK ZOMBIE CHILDREN. Also the London Blitz. I love everything about this. And it’s a key one to cite when mourning the brief tenure of Christopher Eccleston as Nine.

2) “Blink” (2007): Yep, I am ranking it in the same spot as Anders, but at least I don’t have 250 episodes to compare it to. It’s just so clever — before then-writer, now showrunner Steven Moffat became too clever by half. It is the first look at a very Moffat-y beast, the Weeping Angels, before he overused them. It has a fantastic companion (as it were) played by Carey Mulligan before she hopped across the pond. It is scary, funny, and satisfying. It is overrated, except it really isn’t.

3) “The Impossible Planet”/”The Satan Pit” (2006): I never disliked this episode, but it has been slowly crawling up my favorites list over the years. Rose and Ten have great moments together, but not sappy ones. They go off and do their own thing and take their own risks, but their bond is vital. The Ood are creepy and endearing, the secondary cast are awkwardly believable, and oh yeah, space Satan? Before I read Childhood’s End, this was even more epic a concept. But it’s still epic.

4) “The Doctor’s Wife” (2011): Neil Gaiman, you beauty. This was one of the handful of episodes during Eleven’s tenure that made me keep the faith. Nothing against Matt Smith, who has some really great qualities as the Doctor, but something about the tone of the whole show was usually off to me. And Amy does nothing for me as a companion, even if she is a stunning redhead with a gorgeous accent. This episode, on the other hand, has a terrifying villain to menace Amy and Rory, and a brilliantly bizarre way to give the Doctor a chance to speak to his oldest companion — his true love (no, it ain’t River Song, damn it).

5: “The Girl in the Fireplace” (2006): In some ways I might have burned out on this episode from too many rewatches, but it really is wonderful, no matter if the characterization of our main peeps is sort of…elusive. Finally getting Mickey in the TARDIS and having him adventure with Rose gives them a chance to have some good bonding. In the meantime, there’s a fabulous French woman who might be a Mary Sue, but valiantly rises above that; there are also clockwork monsters, another wild premise that holds together until the end (more or less), and a horse in space. More timey-wimey stuff that doesn’t just feel like someone shouting at you until you are distracted.

6:”Dalek”(2005): Weak extraneous characters with hilarious John Wayne American accents. However, Nine is on fire here. One Dalek becomes more menacing than millions of them. They are the ultimate in diminishing returns. Why couldn’t the show repeat the fury and terror in the Doctor’s reaction to Daleks with any success in ANY subsequent episodes? Rose is here being important to the plot, but this is Nine’s episode.

7:”Father’s Day”(2005): Anders is right that the monsters that appear do not show up in any other paradoxical instances before or after this episode. And considering what show this is (hint: timey wimey), that’s a bit awkward. But everything else here is so damned wonderful, and it all makes so much sense as a one-shot, that I don’t care. This is a fantastic episode about idealizing people who are gone, and missing them, and things like that. Billie Piper is really wonderful, and I think a former teen pop star deserved more credit for how good she was at being Rose.

8:”Midnight”(2008): This is another one that has slowly crept up in my ranking over the years. It’s almost Donna-free, because the Doctor needs to be separated from having an ally. Multiple people over the years have suggested this is Doctor Who does The Twilight Zone. It’s a strange, eerie, mysterious plot — and the strangest, eeriest, most mysterious part (besides how Russell T. Davies could sometimes write such good episodes, when he would go nuts in every finale) is that all of the alien confidence of the Doctor fails in this case. People are not impressed by him, and they don’t magically assume he knows best.

9:”Utopia/”The Sound of Drums”/”Last of the Time Lords” (2007): But-but the ending, you cry. Yes, I know. It is not…ideal. Still, before that final twist, you have two whole episodes that are strangely disturbing. Not in the way that Moffat’s best monsters are disturbing, but in a more subtle way that lingers for longer, like everyone’s eventual demise (sorry). “Utopia” takes place at the end of the universe. It’s dying, but people are trying to take a rocket to get somewhere…else. (Something about a slapdash rocket full of refugees trying to escape the end of the universe makes me sick in an awesome way — the way really killer sci-fi is supposed to, until you put it down and watch Gilmore Girls instead.) John Simm’s turn as the maser is not as hamfisted as it becomes later. It is still plenty broad, but it balances on a perfect, genuine line between madness and evil. His wife is unsettling with her twist. His domination of the world is scary. Everything except that final bit is fantastic. And yes, that final bit is bad. But it still makes more damn sense than whatever the fuck happened at the end of “The Stolen Earth” or even “Journey’s End.” Seriously, when Davros tries to destroy “reality itself” it feels like nothing. John Simm and the taclafane are an oddly sickening nightmare that demands repeat viewings.

