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More thoughts on 'Jericho', good stories, and their fans

A few days ago, I posted an entry on the last few episodes of Jericho, a CBS apocalyptic series about folks in a small town in Kansas after a series of nuclear explosions take out a dozen or so American cities—and interestingly, that post’s received more hits than any other post I’ve ever written. And while I really resonate with the things I wrote about, I don’t think it’s that exceptional of a post; I’ve written better (much better). I’m thinking the attention has more to do with the series itself than my thoughts about it. And that makes me start musing on exactly what it is about this series that gets a mediocre post and a blogger like me so much attention.

The series was recently cancelled for the second time, but now the same groups of fans and folks who got the series renewed for a second (albeit short) season—a noteworthy event and rarity in CBS as well as television history—are campaigning to get the series either a third season or a home on another cable channel. As part of galvanizing their movement, they’ve been pulling together posts and articles about the series, posting about and linking to them on their sites and forum boards (or see a list they've left me here). They’re organized enough to issue press releases and garner attention from media outlets. I’m thinking they just might do it again.

This kind of organic coming-together of folks who don’t know each other for any other reason other than they are drawn to the series is something worth considering on its own, but I’m more drawn to what it is about the series that has folks willing to invest time and energy in seeing it continue. And I’m thinking it must come down to the elements of what makes a good story.

Good stories, among other things, explore what it means to be human and live in this world. They get at who we are and why we do the things we do. They take us down the roads those choices lead. They tell us something about ourselves, the world we live in, the people we walk with and those with whom we cross paths.

And the best stories are true—not that they actually happened but in that they reflect human nature and the way the world works in reality. These kinds of stories often invite us to reflect on our lives. They invite us to consider our strengths, gifts and flaws. They provoke us to examine what we believe and why. They help us think through the issues facing us in our own lives and, if we are intentional, they can even change the way we approach life, people and the world.

And if a story is true it ultimately reveals something about God. A good story doesn’t need to be told by someone who walks with God in order to reflect him and his truth. As Paul puts it, God has made himself known to all people: “But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can't see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. . ." (Romans 1:20 Message). Paul puts this concept into action "in the open spaces" of Mars Hill (Acts 17), when he talks with a group of philosophers and thinkers and uses bits and pieces of religions, literature and stories they are familiar with that reflect truth and, ultimately, God. God is all around us, he tells them: "He doesn't play hide-and-seek with us. He's not remote; he's near. We live and move in him, can't get away from him!" (Acts 17: 28 Message) If that's true, it would make sense that our stories—especially our good ones—would reflect him.

Jericho has many if not most of these elements. While we don’t live in a world where a dozen nuclear bombs have wiped out American cities and left us with a civil war, the people that inhabit that fictional world are ones we can identify with. The most developed of the characters—the best of them—are broken and flawed, bent towards the failure and self-interest that is part of our human nature (for more on this idea, go here.) But these characters, like us, also have a pull or gut-instinct towards virtues. They, like us, have great capacity to act with love, sacrifice, faithfulness and just-ness. For those of us who follow Jesus, this makes sense—it is an echo within us of our creation in the image of God (and for more on this idea, again go here.) Some of Jericho’s characters reflect reality more than others (I myself became enamored with Johnston Green), but overall this element was present enough to draw folks into both their stories and the larger one in the series.

And at its best, Jericho invites us to examine ourselves. What would we do in their situation? What things are worth not only fighting for but also dying for? Does anything go in fighting injustice, or are there lines not to be crossed? Why? What becomes of us when we cross those lines? And then there’s the whole community thread running through the series. What makes us a community? What makes us love and stand by each other? What makes the best community—and what makes it fracture and break apart? Our answers to questions like these are great fodder for reflecting on what’s working in our lives—and what needs to change.

One last thought about good stories is that there is a value to ending them. Lost picked up a lot of momentum and its story-telling has dramatically improved since its creators settled on an ending date for the series. Battlestar Galactica is going the same route—which is allowing its creators to get to some integral parts of the story we need to explore. Harry Potter just finished up its seven book run, and gave us some of the strongest and most moving truths in the series. All said and done, stories with an ending deliver more and are more satisfying. The question with Jericho, however, is whether or not the story is actually finished or if there’s more to tell. According to the fans, there’s definitely something left to be told in this one.

When stories do end, we miss them. We miss the worlds they create. We miss the characters that inhabit those worlds. We miss them because they move us. Because they touch us. They tell us something about ourselves, our lives, our beliefs and the world we live in.

That’s what good stories do. And if the fans’ actions are any indication, they think Jericho is one of the good ones. Jericho definitely has its flaws; some of its episodes almost bored me to tears, it stretched credibility more than once, and more than one character didn’t develop much, if at all. However, the series had more than its share of moments that made me pause and consider myself and the world around me—which brought God-talk into these open spaces over half-a-dozen times. So, I guess I’d have to say it’s one of the good ones, too.

(Images: CBS) jerichoctgy