’24’

Now back to really important stuff: The season premiere of “24,” Fox’s suspense/thriller/action”extravaganza, starring Kiefer Sutherland as Jack “Just Do It! Do It Now!” Bauer. (In case you didn’t know, it’s “the most critically acclaimed show on television.” Fox’s announcers kept saying that during the Green Bay-Minnesota playoff game, so it must be true.)

I admit ’24’ used to be a sort of guilty pleasure. The series’ central conceit, that you’re watching the story unfold over the course of a day, and that each episode represents real time, was an attraction at first. Yeah, it was kind of trashy in some ways. The characters’ personal side- and subplots were kind of dumb and not all the acting was great, but hey, it’s network TV and the original story line was engaging enough: a group of mysterious and really nasty people are trying to assassinate a leading presidential candidate on the day of the California primary.

We watched that season. And the second, when the presidential candidate Bauer saved has become president and is confronted by terrorists who try to detonate a nuclear weapon in Los Angeles. And the third, when the same president — by now notorious to regular viewers for letting his loose-cannon wife and other relatives wreak all sorts of outlandish havoc on the Constitution and other innocent bystanders — is confronted by terrorists who threaten to wipe out Los Angeles and probably most of the country by releasing a super-bad germ that makes Ebola look like the sniffles.

Now, you’d never mistake “24” for “Smiley’s People” or “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” Then again, it’s not aspiring to be complex and challenging. It’s a romp. But even on that level, it’s had its problems. The terrorist plots are never intelligible. Bad people are doing bad things, but their motives, aside from wanting to settle scores with Bauer and his pal, the president, are never explored. Meantime, the scriptwriters spend most of their time concocting more and more elaborate woman trouble and political backstabbing for both Jack and the president.

This formula — just enough exotic terrorists vs. good guys action to make you sit still for the parallel soap opera — has been in place since season one. But last season, it went too far. Whenever any of the so-called good guys had a straightforward choice between a sane, common sense action that might keep them out of trouble and one that would bring them one more step toward utter destruction, they always — not sometimes or most of the time, but always — chose the latter. It got to be too much, so manipulative and dumb that we gave up on the show halfway through the season (though we did pick up again in the final couple of episodes just to see how it all came out).

So, where were we tonight when “24,” the most critically acclaimed show on television, began its new season? Not in front of the TV, at first. We got a TiVo digital video recorder, and we started watching about 40 minutes into the two-hour broadcast so we could just jump through the commercials. And what did we see?

It’s disheartening to report that the show didn’t even make it to the first commercial break without introducing its first sappy, predictable romantic subplot or disclosing that CTU, the counterterrorism unit where Jack does his stuff, is supervised by jealous, politically-driven moron who cares more about marking her territory than, gee, stopping a terrorist strike. Another predictable character was present, too: The field agent brought in to replace Jack had “dispensable” written all over him, and sure enough, he was dead by the time the show was off the air.

After saying all that, yeah, I’ll give it another couple hours tomorrow to see how bad it gets.

4 Replies to “’24’”

  1. Dan, I thought of you while blowing two hours last night in front of the tube, digesting Jack Bauer’s latest anti-terrorist exploits. I skipped last season because it was too lame, but this season’s got some things going for it:
    1. No Kim Bauer – she’s off living with her boyfriend and making bad teen movies.
    2. No President Palmer or his evil first lady. Buh-bye.
    3. A whole new cast to try and figure out.
    4. They’ve already offed Jack’s CTU “superior,” giving Jack the freedom to kick ass.
    But it’s also got a lot of BAD happening:
    1. Kill the bad, brown stereotypical terrorists!
    2. Speaking of brown terrorists, they apparently operate in a huge concrete bunker that nobody’s ever noticed, which is adjacent to a Los Angeles-area neighborhood.
    3. Which character to be annoyed with more?: Chloe at CTU, the new CTU director, or the girlfriend of the teenage terrorist?
    4. The terrorist family. “Dad, can’t I just go out with the dumb white girl and take the plutonium to Omar later?”
    5. Jack’s skinny new girlfriend, who just happens to be the daughter/press liasion to the defense secretary.
    I could go on, but I’ll have to watch another 2 hours tonight to see if I need to watch the rest of the season. Sigh.