10:”Flatline”(2014): There is a very good chance that this episodes will be seriously downgraded in the years to come. But I feel so grateful towards it right now, that I want to celebrate it. It’s as if someone was finally listening to my mother’s complaints that aliens are too humanoid. The alienness of aliens is fully acknowledged and worked with in this episode. There’s menace and pathos, but actual slapstick that didn’t make me want to stick my head through a wall. Clara is tolerable, and almost endearing. Secondary characters are good. The Doctor is not prominent, but he’s there, and Peter Capaldi is amazing and needs more episodes worthy of his amazingness. This is the first episode since “The Doctor’s Wife” that made me go “fuck yeah, this show, I love this show!” I keep forgetting this is possible.

1x04_0192Episode five: “Federal Response”

Drink once: every time someone reminds Jake he left town,  every time Jake lies about his past, Eric and his affair are boring, the deputies are stupid, Mayor Green is pompous, Gail is worried, Hawkins knows way too much and is therefore MYSTERIOUS, Emily worries about her finance, Jake has too many ladiez to handle, nobody listens to Heather.

Drink twice: every time Gail is worried for good reason, Mayor Green and Gray Anderson clash, people behave with the amount of fear that would be warranted given ALL THE NUKES EVERYWHERE, Hawkins and his family have a positive interaction, Gracie stops being horrible, Skyler and Dale are capitalists, Bonnie is sassy and/or insulting, someone discovers more about what actually happened in the outside world.

Chug: if Eric has an interesting subplot, Jake’s questionable past is revealed, a woman actually carries a gun, or if Jericho can get something done without the Greens.

We open with Jeicho’s deserted streets, dust, and Jake’s voiceover saying “I’m tired of war, no one ever really wins.” But oh, they’re in Mary’s bar, and Stanley says “me, too.” And then Mimi says “we could play crazy eights instead, or hearts.” Ha, oh, show. But if WarGames can do it, so can Jericho.

Eric is here to ruin everything again.

Eric is here to ruin everything again.

Stanley, Jake, and Mimi have been playing cards in Mary’s bar all night. Jake asks Mimi what she’d be doing in DC, and she says sleeping, which she can’t do now because it’s too quiet. “Why do you think I left town?” Jake asks. Deputy Jimmy moseys in and says “I could tell her.” Mimi thinks shes knows, “the pressure got to be too much….I’m betting prom king, captain of the football team, most likely to succeed.” Beat. “Don’t quit your day job” says Jimmy. He smirks, Mary smirks, Jake smiles, Stanley says — well-delivered — “I think he beat up the prom king.” “Oh yeah, I did.” says Jake thoughtfully. Eric has wandered in to ruin this legitimately cute, funny, moment which manages to deliver Jake’s backstory without the usual melodrama. Stanley says “you must have a million stories about your brother screwing up” and Eric awkwardly smiles and says “Yeah, at least that many.”

Eric gets coffee, and let’s drink because he’s talking to Mary about their affair and telling April, and nobody cares. Jake notices, and Mimi exposits “secrets of a small town” and it almost works because she’s like that.

Lights that make the ideal sinister sound when they turn back on. Thanks, Tesla.

Lights that make the ideal sinister sound when they turn back on. Thanks, Tesla.

Wait, the lights are on! The jukebox is blaring loud enough to cause permanent damage, and this means the power is back. Yay? Jake unplugs just in time for the menacing score to kick in as the phone rings. And the phone are ringing all over town. The fluorescent lights in Gracie’s Market buzz on. There are multiple shots from all over town of people staring confusedly at their ringing phones.

It’s Assistant Secretary Walsh from the Department of Homeland Security! Everyone should stay where they are if they are safe. Help will be there. Repeat. And the TV has

That's how my face looks if DHS calls.

That’s how my face looks if DHS calls.

flicked on with “Emergency Alert System: Please Stand By.”

Scary morse code over opening credits. Code which means “there is a fire.”

People are asking Mimi what’s up, because she’s an IRS agent, the closest thing to a fed. Optimistically, she says she is “this close to nonfat lattes and shiatsu massage.”

Hawkins’ daughter finds Skyler trying to check her email. Having mystery in her genes, MimiHawkins suggests “typing a straight IP address” but then looks puzzled. The internet, she explains, is “supposed to survive nuclear war.” The image changes to the “Emergency Alert” one as seen on the TV. “It’s working, but not for us. We’re being blocked out,” says MiniHawkins.

The Greens are talking about how the power is coming back, but no news is forthcoming. Mayor Green says Jake looks terrible, then lectures him on playing cards all night. Shut up, Mayor Green (drink), it was cute, and it featured some of this town’s least annoying people. Even Mary was tolerable. The Greens and DeputyJerk talk about who to call if they can actually call someone. Eric and Jake have weird tension, and then Jake wanders home because two Greens have been micromanaging this town for years, and they don’t need him right now.

