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Jeremiah Season 1

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    Posted: Mar-04-2015 at 1:23pm
Jeremiah Season 1 (2002)
Starring Luke Perry, Malcomb-Jamal Warner, Peter Stebbings, Ingrid Kavelaars
Various Directors
Review by Dave Felts
Rating (2/5): 

I've known about Netflix delivering streaming movies for a while, but watching shows on the computer just isn't for me, though I suspect my children won't be bothered by it. Then I learned I could stream right through my Wii! I ordered the disk from Netflix (free), it showed up in 2 days, and a few minutes later I was browsing available View Now movies and shows. I'm not an early adopter by any means, but that was pretty cool. And convenient. Most of the stuff available for immediate streaming is older or less well known, but I rarely catch stuff when it's new, so there was plenty I was interested in. 

The series Jeremiah looked intriguing. It's a made-for-cable show following the adventures, trials and tribulations of several characters attempting to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. The main thing that attracted me was the producer and sometimes writer J. Michael Straczynski of the Babylon 5 phenomenon. Now I've never seen Babylon 5, but it was all the rage among my geek friends for the 5 seasons it aired (alas, Babylon 5 is not available for streaming). 

The apocalyptic event is some sort of plague that killed off everyone past the age of puberty (no details beyond that given). Doing some rough math, that means about 85% of the population died, leaving about a billion or so, all under the average age of about 13. The series begins fifteen years after the Big Death (what the characters call the plague event). The surviving children are now adults, living in various isolated communities and compounds. There's the constant danger of roving bandits, most technology is non-functional, and all the big cities are deserted. Survival has become daily challenge.

Enter the title character Jeremiah (Luke Perry) and his partner Kurdy (Malcomb Jamal-Warner). Jeremiah has been wandering for some 15 years in search of a place called Valhalla Sector, which has something to do with his father, who might have been involved in the whole plague thing. In the first episode, he picks up Kurdy as a partner, and they eventually stumble upon a place called The End of The World, which is a bastion of technology and knowledge located in the military complex located under Cheyenne Mountain, also called Thunder Mountain (the NORAD base). 

Jeremiah and Kurdy join forces with Markus (Peter Stebbings), the leader of Thunder Mountain. He and his people have been in hiding, biding their time and gathering intelligence about the outside. The time has come, however, and Markus is looking to start spreading the technology and knowledge he's saved to the rest of the world in an effort to rebuild civilization. Jeremiah and Kurdy sign up for his cause as scouts. The various episodes of the series chronicle their adventures as they go on missions for Markus. 

So what we end up with is a sort of a mix between The Incredible Hulk and Kung Fu. Jeremiah and Kurdy wander out on missions, find people in trouble, and help them. In the background of this is the overall mission of Markus and Thunder Mountain: begin building a coalition of friendly settlements and get civilization going again. Will the survivors limp along, scavenging off the corpse of the old world, or try to build something better?

Lurking in the background is the threat of the old world in the form of Valhalla Sector, a group of military, government and scientists who survived the Big Death. They, too, are working towards a return of civilization, but their vision and that of Markus and the other survivors is pretty different. As the show progresses, we learn of rumors that Valhalla Sector still has the virus that caused the Big Death and are working to develop a vaccine. Once they have the vaccine, they plan to use the threat of releasing the plague again to force cooperation. 

I thought the show started out weak, really weak, but grew better as it progressed. It hit its stride once it moved away from the seek-and-help David Banner missions of Jeremiah and Kurdy to where the rebuilding civilization mission became more prominent, resulting in conflict between Thunder Mountain and Valhalla sector. There are plots and counter plots, the threat of spies from both sides, and secrets and mysteries to be unraveled. These get more interesting and more prominent as the series progresses. As far as the main characters, Jeremiah, Kurdy and Markus, they are conflicted and imperfect, which makes good characters. The acting was adequate in most places, but hardly ever rose higher than that. 

I did (and still do) have a problem with Luke Perry though. Let's go late and assume anyone over the age of 14 died; we could even go to 15, maybe even 16, to account for late bloomers, although 16 might be stretching it. That means the oldest survivors wandering around would be 31. Luke Perry looked 31 when he did Beverly Hills 90210. That because he was - he was born in 1965. Jeremiah was filmed in 2002, so Perry was pushing his late 30s. Put some dirt on his forehead, sprinkle on some seeds and water, and you could grow crops in those furrows. Would hard living as a plague survivor age him that much? Maybe.

Now I'm not saying he didn't do a decent job with the character, but I was never able to accept that he was the age he was supposed to be, and in a series about a plague that kills all the adults, that seems sort of essential. Warner's (Kurdy) appearance wasn't a problem and the rest of the characters came across as (mostly) age appropriate. 

To its credit, the show doesn't rely on special affects or high production values to carry the story. It's carried instead by the characters and themes: Jeremiah's guilt over his younger brother's death, his search for Valhalla Sector and his father, the threat of the plague returning, conflict between the characters, and the attempts to rebuild civilization or at least find some humanity among the survivors.

Now is it good or bad? That's a tricky question. This series suffers from the same sort limitations I often saw in Star Trek episodes; the problems are too simplistic, too easily solved, and too narrowly focused. As the conflict between the Old and New rises more to the forefront, and Jeremiah and Kurdy stop going out on their Kung Fu missions, this problem starts to go away. 

The world doesn't look sufficiently abandoned to me. Take a look at one of those foreclosure houses on your street that's been empty a year. No imagine what it would look like in 15 years. The guys tool around in a truck on open roads. Median grass isn't overgrown, no branches or brush litter the roads, no weeds in the cracks. It didn't feel like a post-apocalyptic world, it felt like a sparsely populated rural area that still had government services keeping the roads clear and the telephone poles standing. Abandoned cars with tires that still have air in them? Please.

Ditto the too-clean teeth and clothes, and the too-healthy, attractive people wandering around. I thought food was scarce... although would it really be? I think there'd be an explosion of wildlife once 85% of the population is out of the picture. The hunting would be good. And since we have enough ammunition to last a gajillion years already made, running low on bullets probably wouldn't be an issue. 

There are a lot of inconsistencies like I mentioned in the above two paragraphs. Individually, they are small, nit-noid things, but they add up over time and end up taking away some verisimilitude from the show. 

And what about the general air of cooperation and humanity-as-good vibe that permeates that show? I hate to be a stick in the mud, but if something like this actually happened, my bet is that it would be more Lord of the Flies than Peace Corp. Sure, there are Bad Guys wandering around, but not nearly as many as there probably would be. So while I applaud Straczynski's rosy view of human nature, I'm not sure how accurate it is.

If you're a fan of apocalyptic stuff like me, and are in the mood for some mindless entertainment, you might get some mileage out of Jeremiah. Be warned for the young-uns; this series was produced for cable, so it's got profanity, the occasional topless apocalyptic bar dancer, and violence beyond that what you see on network TV.

Oh yeah, one thing I forgot to mention. At the start of each episode, as the intro plays, Luke Perry intones how the plague 'killed everyone over the age of innocence". Really? That's the best line they could come up with? That has to be one of the corniest lines I've ever heard.
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