  2. Steve, I was thinking of you watching “24” as you were thinking of me watching it. That could lead to an unending cycle of watching “24” and thinking about each other watching it that could throw the Milky Way into a worm hole or something.
    You summarize the good and bad points much better than I did. I *love* the terrorist Turks masquerading as Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Normal and their son Buddy. (Dad and son are really going to have a rough time as the day progresses. I wonder how that subplot will progress. My guess is that the wimpy (conscience-ridden) son will wind up turning pop into CTU or getting him killed by his terrorist associates (or both); either way, dad’s gonna die. Mom’s the wild card: She’s going to prove to be the real hard-core badass on the terrorists’ side and will probably pull off some horrendous act of mayhem before Jack offs her in the last episode. In fact, the only thing to do now is to write down how you think the show will go. That way, you can skip the rest of the episodes until the finale and come back then to see how close you were).
    Interesting about the “bad, brown stereotypical terrorists.” According to Frank Rich’s column in The New York Times on Sunday (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/09/arts/09rich.html), the show’s creators say they deliberately set out to depict Islamic terrorists this time around instead of creating some Brand X bad buys or Serbian fascists scurrying around in caves. Though speaking of caves, you were so right about the terrorists’ hideout — you could see a neighborhood in the background.

  3. And just one more thing about the Islamic terrorists: I wouldnt’ have a problem with the show depicting Middle Easterners as the bad guys if it was done in a thoughtful, reasonable way. By which I mean: Explain to us why these people are behaving the way they are. Put their culture and history in some kind of context. (Of course, it’s expecting a little much for a prime-time potboiler to do this when our media have done such a poor job of this.) It’s not at all hard to imagine doing that, and doing it well. But “24” makes no effort at all. So you just get a bunch of stereotypes and comic-book dialogue. Given that, the Brand X terrorists would be preferable to these “real” ones.

  4. Dan, the fact that we’re both thinking of each other while watching 24 is strange. I miss our Tuesday morning 24 recaps with the staff at TechTV. The good-old days. I agree with your thoughts on brown terrorists. At least there was some sense (I thought) behind the Serbian crew that was trying to kill Jack (his prior operations there, etc). Now it’s just degenerated into a simple war-on-terror show.
    Anyhoo, after last night’s second two-hour affair, I’m burned out. I can’t take any more 24… UNTIL NEXT WEEK! Sorry, but I’m hooked (for now). Last night’s episodes were the best in a long time, maybe since the first season. Sure, there was all kinds of dumb stuff:
    1. “Berus, why are you acting like this? Why do you keep saying I’m in danger?”
    2. The defense secretary’s fake heart attack/near-escape, and subsequent capture: “if you kill one more of my men, your daughter dies”. (Apparently, the terrorists have a threshold of at least four comrades killed before a prisoner dies.)
    3. Chloe’s satellite bungle, which forced Jack to rob a convenience store. Hahaha.
    4. The CTU director’s daughter has schizophrenia. What?
    But there was lots of good stuff, too:
    1. Drugging the teenage girl. Berus’s mom is the most evil mother imaginable, and I need to see what else she’s capable of.
    2. Jack robbing the convenience store… you couldn’t help but wonder what was going to happen next.
    3. The new consultant woman who’s as keen as anyone to the inner-workings and politicking at CTU. She’s going to be interesting to watch. Oh, and it just so happens that she had an affair with another agent. More sexual tension… of course!
    4. Finally, Jack was right!
    Next week: Watch the emotionless CTU director squirm, more evil-mom antics, and more ass-kicking from Jack. I’m in.

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