Hawkins tells MiniHawkins to fill up the bathtub, but in a tone that guarantees a surly teen response. Because, he says, pumps pump water (“the water doesn’t get into that shower by magic” is such a dad thing to say, wow), and having more water is nice when the power goes out again. (Do they know their tap water isn’t contaminated? I hope?) Darcy wanders in and says “she’s your daughter, not your employee” which is a good point. But Hawkins has a better point that this shit is serious, and he might not be around forever, so she needs to get more survival skills. Hawkins goes outside for more mysteriousness. (Next week we remove “Hawkins is mysterious” from the drink list because this would kill everyone.)

Gail is busy vacuuming because she’s a mom, I guess. She’s asking Jake if he’s going to stay (hi, premature questions) and says “when you left, you left quite a mess.” (Drink.) She’s mom, so she’s just happy to have her boy back, but Mayor Green is still peeved. Tiresome Green exposition, and then Gail suggests Jake should tell his dad the truth. “You mean tell him…about my time away?” says Jake, clearly upset about this. And wait, does Gail know what her boy was doing? We the audience don’t know what’s up, but this scene suggests Gail knows the truth, which I never noticed before. “This house is too small for big secrets” dramas Gail. And now, electricity!

Mary and Heather and a bunch of precious tots are wandering near the school, but the power spike catches the school on fire, and sends a jolt that knocks Emily out. Heather uses her in charge powers to send the kids away with their buddies. I gotta say, though you could break something from that jolt, it’s not like she was crushed by a train. I think in this case, you move the person away from harm. Heather prefers to try and wake Emily up as we cut to Mary’s bar and drunk Mimi being almost nice to Stanley, saying she would do what she could to help with his whole audit business if she could. Mimi is kind of terrible, and Stanley is a dope, and I yet I support this.

Hawkins mysteriously typing outside with a mini satellite dish. He can get around the internet block. He has a secret code from a fake Discover Card — ’cause what else are they for? This scene needs some absurd ’90s hacking graphics with tunnels and lights. And Hawkins is a on foreign website. Such mystery. Drink.

Everyone is standing too close to the burning school as April tends to Emily. Heather counts the kids, and realizes there is a missing dummy who went back for the school pet. Heather runs inside, because the women on this show may have some traditional jobs, but they’re generally up to whatever post-apocalyptic task is at hand. And I appreciate that.

Fire truck is here, but there are fires all over town, so they’re spread too thin. And this is an electrical fire, so they can’t use water. Jake is here to look worried, so is Eric. Mayor Green, still sick with flu, is trying to come micromanage things, but Eric calls and tells him to turn off the library’s power.

Jake pets the barely conscious Emily, who squeezes his hand and looks a lot more loving towards him than she has lately. Sigh. Annnd the firemen lost pressure. Jake runs off with Stanley to get the pressure back. April says Heather is still inside, and then with some seriously mediocre acting, says “Eric, no” as he rushes inside.

And we cut to Gracie’s store where again the humor works in this episode. Skyler’s terrible friend is staring at a magazine and says “I wonder what Lindsey Lohan is doing right now. Do you think she’s still alive?” Skyler has no time for this shit, but it’s actually a great observation and the only time I ever like Horriblefriend. In the nuclear hellscape that is America, there are celebrities, and you might well wonder about them from time to time. Skyler’s phone battery is dead, but Dale says he’ll charge it for her. She’s still hoping her parents will call, even though she feared they were dead several episodes ago.

More of the town teens roll in on skateboards, and one says “hey check it out, the library is burning, and I didn’t even do it.” “Is anyone hurt?” asks Gracie (not being horrible, so drink twice). “Probably” says evil stoner teen. I laugh. Skyler is lingering, and wants to stay and be nice to Dale, but he says he’ll charge her phone while she’s off gawking at the burning library. Oh, teens.

Heather finds little kid Ashlee hiding in a playroom, and I am reminded of the depressing thought that kids hide from fires sometimes. Eric busts in just in time to be trapped with the two of them. Stanley and Jake struggle to turn on the manual pump at he water tower, or wherever.

The toy snake was the real hero. RIP.

The toy snake was the real hero. RIP.

Heather, Eric, and Ashlee are totally fucked because of the fire. Basically, all of the scenes are a sanitized, but scary thing especially if you were afraid of fires as a child and I totally was. Heather and Eric cover Ashlee’s face with a damp towel, and then when the sprinklers start thanks to Jake and Stanley, they all run out.

April is busy flailing and asking the firemen why they won’t help anyone, which to be honest is a great question. Pretty sure firemen are supposed to check burning buildings for people stuck in them. Are they all volunteer or something? I guess the Greens really do have to do every God damned thing in this town.

