The first season of post-apocalyptic show Jericho started out instruction-manual boring, and slowly got better, until it was almost a great show by season's end. Season two makes the leap to greatness, with a more overtly subversive storyline and much better pacing. Best of all, you can tune in to tonight's episode without having seen any of season two, and you won't get lost because in many ways the show is being rebooted. Click through for more clips and details.

Jericho season one spent way, way too much time on the soap-opera aspects, including Eric Green leaving his uptight physician wife for a cool bartender. And there was a surfeit of clash-of-the-patriarchs moments: first Gray Anderson challenges Johnston Green for the mayorship, and then Anderson and Green have to face off with Phil Constantino, who rules a neighboring town with an iron grip. The only cool female character, the gearhead Heather, disappeared for several episodes.

Getting canceled may turn out to be the best thing to happen to Jericho. After a crazy peanut-mailing fan campaign, the network agreed to bring the show back for a seven-episode mini-season. The writers had to cram a whole season's worth of plot and character development into just a third of a normal season, which left a lot less room for noodling. And the scripts were completed long before the writers went on strike, so you'll actually get a fairly satisfying conclusion.

Despite the much shorter season, Jericho's second season actually has a much grander plot arc. The U.S. government has splintered into two different regimes, separated by the Mississippi river. To the East is the remnants of the original federal government, but the West is under the quasi-fascist Allied States of America. The ASA is revamping the U.S. flag and rewriting the history books to criticize the "weakness" of post-World War II America:

Not only that, but the new government depends heavily on private contractors for administration and muscle... including Jennings & Rall, the military goons for hire who trashed Jericho's neighbors and wreaked havoc in Iraq. The new government has lied about the reasons for the nuclear bombs that destroyed two dozen American cities, pinning the blame on Iraq and North Korea. In fact, we soon find out that domestic terrorists were responsible, and some of the ringleaders are now helping to run the new government.

So instead of being about small dramas within a post-apocalyptic town, Jericho season two is about the race to uncover the truth about the fascist bastards who nuked America and then mounted a takeover bid. In the next seven weeks, we'll get to see if they get away with it.