Thursday, January 15, 2009

Twenty-Four Seven

Speaking of not giving a damn about authenticity, how about that two-part opener of 24’s seventh season a few nights back? Even before it had been delayed by last year’s WGA strike, I’d pretty much given up on the show. I’m still not too sure why I’m back watching it, because once again these initial episodes deftly illustrated that while the show continues to play to its strengths, it still hasn’t fixed the nagging weaknesses.

The first series had its faults, but then it was still finding its feet and the “real-time” concept was intriguing enough to see how it ultimately played out. Because the show started with only a thirteen-episode commitment, the story was pretty much wrapped by the halfway point. When it finally got the back eleven the story dithered around with the amnesiac wife subplot before it eventually got it together, bringing in Dennis Hopper and filling him with hot lead.

In the closing minutes of the first season the producers then made the right decision in killing of Jack Bauer’s wife, who was by now superfluous. It’s a shame they couldn’t have flushed the useless daughter away as well. Looking back on the various seasons, which over time seem to have blended into each other, the second year is always remembered not for whatever the heck the main story was – although it probably involved a suitcase nuke – but as the one where the idiot girl gets terrorised by the cougar in a nonsensical subplot.

By then it was probably a good time to give up but episodes of the third season started arriving every week as part of a bundle of preview tapes, so I ploughed on. Although Day Three had, if I remember rightly, a jail riot and the viral attack on the downtown LA hotel amongst all the ongoing shenanigans, what sticks in my mind is the fire axe used in the last episode. What should have built up to a dramatic climax felt so over the top that all I remember is howling with laughter and reaching for the rewind button.

After that I borrowed the DVD boxset of season four, which is probably the best way to watch this kind of show. When the fifth year rolled around I watched the opening episodes, missed out the whole middle section and then returned for the last couple of hours to see how it all turned out. Because it ended with Bauer nabbed by the Chinese in a final twist that was the impetus for coming back for the next year. With the opening rather flat, I gave it a couple more episodes before finally throwing in the towel.

By then it was obvious that the season would be a grab bag of shady foreigners looking to blow the hell out of something big, dodgy dealings in the corridors of power, turncoats and traitors lurking in every corner, that in the right combination can make for a great thriller. It was also obvious that rather than driving forward with a taut plot, each season would be dragged into the mire by flabby subplots and unnecessary characters, one or more of whom would be the sort of bleeding-heart liberals that need to be taken out and given a slapping they wouldn’t forget.

Even worse, because each episode required a cliffhanger ending, this contrivance meant some plot turns needed certain characters to either be dumb or do dumb things in the lead up to the final seconds ticking down. Once or twice you could let them get away with it, but it seemed to become such a regular occurrence that after a while you just wanted to see each particular ass-clown get disembowelled with a bulldog clip so they would stop fucking up the story.

Watching on Monday, obviously I missed some big changes, what with CTU closed down. I don’t know what happened there, where they bombed out? I suppose it could have been that the accounts department finally got around to totting up the overtime slips and went ballistic. It wasn’t that people went through a day without eating, sleeping or taking a bathroom break that left me scratching my head. It was that the Counter Intelligence staffers never ended their shift and clocked off. Didn’t anyone have a home to go to, or had it been nuked an hour or so earlier?

Still, the senate hearing with Bauer being questioned about his dubious ways of intelligence gathering was quite an interesting start. Especially since the one thing 24 was really good at was upping the ante on the torture sequences, practised first by Bauer until it looked like everyone was doing it. Unfortunately around the same time the audience was introduced to the new leader of the free world. Oh, dear.

Obviously with David Palmer in the opening seasons they had already done the black president. After the evil Nixon lookie-likie from a couple years back, now we get a milksop female president and the streak of paralysed piss in a suit she calls a husband. We’re expected to believe the public voted for her? Really? What was the alternative, a rotten turnip in an empty bag of Monster Munch? She looked like she couldn’t find her way to the weekly knitting circle let alone run the country. If there’s going to be a weak like to this series, there they are: exhibit A and B.

I suppose I may tune in for the next episode, but I’m still in two minds about it. After all, the way things were going in the first couple of hours I’m thinking that, as far as I’m concerned, 24 has had its day.


At 11:40 am, Blogger Mark said...

I wish I'd watched Unforgiven instead, I'll have to watch it online and catch up on Monday. I thought I'd give Jack the benefit of the doubt, because I was half way through season six when Virgin pulled the plug on Sky, but 24 is looking tres tired. It's a show straitjacketed by its own precise format, and Keifer looks jaded, like he's going through the motions somewhat.

At 5:01 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

After that numpty Linda La Plante drama, I’m off ITV drama for the moment. Hell, after finally catching an episode of No Heroics I’m off ITV comedy as well. No Heroics? More like no jokes...

I forgot to mention that I didn’t bother with the two-hour TV movie, which obviously has something to do with this storyline. You’re right about the show being straight-jacketed by its format. It’s a shame that it has a need to keep the audience either on the same page or a step ahead of the characters.

Surely it would be better if they jumped right into the thick of things rather than begin with the initial setup, just for once letting the audience try and figure things out as they start to catch up. That way it would certainly quicken up the sometime lacklustre pace a tad and mean that many of the incidental characters would have something relevant to say and do, filling in background details and spreading the action out.

Ah, what the hell. I may catch another episode, but Battlestar Galactica and Lost are going to come first.

At 6:05 pm, Blogger Mark said...

Amen to Galactica and Lost. The La Plante was absolutely appalling, and looked stitched together from the stuff left on the cutting room floor from other awful La Plantes. All the more worrying was that Peter Fincham described it as her best work since Prime Suspect.

At 8:29 pm, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...

Good drama generally works on several levels, but 24's trick is that it works perfectly on only one.

After a hard day at the coalface, if a guy wants to unwind with a beer and and an hour of pure macho escapism before heading to bed, nothing hits the spot quite like the fast-paced lunacy of 24.

And it's worth noting that at least the US networks schedule some shows that men might actually want to watch. The UK broadcasters seem to have given up on us.

At 10:40 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

I just wish 24 was more testosterone-filled and sometimes faster-paced but there seems to be this tug-of-war between the overall story and the start and stop nature of the episodes.

Which season started out with Bauer infiltrating a gang by shooting an informant and delivering his hacked-off head in a bag? When it begins like that you’d expect the story to shoot off into orbit, but every time it gets meaty they dial it down and stumble off into some idiotic near inconsequential subplot.

Looking at the schedules, I've pretty much given up on UK broadcasters.

At 5:51 am, Blogger qrter said...

Good news on the Mad Men front - Weiner has finally signed a deal with Lionsgate, so he's doing seasons 3 and 4 at least.

At 11:03 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Fella, yeah I read that. With all the good stuff left finishing soon, it's great that Mad Men is carrying on.


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