Eric hands April the child. Jake climbs to the top of the water tower to check on the status of the fires, and there’s another one near Eric’s house, but nobody cares. BUT THEY DO CARE THAT HAWKINS IS BEING MYSTERIOUS IN HIS YARD, AND JAKE SEES IT, AND HAWKINS SEES HIM. Double mystery. Mystery men. Drink twice for good measure.

MYSTERIOUS.

MYSTERIOUS.

Jake sprints back to tell Eric there’s a fire near his house, but Eric being a martyr-ish Green stays to fight the school fire. It’s the right thing to do. April agrees. It is, but it’s boring.

Hawkins and Jake have a weird moment where Hawkins (again) aggressively asks if he can help (fight Eric’s fire) and then says “If I knew anything, I would tell your mayor.” Would you, though? “What do you know?” asks Jake. “Not much” says Hawkins, even though he was clearly using a computer just now. “Do. You. Want. My help?” smile-menaces Hawkins, and Jake manfully says “get in.”

At Mary’s, Mimi is once again talking about what she’ll do in DC, then prying into Mary’s affair. Mimi is full of Real Talk about how “guys like that don’t leave their wives for girls like us.” Mary says Eric is totally going to tell his wife about them, and Mimi pretends to change her tune on that matter. And this is boring, except that I love Mimi’s hatred of Eric.

Hawkins asks Jake how he learned to use the pool pump to get water. “I was a pool guy” says Jake sardonically. Drink.

Oops, it’s flashover time. And for a hot second we think Hawkins has left Jake in the lurch, but no, he’s just being helpful in getting more power for the pump. “That was quick thinking” says Jake as they fight the fire together. “Yeah,” says Hawkins, “I was a pool guy, too.” Ha. They exchange a funny look. Mysterious bros together. Are they both spies, or what?

The uselessness of the town has made the Greens pompous. I see that now.

The uselessness of the town has made the Greens pompous. I see that now.

Back at the school, a small crowd is cheering the firemen who are now rescuing books, even though they let untrained, clad only in a fireman’s jacket Eric run in by himself. NO ONE BUT GREENS CAN DO ANYTHING FOR THE TOWN. Eric tells Heather he saved Ashlee’s life, then he wanders off to find his wife.

Skyler comes back into Gracie’s store, and no, her parents haven’t called, but her phone is charged. Dale mentions the fire hit the trailer park (I KNEW IT, HE AND GRACIE ARE BLUE COLLAR BROS) so he is going to keep on sleeping at the store. But then, he already was. Skyler tries to convince Dale to come ask the mayor for help, but he’s got his bootstrappy pride, so he’s not having it, man.

April and Eric are cleaning out their burned out house. Guess what didn’t burn? THE DIVORCE PAPERS filed by April! Whoops. But she doesn’t want to divorce him anymore, because things were nuked, and now he does manly things like run into buildings to save teachers and little children. And also, they’ve all had a rough day so let’s not get divorced now? Drink, because their conversation is boring.

Gail is setting the table and talking to Jake about how staring at the creepy TV wasn’t telling her anything. And she says “you know that thing you’ve been running away from?” Well, it’s your dad, so go talk to him or whatever. Does she know about what Jake was doing while he was gone, though? That last scene between them suggested as much, and now I am writing whole new headcanons about this. Eric and April arrive with one sad box each.

Gah!

Gah!

At Mary’s bar, Mary is trying to close down early, and Mimi has a knowing look about “girls like us.” But oh, there goes the TV. It has changed from the warning to an empty podium, as if the president or similar is about to address the nation. But it’s sinister as hell because nobody is there, and I start to imagine that that shot was set-up weeks ago and it’s just been broadcasting an empty room all this time.

The patrons are all agog. Mary sends Stanley off to tell people under threat of having to pay his tab.

Jake and Mayor Green are talking about how they, the Greens, are going to run the entire town and save everyone. However, Mayor Green in his weakened state is going to be nice and tell Jake he did good today. “Folks are saying how lucky Jericho is to have you back” says Mayor Green, and though he’s “tried to correct them, nobody listens to me.” The Greens share a LOL, and Skeet Ulrich continues to have a really attractive smile. But then Jake says being his dad’s son was hard, because his dad “always had a good judge of character, and you thought mine was lousy. When I left town, I was determined to prove you wrong, but everywhere I went, I seemed to prove you right.” WHAT’D YA DO, JAKE?! “I wasn’t just in San Diego” for one. (Drink!) But — “I don’t care” says Mayor Green. Basically, he doesn’t need to hear it, because whatever bad shit his son did, it made him less of a jerk. That’s…good? The audience still wants to know, Mayor Green.

Traveling is sinister. Especially traveling outside of San Diego.

Traveling is sinister. Especially traveling outside of San Diego.

Hawkins is typing mysteriously on his computer, and oops, Jake Green has a flagged passport, because he has traveled to dodgy countries! (Drink!) AND – drink again! — his legal name is Johnston Jacob Green, Junior. No wonder he has such daddy issues. Hawkins looks intrigued, and then is inside being mysterious, but also talking to his son in the basement about what all they’re going to do now that the power is back on. Drink twice because Hawkins and his son have a nice moment together.

The Greens sit around the table discussing what food they wish they had. It all sounds delicious, and makes me want to watch Signs a little bit, because of the amazingly creepy scene where the family eat dinner as the aliens roll in.

98 percent of this show is Skeet Ulrich looking intently at things.

98 percent of this show is Skeet Ulrich looking intently at things.

Stanley interrupts happy family time with news about the TV.  Ooops, Eric has to come down to Mary’s bar. Drink because it’s boring, and it’s technically about the affair. Mary’s fading smile as Eric comes in not sans wife is kind of tragic, but I don’t really care — especially because the TV goes out, the wine glasses starts to shake, and outside there are missiles in the sky.

We drank: a lot. But we’ll fine-tune the drinking times next week. Or whenever I feel like watching. Because I made TWO categories here. Jericho Rewatch and Tuesday Apocalypse are two different categories, so I could rewatch on, like, a Thursday. Imagine that. [Caps via]

The Huffington Post turns ten this week.

It’s seen by lots more eyeballs and it’s much better looking and reading than it was at its birth, when it was nothing but a lot of hype and hope and the political scribblings of celebrities. But the HuffPo is still just a liberal pimple on the big conservative ass of the Drudge Report.

I wasn’t going to celebrate the birthday of Arianna Huffington’s love child, but over the weekend The Today Show, or whatever it’s called by NBC, apparently spoke my name during its celebration.

I didn’t see or hear what Today said about me to the whole nation.

I hear they took a line or two out of context from the critical but fair and balanced magazine column I wrote about HuffPo’s birth to show what a big dummy I was for failing to predict it’d live to see its tenth birthday.

I forgot what I wrote on May 15, 2005,  but I looked it up and here it is:

Huffing & Puffing & Disappointing

Matt Drudge can sleep easy.

Arianna Huffington’s much ballyhooed “Huffington Post” — a new Web site whose chief gimmick is a Malibu Beach party’s worth of celebrity bloggers — is no threat.

If you haven’t heard, huffingtonpost.com features the daily blathering of scores of La-La-Landers — Rob Reiner, Bill Maher, John Cusack, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, et al. — and scores of savvy inner-Beltway politicos such as David Corn, Mike McCurry, Joe Scarborough and Danielle Crittenden.

From the advance hype, you’d have thought that the multiblog site, which debuted Monday, was going to do for the blogosphere what CNN did for TV news. It won’t.

It’s way too early to declare it a flop. But it’s easy to see why the media criticism has run from brutally cruel to “Could this possibly be this dull and uninformative forever?”

Not every celebrity embarrasses himself.

Quincy Jones’ rumination on Michael Jackson’s sordid decline is wise, but contains so much God-talk he may have his star on Hollywood Boulevard removed.

“Seinfeld” co-creator Larry David’s defense of U.N. Ambassador-designate John Bolton as a fellow abuser-of-employees is clever satire.

Rob Reiner’s ranting about the news media being stooges of the Bush administration and voters being misled on Iraq, etc., etc., would make a great sendup of a demented Hollywood liberal, except he’s being serious.

Reiner’s meat-headed rant gives credence to L.A. Weekly Nikki Finke’s conspiratorial suspicion that Arianna is now “a conservative mole.” Finke, a business/political columnist, covering entertainment, wrote in her Huffington Post-trashing column that the Greek-born author-pundit “has served up liberal celebs like red meat on a silver platter for the salivating and Hollywood-hating right wing to chew up and spit out.”

Finke could be right. Maybe Arianna — who has morphed from the right-wing conservative spouse of a multimillionaire Republican congressman to a divorced big-government progressive do-gooder — is a double agent for her mid-’90s pal, Newt.

There’s no doubt celebrities are going to be eaten alive by the pros — the politicians, pundits and journalists — Arianna invited to her 300-ring circus. Byron York has already bitten into sports guy Jim Lampley, who opined in his blog that he still thinks Bush stole Ohio last fall.

And conservative Danielle Crittenden, who knows how to mock Hollywood, blogged a clever parody memo to President Bush that plugs a new movie whose heroine is a brave, pro-life Republican congresswoman who fights for family values.

Assembling scores of celebrity bloggers in one place sounds like a really good idea — until you go there and find it’s mostly just a bunch of people with little to say talking to themselves.

At huffingtonpost.com , more is much less. There’s no strong single point of view, which is what all the best blogs have. There’s virtually no interaction or squabbling between libs and conservatives. Libertarians, as usual, apparently weren’t invited.

Arianna’s got lots of tinkering to do before she provides anything close to “a tantalizing mixture of politics, wit and wisdom.” She has to learn how to be an editor and a better ringmaster.

