Tuesday, January 16, 2007

"24" Postmortem

Okay, I was a bit disappointed with "24," especially since the reviews were raves almost across the board. I've been watching the show (and writing about it and interviewing the stars and creative talent) from the beginning. Season One was fresh and original -- despite some dips mid-season (like the amnesia episode). Season Two was the weakest, with the creators realizing they couldn't stick with the same cast. Season Three was terrific, showing they could break with formula. Season Four was very good. And Season Five was the best since the original. I can't help wishing they'd called it a day, waited a year or two and the launched the far less interesting movie franchise they want to with Bauer.


The first four episodes this season were fine and I'll keep watching of course. But I had all sorts of little problems. Why would they think killing Assad would destroy the terrorist cells wrecking havoc in America? Isn't the whole point of terrorist cells (especially ones "buried" in enemy territory for a long time before striking) the idea that they're independent? Find one and you DON'T find or hurt any of the others. Killing the head would be useful, but it might also be taken as a signal for the rest of them to strike. At the very least, it was ridiculous to expect a short-term cessation in attacks. If anything they'd create a short-term surge.

The new President is a little weak so far, and not in an interesting way.

The score has always been one of the boldest parts of the show, minimal and ground-breaking for TV. Still, they've often had one or two weak cues and this season is certainly no exception. The wailing vaguely Arabic voice that popped up several times towards the end is such a cliche and very lame.

Kal Penn simply didn't seem threatening -- I blame my repeated viewings of Harold & Kumar more than Penn, who I hope is good in his new movie.

Jack Bauer has been put through the ringer to say the least. I like the idea that he's damaged and perhaps unable or unwilling to do what it takes. The torture scene where Assad one-upped Jack was a great moment. It's too bad the producers don't like this idea as much. In four hours, after 20 months of brutal torture, Jack is cleaned up, regained his voice, torturing people left and right and running circles around the entire US gov't and especially CTU. It looks like his refusal to do more lasted about eight seconds once the nuclear bomb went off. What if they'd actually given Bauer an hour off? Watch him cut himself off from the hysteria, maybe reach out to someone in his family, have a cup of coffee and actually TRY to convince himself he was done while everyone at CTU dealt with the nightmare of constant attacks. It would only last an hour, but it might do a great deal to humanize Jack and make us actually believe he's a real man rather than an automaton.

Which brings me to the show's biggest problem: itself. It's always been popcorn fun, with a Perils of Pauline edge to it. You can't help giggle with glee at Jack escaping his latest trap. But the constant danger and repetition (ANOTHER nuclear bomb going off?) and Jack's terminator-like inability to be stopped is becoming self-caricature. When Jack was chained to a chair and being tortured to death, I merely waited with anticipation to see how he'd get out of it. It may be impossible to put Jack into any danger any more. (The only thing the show could do about this would be to have Jack get killed and another agent take over in a season or two.) Jack bites into the neck of a baddie and spits out the flesh? I laugh. Jack stops a terrorist in a subway car and teams up with an international villain? I giggle. Indeed, almost every phone call between Jack and CTU is becoming an unintentional laughline. Jack has tracked down Assad. Jack is seen on camera preventing a terrorist attack. Jack has escaped from the bad guys who were about to kill him. Chloe answers the phone and says, "Jack, I never thought I'd hear your voice again." He barks, "Chloe, we don't have a lot of time. Tell blah blah blah...." It's just very, very funny. I'm still enjoying the show, but everything has tilted just a little. It's like ritualized theater now, not an action show with a knowing pushing of the boundaries of believability. Believability -- even the James Bond-like "believability" that is all I ask of the show -- went out the window a long time ago.


joe said...

24 and Lost are the two shows I don't nit-pick, because I'd rather just turn off my brain and enjoy them. That being said, one thing really bothered me for some reason.

When the head of the Muslim-American alliance overheard some phrase in Arabic being spoken at the detention center -- a languge he admitted he does not understand -- that somehow led to CTU "figuring out" within an hour that they were dealing with five bombs instead of one. How is that possible?

1. If you don't know the language, you're not going to pick out one phrase unless you happen to know what that phrase means.
2. No way the people at this detention center would be saying anything of the sort since they have to know they are under constant surveillance.
3. The ensuing game of "telephone" somehow managed to get to the right people in a matter of minutes without the message being distorted in any way -- despite the fact that none of the messengers on this chain speak the language! No way they were able to spell or pronounce it with any accuracy.

I just found this to be absolutely idiotic. It would have been much better if the character (his name escapes me, my apologies) actually knew some Arabic. That would have made the ensuing chain of events much more believable.

But I digress. Jack, please resume taking a bite out of terrorism (sorry).

priv8pete said...

His name is Walid. And how can you be the head of the Muslim-American Alliance and not know any Arabic?

I still love the show, but I Michael's breakdown of the series is spot on. How is it that Jack can barely talk in the first episode yet has the energy to run around non-stop for 4 hours and ticking. Not to mention the fact that being incarcerated and tortured for 20 months has not affected Jack's ability to handle a car, aim a gun or recall locations and short cuts all across LA. I do like the fact that Jake has all those scars on his back and his hand has been disformed with some acid.

Joe has the right idea though. I just check my believability at the door and enjoy the ride.

Michael in New York said...

Valid points Joe. I had pegged Walid as a turncoat since he wanted to cooperate while the President's sister wanted to push for her basic rights. Now of course with his actions, I'm not sure what to think. I like the scars and the acid too. And I'm still able to check my mind and enjoy the ride. But it's more of a ride at the moment, than a show I'm completely absorbed in.