Saturday, January 14, 2006

Events Occur in Real(ly Annoying) Time

The new "nonstop" season of 24 kicks off Sunday night, the fifth season for the popular-as-ever series about counter-terrorist agents and the people who get tortured by them. I'll be watching, of course, though without the exact same enthusiasm I've had for previous seasons. 24 kind of lost me last season, for the first time ever. I'd weathered ludicrous plot twists, amnesia, cougars, Wayne Palmer, dropped characters, physics-defying ten-minute drives across Los Angeles, and Kevin Dillon; and yet it was only last season that made me toss up my hands in frustration. Maybe it was just a slow culmination of all the little things that make 24 a rather ridiculous show. Maybe it was the ultra-strident and repeated infomercials for state-sponsored torture that passed for episodes. Maybe it was because I never really understood what the bad guys wanted to do beyond fuck up Jack Bauer's day. Whatever it was, 24 became more of an annoyance than anything.

So, before the fifth season begins and some sort of government installation goes up in flames by the end of the first hour, I've got a few helpful suggestions for the show if it wants to keep this viewer happy and content. I'm so sure they're sweating losing my support. Still. My blog, my universe.

Oh, and I tried to come up with "24 Ways 24 Can Get Back on Track," but who can think of 24 things about any TV show these days? Unless we're talking "Reasons Why I Love Daniel Vosovic on Project Runway." And we're not. *Sigh*

How 24 Can Win Me Back

00:01 - Realize I'm not an idiot. Look, last we left Jack, he was a dead man. Literally. Do not test my patience by making him the new director of CTU by hour six. I realize in order to have a show Jack must re-enter the CTU universe (CTUniverse?). But seasons two and four both began with Jack existing well outside the boundaries of the federal counter-terrorism agency, and both saw him re-enter it and gradually assume more and more authority throughout the course of one day to the point where he's calling a majority of the shots. It's just not realistic, and returning to that well yet again, this time with Jack being legally dead and all, makes me think the 24 producers don't think much of my critical thinking skills. Use your creativity. Give Jack a slightly different relationship with CTU to operate out of this year. He can still bark out orders about there not being enough time. He can just do it outside the confines of that second-floor command post we've come to know so well.

00:02 - Seriously, cut it with the Rumsfeld shit. This is an ideological thing, sure. I'm against state-sponsored torture and am sickened by the current administration's arrogant use of it. But, it's not like 24 was ever this bastion of restraint. Jack Bauer has been putting the screws to interrogation subjects since day one. And, sure, it made me uncomfortable, but it worked within a morally ambivalent structure. But last season things got really strident, with scores of "it's the only way!" proclamations that were a) patently false, yet b) never acknowledged as such. Instead, we got Michelle Dessler reminding us that "Jack has been right at every turn," perhaps the most patronizing line of dialogue I've heard on television. It all culminated in the execrable plot line where "Amnesty Global" (née "International") stepped in and showed itself to be every bit the liberal bogeyman of Dick Cheney's nightmares. Yeah, it's my personal politics, but I would hope it squicks out every viewer to see torture played out right in front of them. So maybe the show could show some actual consequences of state-sponsored torture instead of the lip-service they pull, which amounts to Kiefer looking grave and some tertiary character providing the easily-trampled counterpoint. Which leads me to my next point …

00:03 - Maybe let Jack be wrong about something? I know, I know. He's your John Wayne, James Bond, Bruce Willis, and John McCain all wrapped up into one. He's Superman and he's MacGyver. But, frankly, watching Jack march on in, defy authority, hack off some limbs, rush into enemy territory, and succeed against impossible odds has gotten a bit stale. Maybe let Jack fuck up. Maybe let him fuck up huge. Then make him have to fix it. It's not the most original storyline in the world, the redemption arc, but for this character it'd be a welcome change.

00:04 - Watch it with Chloe this season. Look, I love Chloe's maladaptive ass. You know I do. And I love it when she's occasionally part of the story and not just the bitchy tech in the background. But the show really needs to tread lightly with her. We saw shades of possibly overplaying the Chloe hand last season, when she went all machine gun commando in that one episode. Yeah, it was thrilling and cathartic and a little funny. But Chloe is still a small doses character. A little of that goes a long way. Involving her too prominently in the plot dilutes the character and makes those quirks of hers that annoy her co-workers annoy us as well. Don't do that.

00:05 - Make It Personal. The ante has gotten upped in recent seasons with nuclear bombs, bioterrorism, and whatever the hell the bad guys were trying to do last season. But it was never as good as the first season's assassination plot against a character we cared about. There was an immediacy to that. Problem is, we don't care about the current 24 Prez the way we did about Palmer. But finding a central plot that the viewers will care about is kind of what the writers are getting paid for. Here's hoping they've come up with something.

00:06 - Leave the families out of it. Please. No more boring-ass time filler subplots involving family/friends of CTU agents. We don't give a rat's ass about Michelle's brother, Driscoll's daughter, Chloe's old college buddy, or Audrey's ex-husband. Y'all, we barely cared about Driscoll and Audrey. All it does is come off like the show is jogging in place while they can think of something else for Jack to do. We don't care, and we never, ever will.

00:07 - Don't bring folks back unless you mean it. Bringing Mia Kirshner back last season, apropos of nothing, was fine, because we never fully understood what Naked Mandy was about anyway. But the returns of David Palmer and Mike Novick made almost no sense, aside from viewers' apparent desire to see them again. They spent the better part of six episodes playing information-tag with the Vice-President, and it was maybe the most boring thing on TV. I guess what I'm trying to say here is: I really hope Kim Bauer has a good excuse for returning this year. And stop giving her boyfriends whose lives get ruined merely because they know her.

00:08 - Plan shit out! I never fail to be baffled by the near-annual realization that the producers of 24 don't know where their story is going. More than any show on television, 24 presents a clear season-long mandate. The producers have twenty-four episodes to tell one contained story. Their parameters are clear, and there is no threat of cancellation or a short season order hanging above their head. Twenty-four episodes that could be plotted out ahead of time with an idea toward where they're going and how they're going to get there. And every single season, they reach the point where the show meanders around waiting for the next good idea to hit. I get that it's a frustrating task for the writers, but it's even more frustrating for the viewer to realize that the ten episodes in which he's just invested himself don't really matter much, because we're going in a different direction. One clear season-long vision, dudes. It's not too much to ask.

00:09 - Failing all previous attempts at improvement, just go nuts. Okay, so if the previous eight suggestions are simply out of the realm of possibility, I humbly suggest the following: throw all questions of realism out the window and go balls out. Jack performs open-heart surgery on himself. Kim is pregnant with Tony's twins. The President's cabinet is a sleeper cell. Sherry Palmer and Nina Myers come back from the dead. Zombies. Whatever. It's one way or the other, though. Either shape up or let all sanity ship out. I'll have an easier time watching it, regardless.


Felipe R. said...

Zombies? That will be very Alias. And I totaly agree with make it personal thing. Not that i don't agree with the rest, but this one i specially agree.
And please, more Chloe shooting bad guys.

Sars said...

Amen to #7. I loved Lady Mac, but there's just no way she should have come back as often as she did.

Anonymous said...
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mathan said...

You bring up some valid points, but I've got to disagree about Mike and David with the V.P. That was comedy gold! I really did the President at the end of last season. I don't know if you've got that season on DVD, but you've really got to watch every scene with him and pretend that it's Buster from "Arrested Development"; pure hilarity.

I also think that you're barking up the wrong tree about Chloe, since she's a returning regular you've got to expect more of her and possibly more gun blazing.

Joe R. said...

Yeah, if last night was any indication, Chloe is going to be a lot more front-and-center. But I thought they used her pretty well last night. Toned her down a little since she was going to be onscreen so much.

Except I kept waiting for the abducted son with the creepy upturned lips to, like, fall madly in love with Chloe, or something. Sadly, he, like everyone else on this show, seems madly in love with Jack instead. It happens.