The wind is whipping hard in the San Fernando Valley on this late-November day. Clouds threaten for a while, and then the sun comes out. And yet, the pavement in Jericho, Kan., is, as always, wet.
"Reads better on camera," explains a crew member on the CBS drama "Jericho," the main outdoor set for which is an idyllic Midwestern town square built in a small studio in Van Nuys, Calif.
Set in the aftermath of nuclear strikes on several American cities, the show focuses on the residents of Jericho as they work to survive and to find out what has happened to the rest of their nation.
"Jericho" went on broadcast hiatus after its Nov. 29 episode. After a special recap episode last week, new episodes begin on Wednesday, Feb. 21.
Very soon, fans will get their first answers about where Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich), prodigal son of former mayor Johnston Green (Gerald McRaney), was during the five years before he suddenly returned home just before the attack.
"I think he's got a bit of anger-management problems," Ulrich says during a break in filming. "There's a lot of stuff withheld. There was, obviously, a lot of stuff going on previous to the event that he doesn't have a place to speak about anymore. There is a lot of bottled-up stuff, and he's willing to do anything to make up for the guilt he feels about it."
Ulrich has known Jake's secret for a long time, courtesy of show executive producer Jon Turteltaub.
"They asked me to come up with [a backstory]," Ulrich says. "I came up with one. They liked it, but they were like, 'No. It's great, but no. That's somebody else's backstory.' Then Jon, on a rant, came up with the backstory, and it was brilliant."
As to whether this informs his performance, Ulrich says, "Some parts of it are really fleshed out; some parts of it are really broad strokes. So sometimes you say, 'Let's get accurate with it, because it's informing this scene.'"
Also on hand this day is McRaney, whose character's challenge is not to deal with a haunted past but to hold the present together.
"I keep trying to bring a sense of humor to this," he says, "on those occasions where it doesn't seem inappropriate. It just seems to me that, at a certain point, if you deal too much with the apocalypse, you'd go mad and start biting yourself.
"This is like the Brothers Grimm for adults. It allows you to deal with those terrors you feel without actually having to experience it.
"People got rocked into some false sense of security after the dissolution of the old Soviet Union. They thought we were backed away from that nuclear brink. We backed away from an organized nuclear brink; now we've got a chaotic nuclear brink to deal with."
The attack could have been missiles from afar, or it could have been small bombs placed in cities (as in the "24" premiere, where a suitcase nuke destroyed a town north of Los Angeles).
"That's been possible for a long time," McRaney says. "What's amazing is it hasn't happened already."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun