JERICHO airs Fridays at 9 pm on CBS, Saturdays at 8 pm on Space. Rating: NNN
If casey-from-mr.-dressup-look- alike Clay Aiken and 50,000 pounds of peanuts can convince a TV network to grant a floundering show a stay of execution, then I feel it's my duty as a TV critic to give it an hour of my time, if only to see what's gotten the American Idol alum's knickers in a knot.
The series, a The Day After-esque drama about life in a small Kansas town after the bombs start falling, had a mushroom cloud hanging over it from the start. It was cancelled not long after the first season ended. Seems that in this era of Fox News-led terrortainment, Armageddon isn't the ratings grabber it used to be.
But hardcore Jericho fans - apparently many of them Claymates spurred by Aiken's online outrage over his favourite show getting the axe - started mailing bags of peanuts to CBS (inspired by a line from the series and conveying the message that CBS would be nuts not to renew the show).
And it actually worked (truly a sign that the end of the world is nigh). Jericho will return as a mid-season replacement. Season one is currently being rebroadcast in hopes of drumming up new viewers. (Perhaps Ruben Studdard can rally his seven fans to tune in.)
Now, I've never listened to an Aiken album or read his blog, so I had no idea whether he or the show should be taken seriously.
When Jericho started airing last fall, I avoided it like the dentist. It stars Skeet Ulrich (the direct-to-DVD answer to Johnny Depp) and Major Dad Gerald McRaney - two actors guaranteed to set my teeth on edge - as a father and son who just can't seem to agree on anything even in the middle of a nuclear war, and the premise seemed too My So-Called Apocalypse for my tastes.
But after watching the first couple of episodes, I can understand its appeal - if not the fan fervour. (I never got Veronica Mars either, for that matter.)
Ulrich is at his best playing the stepped-upon outsider, which he does here. And his scenes with McRaney, who is rock-solid as the gruff but fair town mayor trying to calm a panicked township cut off from the world, offer real drama.
But Ulrich's slacker vibe doesn't translate when it comes time to be an action hero. The emergency tracheotomy he performs using juice box straws is laughably bad in a Chill Factor kind of way. And in case you're wondering, Chill Factor failed for a reason, and Ulrich's overwhelming air of underachievement was one of them.
The show does succeed on one very basic level - the spooky surreality of its own post-apocalyptic premise. Yes, questions about who caused the attacks and what cities were hit loom in the background like so many mushroom clouds. But none of that really matters when the radiation starts raining down.
If the show can maintain that level of Cold War tension and paranoia, I'm sold. If not, it'll take more than an American Idol and a truckload of peanuts to keep me coming back.
CELEBRITY PARANORMAL PROJECT airs Wednesdays at 10 pm on Slice. Rating: NN
Imagine Gary Busey as a ghostbuster and you have some idea of what this show is about.
Combining the celebrity reality genre (à la The Surreal Life) with the recently popular spook-hunter series, the VH1-produced CPP drops a bunch of washed-up D-listers armed with video cameras and flashlights into supposedly haunted buildings.
While the settings are kinda spooky on their own, especially the abandoned insane asylum, the jittery hand-held camera work and sickish green lighting of the night-vision lenses add a new degree of discomfort to watching David Carradine or Gilbert Gottfried.
And then there's Busey. He speaks his own language of quasi-Zen bullshit, claims to have visited the afterlife on three previous occasions and is, well, completely nuts. If they'd set his long-dead reality series I'm With Busey in a graveyard, it would probably still be on the air.
What to watch this week
THURSDAY, JULY 12 To JULY 29
TOUR DE FRANCE (Sports) While the world's cycling summit has drawn a lot of negative attention lately - doping scandals tend to do that - its real appeal is still the peloton. Seven-time champ Lance Armstrong is retired, and big-name bikers Ivan Basso, Jan Ullrich and Floyd Landis have all been sidelined, which opens the field wider than it's been in a decade.
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