Maybe she’ll figure it out. Meantime, her Internet Free Hollywood may do America some good by forcing the cloistered Hollywood community to debate some nonliberal arguments and ideas it’s not used to even hearing.

Reads pretty good to me.

folderiexEpisode 2: “Fallout”

Oh, right, fallout. That thing we forgot about in the first episode. The thing that makes nukes more than just aesthetically terrifying clouds in the distance.

This is a tight, fearful episode. A storm is coming from Denver, and not knowing what kind of bomb went off, the people of Jericho are terrified of what those clouds may bring down upon them. Emily is still outside of town, clueless as to what has happened. She meets the two escaped criminals (oh yeah, that happened) who are impersonating deputies, and who have killed the sheriff and kidnapped Deputy Jimmy and Deputy Occasionally-Mean Guy.

I hate when apocalyptic fiction goes straight to “oooh, rogues are on the loose because society has broken down!” if only because a nuke is a lot more interesting than a dude with a teardrop tattoo. However, Emily versus the fake cops works better than it might. It’s drawn out tension, which is enhanced when she brings the men to the Richman ranch (girl, cops do not have mustaches like that — but it’s a neck tattoo peeking out that gives it away) and has to communicate with Bonnie in subtle signing that this is a problem. Plus, we have two relatively competent ladies here, which is nice.

This episode does signal two obligatory difficulties for our characters in a nuke setting. Cons on the loose, and the invisible peril of fallout. But though we don’t know everything about the show yet, we do already know that this isn’t Testament. This is a CBS show. It’s going to be about network TV-level of grim survival, not about slowly wasting away. And, you know, a tv show needs characters.

In short, though the episode is well done, and though people might die, this episode doesn’t give you an apocalyptic stomach ache. Just a little anxiety, and a touch of claustrophobia as the townspeople race to get their shelters ready, and Bonnie and Emily try to casually outwit the cons.

Back in Jericho, there’s a great scene where the cops have grabbed every single book about nuclear anything from the library, and one is Our Friend the Atom (“some friend” notes Gray Anderson bitterly). Hawkins again knows a little too much about what do in case of nuclear fallout — or he’s read this manual I keep almost buying because of its perfect balance of creepy and cheesy graphic design — but his explanation is only “I was a cop in St. Louis, and after 9/11 we got up to speed.”

The town’s shelter doesn’t have a working air filter, and Gray Anderson will definitely be using that in his weird macho war with Mayor Green. For once, he may have a point. Actually he has one a lot, but he’s still annoying.

Towns people are taking stuff from Gracie’s store, but she stops Skyler from grabbing a diet soda (asserting her property rights, while still accepting that emergency food is being taken! Gracie is also kind of the town gossip and sort of unpleasant, but she’s not a villain, and Dale has a serious loyalty to her. All of this is interesting to me.) This leads to Dale and Skyler bonding in her sealed up house. Dale slept on Gracie’ store floor the night before, because he clearly has nowhere else to go now that he hasn’t got a mom. Skyler may not have a mom anymore either, and a sad conversation about that as the fallout-drenched rain falls brings the nerd and the mean girl closer together.

This is the first episode where Jake being in charge is assumed. Basically, this town cannot function without male Green leadership. No wonder Gray Anderson is tired of it. Hawkins is told to fix the HAM radio, and finds secret messages, then says he can’t get the thing working. Much mystery. All the mystery. We see Hawkins’ family for the first time, as they huddle together in the basement. They are not entirely likable, but they are intriguing. There is clearly tension between the son, the daughter, the wife, and Hawkins. Hawkins’ wife Darcy tells him “you always know something” and he says not to ask questions. What does he know? Is he a terrorist? Law enforcement? CIA? NSA?

Most of the scenes of people packing up bags with 90 minutes to spare are good. And the scenes of other townsfolk sealing up their houses is deliberately very early War on Terror. It’s definitely less excessive than the 9/11isms in the 2005 War of the Worlds, but it brings back mentions of how to be safe from a dirty bomb or chemical attack, if you’re the right age.

Eric — the insufferable junior version of his father — has to lecture a bar full of douchebags to go to shelter so they don’t die of radiation sickness. Good thing he has a flaw, which is his affair with the uninteresting Mary, who owns the bar. Eric’s wife isn’t interesting either.

(Somehow I hate a lot of these characters when I stop to think about, but I keep on watching. Actually, Jake may be an asshole who disappeared for five years, but I don’t blame him.

Basically, everyone is annoying except for Jake and Bonnie, and usually Heather and Stanley, but I feel like I need to apologize for finding Skeet Ulrich slightly attractive.)

