Dramatic Nukes

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This is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore watching television for KCRW and saying, "Bombs away!"

You know, I remember when bombs on TV were just lousy shows. But now some popular dramas are unleashing their own nuclear arsenal ... and it's against America, from sea to shining sea.

Consider NBC's kookie thriller Heroes, where those oddballs with various superhuman powers are trying to prevent a bomb from destroying New York City -- just two weeks from now.

Trouble is, several of the characters have peered into the future through their superhuman means and have already seen the bombing for themselves. So maybe it's a done deal.

Of course, I don't need to remind you how another Monday night drama, Fox's 24, is putting the hurt on Southern California. A suitcase-size nuke has already leveled Valencia, leaving 12,000 dead.
And the day is only nine hours old. Counter-terrorist whiz Jack Bauer is on the job trying to prevent more carnage. But Abu Fayed, the terrorist mastermind, has three more bombs ... and 15 long hours left to set them off.

But even that devastation pales in comparison to the death count on the CBS hit drama Jericho. Last fall, the good people of rural Jericho, Kan., gazed off in the direction of Denver and saw a mushroom
cloud rising in the distance. And that was just the premiere.

On hiatus since November, "Jericho" returns with new episodes beginning this Wednesday, when it loops back eight weeks before Denver, and many other cities, were blasted. Viewers even get a peek at the bombers' to-do list, which also included Washington, Philadelphia, Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago ... plus New York and Los Angeles, as if to compound the damage inflicted on THEM by those OTHER TV dramas.

So the hits just keep on coming, while we're invited to sit back, relax and enjoy the show as our fellow Americans die by the tens of thousands, and while the nation seemingly is brought to its knees.

What's going on here? Is TV ushering in a new brand of escapism: dramas that unfold with no promise of escape?

Are we thumbing our noses, week by week, at the apocalypse?

Are we having fun yet?

Fueled by our real-life, modern-day jitters, TV's new "bombs away" fare seems to hark back to the fright uniting Americans in the Cold War era -- a collective fear that archenemy Russia would drop the
bomb on U.S. soil and ignite World War III.

But now our nuclear anxiety is of a more free-floating kind. And no wonder. Today, lots and lots of countries have the bomb. So do plenty of terrorists with itchy trigger fingers -- or that's the message we get from TV drama.

We don't know yet who the bad guys are, laying waste to America on "Jericho." But we do know that the town of Jericho is short of food, fuel and hope, and that it's grappling with the realization that it's
cut off from the rest of the country, and that the rest of the country is in chaos or ruins.

The picture "Jericho" is painting (and "24" does it too) is that of an America where life has gone wrong and can never again be right.

This is a bleak place for a series to call home! And also (I'm thinking) a bleak place for viewers watching it, as they reject the psychic payoff most TV dramas provide: reassurance that, if you stay tuned, on balance life will turn out OK.

I don't know: Some harsh hyper-realism can be a very nice change on TV. But still ... isn't all this bombing bumming you out?

Watching television for KCRW from my fallout shelter, this is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore.