Sci Fi TV Genre Gems: Forgotten magic and hidden treasures from the worlds of sci fi TV
What Is It? This 2002 post-apocalyptic series which aired on Showtime came to us from Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski and was loosely based on the Belgian comic strip of the same name. The basic premise of the series is that a virus (known as “the Big Death”) wiped out almost everybody above the age of puberty leaving only the youth behind to pick of the pieces of a shattered world. The series starts fifteen years after the plague and focuses on one of the survivors named Jeremiah (Luke Perry) who is traveling across the remains of the United States looking for Valhalla Sector where his father had told him there might be survivors who can help rebuild the world. Along the way he teams up with another drifter, Kurdy (Malcolm-Jamal Warner), and these two also join up with a group of survivors who have taken over the Cheyenne Mountain complex (“Thunder Mountain”) which used to house NORAD. This group plans to use their resources to eventually begin rebuilding the world and they use Jeremiah and Kurdy as well as other groups to scout out the country and find bands of survivors that will eventually unite with them.
Why It Stands Out: Jeremiah never received the acclaim of Straczynski’s Babylon 5, but it had many of the same strengths as that show and delivered a well-made, post-apocalyptic series with strong characters, interesting arcs, and some first-rate stories.
The Skinny: In the early 00’s sci fi was still mostly anathema on the Big Four broadcast networks, but it was finding much more success in the syndication market and on cable. During this time, the premium cable channels did some experimenting with genre shows and Jeremiah was one of the ones that landed on Showtime (that network also produced one season of Odyssey 5 in 2002 and had produced the first five seasons of Stargate: SG-1 which began in 1997). This venue allowed these shows to expand into more adult themes than what the broadcast networks or basic cable channels would explore, and Jeremiah definitely took advantage of the freedom allowed to it. Not just by amping up the sex and violence (though it did do that), but also by presenting challenging tales that didn’t necessarily lead to the nice, tidy sort of wrap up that Prime Time television typically prefers.
J. Michael Straczynski was of course no stranger to these type of stories as he had already explored some of the same territory with his five plus year run on the Babylon 5 franchise, and he continued very much in the same vein with Jeremiah. The series began with more of an episodic feel (similar to the first season of B5) as it followed Jeremiah and Kurdy travelling across post-apocalyptic America, and it was in these episodes that Straczynski (as well as some of the other writers who contributed to the show) managed to deliver some hard-hitting tales rife with moral quandaries and challenging ideas (similar to the path that show’s like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones are currently trailblazing).
The second season of Jeremiah changed the format up some as it became much less episodic, and the overall feel of the show seemed to shift as well. It became more story arc driven, but also less intense and less focused on the moral quandaries presented during year one. The show’s studio MGM had started tinkering with it which led to frictions between them and Straczynski, and that—along with less than spectacular ratings—led to the series getting cancelled after its second season. JMS had plenty of advance notice on the cancellation, though, so the series does resolve most of its ongoing arcs. But there was still plenty more story there to tell as JMS had originally envisioned a five year arc for the show. Still, the show’s two seasons managed to accomplish a lot and it deserves much more recognition than it has received over the past ten plus years. Fortunately, the show has been released on DVD, though it is a bit pricey especially the second season. The better bet is to watch it with Amazon Instant Video, and the second season is available for free with Amazon Prime membership.
Notable Stars: Luke Perry, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Sean Astin, Peter Stebbings, Joanne Kelly
Did You Know: According to IMDb.com, J. Michael Straczynski was so displeased with his experience working with MGM on the series because of the tight grip they maintained over the production that he claimed that he would never work with them again under that administration.