Finally, realizing there just isn’t enough shelter for everyone in town, Jake decides to put people into the salt mines just in time. He, however, has heard Emily using the police radio to call for help. Which annoys me, because girl, you know nukes have happened. You’re not helpless, and are in fact quite savvy in your standoff with the cons. So you do have the capacity to realize that if Denver has been nuked, police don’t give a shit about your personal peril. Really, this is all just so Jake can come and save the day. One of the cons grabs Bonnie, Jake shoots the other con. Emily shoots the one who has Bonnie, and then she stands catatonic, so that Jake must hustle her into the Richman’s storm cellar. Unfortunately for this plot and later ones, Jake has much better chemistry with the painfully peppy brunette Heather than he ever will with sad Emily.  I mean, they flirt while in peril and it almost works.

Instead, we get Jake saying he wanted to keep Emily safe, but she says she’s “never safe when you’re around.” So, to reiterate, both Jake and Hawkins are mysterious people. And Emily is a school teacher, so that means she can shoot people, but then feel awful about it. This is — and Heather’s random technical skills — is the extent of female competence on the show. We’ll get to that, once it becomes truly tedious. So far, things are just fast-paced and stressful on the show. And that’s working very well.

The final scene — pop song propelled yet again — shows townspeople in the shelters, and then Hawkins putting pins into various cities. It sure looks like the nukes hit more than just Denver and Atlanta. (Oops, Pittsburgh was one. Pittsburgh AND Philly? Musicians can’t handle visiting both, how can nukes?)

folderiexIn which I bravely begin to rewatch the 2006-2008 cult, yet also CBS TV show Jericho, so as to always have Tuesday Apocalypse fodder in the weeks to come. The show stars Skeet Ulrich, Lennie James, and other luminaries, but don’t hold the Skeet part against it. Also, there is going to eventually be libertarian subtext, but you have got to be patient.

Episode 1: “Pilot”

Jericho begins with a Killers song, which might be the dealbreaker for some of you folks. But it’s one of the catchier ones. And, as we follow Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich) driving from San Diego to home in Jericho, Kansas, the band’s semi-nonsensical lyrics hint at the plot to come. “When there’s nowhere else to run/Is there room for one more son?…the cold hearted boy I used to be/ I got soul/but I’m not a soldier.” Angst! Prodigal son! It works! It’s the mid aughts!

And technically, actually, the show begins with its eerie, minimal theme music, and the sound of morse code. That’s the show for you. Forever warring between legitimately unnerving and “emotions must be propelled by pop songs.”

Jake pulls into town, and meets several of our main characters before he makes it to the old family home in order to claim his inheritance. There’s the goofy farmer Stanley Richman (Brad Beyer) and his stern sister Bonnie (Shoshannah Stern), who is deaf. There’s the frustrating and blonde Emily (Ashley Scott) who is The Ex. Jake gives a different answer each person who asks where he has been for the past five years. We know he’s either a pathological liar, or he’s ashamed of something. There’s also the moderately annoying IRS agent, who is auditing the Richman farm, but she isn’t much of a character yet.

Jake’s mom is Leslie Knope’s mom, though much less bad-ass in this role. His dad is Raymond Tusk on House of Cards. His bearded brother Eric (Kenneth Mitchell) is married to the local doctor, but having an affair with the local tavern owner. Oh, and Johnston Green — the dad — is also the mayor of town, and has been for 100 billion years.

We also meet Dale (Erik Knudsen), employed at the town busybody Gracie’s store (she is starting to doubt your commitment to sparklemotion).  And we see his crush, mean girl Skyler, who will soften later. We meet the cops, the most prominent being Jimmy (the goofy one) and the other guy (the douchey one). And we meet new in town Robert Hawkins, who just drips with mystery.

Having realized his beloved grandfather is dead, Jake decides to leave town sans inheritance. (I was never quite sure why people didn’t tell him in earlier scenes. I suppose when he tells Stanley and Emily he’s there to visit, they must think Jake just means visit the old man’s grave. But only TV cuts justify the jump from family home to grandfather’s grave.)

And then our build-up begins. TV, radio, and cell phones go out. The music is horror-delicate and menacing. Deputy Jimmy’s son is the first one to see the mushroom cloud. He’s playing hide and seek with his sister, and has climbed onto the roof, and we see his back to the camera as he stares aghast. His little sister, whining a little, says “no fun, Woody, you have to hide better.” Here the show has the sense to show a little kid first in dumbfounded horror, then in tears. You don’t need to know your Cold War history intimately to know that you should weep if you see a mushroom cloud.

On the highway, Jake sees the cloud with his wide, Skeet Ulrich eyes and crashes into another car full of similarly distracted people. A woman named Heather (Sprague Grayden) — who will immediately begin dancing the line between endearing and annoyingly cute Mary Sue for the rest of the series — sees the cloud while we only see the reflection in the school bus window. She is on a field trip with a bunch of pipsqueaks who will soon need protecting. At the Richman ranch, Bonnie stares transfixed from her porch, until her brothers pulls her away.

