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'Jericho' gets 'Lost' in flashback

David Bianculli
New York Daily News

Most of the serialized dramas that premiered this fall, trying to tap the "Lost" market, ended up losing quickly. Yet "Jericho," the CBS show about life in postnuclear Kansas, drew enough interested viewers to survive, and it returns Wednesday night with its first new episode of the year, looking more like "Lost" than ever.

How deep is its "Lost" fixation?

So deep that CBS is promoting Wednesday's 8 p.m. return as "the new season," even though, as with "Lost," it's still the same season, just picking up after a long, potentially momentum-slowing hiatus.

So deep that it returns by going not only forward, but backward, indulging in a lengthy series of flashbacks that begin 36 hours before the bombs fell. If there's a trademark move tied to "Lost," it's the flashback. Add to that some of the other elements the two shows share - a sense of sudden and mysterious isolation, the rise to prominence of a reluctant hero, and increasingly deadly threats by a band of mercenary outsiders - and "Jericho" almost seems calculated to echo "Lost" at every step.

Wednesday's episode of "Jericho" is titled "The Day Before," a clever if not entirely accurate nod to "The Day After," the groundbreaking Reagan-era telemovie about a Soviet nuclear missile strike in the American Midwest.

In the hour, between the flashbacks and the few scenes that pick up where the show last left off, we learn several key things about the people of Jericho.

We learn, for example, how Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich) returned to town, and how mysterious Rod Hawkins (Lennie James) arrived there. We also learn about Roger Hammond (Christopher Wiehl), the formerly unseen ex-fiance of Jake's friend Emily (Ashley Scott) - and meet another unfamiliar face in flashbacks, that of Sarah (Siena Goines), a close associate of Hawkins' who had prior knowledge of the U.S. cities targeted for attack by nuclear weapons.

We also get to see, yet again, the moment-of-impact sequence in which Jake, driving down the road outside Jericho, sees a mushroom cloud erupt on the horizon in the direction of Denver as a kid on a rooftop witnesses the same arresting image. Those frames of "Jericho," whatever their original cost, have been amortized through so many episodes and promos by now, they're an explosive bargain.

But for all this, I'm still not drawn into "Jericho." The more mysteries it spins - the mercenaries, the Chinese - the less credible it seems. "Jericho," from the very beginning, never was going to be as believable as the doomsday drama "Testament," because that would be too dark. By spinning more far-fetched subplots and backstories upon its return, though, "Jericho" isn't just getting more like "Lost."

It's getting more lost.

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