It’s all fantastic. All beautifully shot. It’s restrained, but palpable sickness. Something unimaginable has happened, but it has happened far enough away that everyone is physically fine, making it all the more surreal.

The rest of the plot involves the town freaking out a bit, trying to get organized. We see a power struggle between Mayor Green and a guy named Gray Anderson. Hawkins (Lennie James) knows a lot about preparing for something like this, which might be a little odd.

And basically, Jake has to hobble away from his own car wreck, and go save the school bus that has crashed due to acute “holy shit, a nuke-itis.” He apocalypse-cute-meets Heather, and saves all the children, and even performs a tracheotomy on one. He returns to town to find a curtly proud father, and a very relieved mother. He has truly returned home now.

In the mean time, poor teenage Dale has come home to a terrifying message left on his answer machine. His mother, seemingly vacationing with her gross boyfriend, had called to check in, but the message cuts off with “oh my God! What is that?” It’s clear wherever she is has been hit by a nuke as well. A scene where Dale listens to the message over and over again in the dark is correctly awful. So is the moment where Dale comes to a neighborhood meeting with the news, and needs to clarify that his mother was not in Denver, but Atlanta. We now know that two bombs have gone off.

The safety of Jericho is too safe. The brief panic is too CBS primetime, though at least the townspeople have their moment of it. Nobody — arguably since Threads and The Day After in the 1980s — really has the guts to portray pissing yourself levels of terror, or catatonic horror in response to nuclear strikes. And I think that’s how a lot of people would react. Even the heroes should have a moment of dumbfounded stillness. That’s why I love the pilot to The Walking Dead, and the first half of Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. In these stories, even the strong patriarch needs a moment to express, than rise above, his bafflement and fear. Unfortunately, slightly tiresome patriarch Mayor Johnston Green isn’t given quite enough of that moment here. And his wife’s dread-cry of “Oh, Johnston” isn’t quite nuke-horror. It’s more like the dog got hit by a car level of upset. One can argue that there’s good eye acting (see the extras in Titanic as the stern sinks, for a perfect example) here, but it’s still a bit too subtle for my taste.

On the other hand, Jericho is supposed to be in a sweet spot. Everyone is safe, and until starvation or fallout, or other end of the world threats some a-knocking, perhaps a dazed sort of disconnect is believable. This is only the first day.

We have had too many inspirational speeches (though one that fails) from the mayor and from his rival Gray Anderson, and too much TV logic, but we also have two mysterious men, family drama, and moderately interesting side characters in a small town dealing with the unimaginable. Not bad.

Though the woman who plays the one that got away from Jake is one of the weakest actresses on the show — and their chemistry has never been there, ever — her final scenes in the pilot are good. Her character Emily has missed it all. She was driving to pick up her fiance in Wichita, and only when birds begin falling from the sky at dusk does she realize something is terribly wrong. The final scene leans too heavily on a moody pop song, just like the opening scenes did, but the camera pulling back on bird armageddon is a good capper for the episode.

zn2ravyul9264mzv8cneJalopnik has the skinny on the video that Ted Turner wanted played before the apocalypse. Spoiler alert, is an Army brass and woodwind band playing one version of “Nearer My God to Thee.” That sounds inane, or a little too close to the maybe-apocryphal Titanic band’s choice of last song. However, if you have any spine-chills available for this kind of mood-piece (and I have it in excess), you should watch it all the same.

My favorite quote from the entire piece is in the image to the right: “HFR till end of the world confirmed.”

So modest, funny, and unnerving.

Even though the video is so insubstantial — though its simplicity, and its analog quality makes it appear to have crawled out of end of the world ’80s classics like Miracle Mile, Testament, or Threads — it has a creepy quality of belonging in two worlds. It’s a more true version of when real newscasters have bits parts in apocalypse or alien invasion films. Instead of imparters of fact playing a part, the video is the real real world playing at something that — thankfully — hasn’t happened yet, and so remains the stuff of nightmares and fiction.

I wonder if any other networks have such a thing on standby. I keep picturing Ted Turner planning this out late one feverish night after a bad dream.

Simply because I was only a toddler for the end of the Cold War, I cannot tell how true this idea of apocalypse in the air was; whether kids really thought they wouldn’t grow up; whether everyone was damn sure the big one would be dropped at some point. I can’t tell, because I wasn’t there for all intents and purposes so I can only trust a narrative, and a simplification. And because the simple version is, we all thought we were going to die from the bomb, and then in the world of This Bike is a Pipebomb, “everybody just forgot about it.” (As I read today, one reason the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists objects to the Manhattan Project National Historical Park is that is plants the threat of nuclear weapons as squarely in the past.)

Tell me how it was, readers. And tell me if you know of any other network or media versions of this CNN apocalypse video. I want to collect them all, like the morbid, gasmask-collecting lunatic I know I can be.