Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Five Reasons Why "Twenty Four" ("24") Has Fallen

Before we begin, please take a look at the following posts if you can:

- My original post before Season Six began
(those lasts two links have given me a lot of inspiration, not to mention the videos you'll see in this post)

Before Season Six of 24, Kiefer Sutherland gave many great interviews (here’s one of them) in which he promised the following:

“We've had five years of him saving a large thing; this one's much more about him saving his own ass. He'll go from being the one who hunts people down to the one who's being hunted, so that in itself turns the show around.”

Season Six was supposed to be the season that turned “24” on its head, the season that delivered something fresh after the first five seasons of the same ol’ thing. Indeed, the first four episodes positioned the season to deliver on that promise. After having been tortured brutally for 18 months, Jack Bauer was released from a Chinese prison and forced to sacrifice his life in exchange for a terrorist’s location. But when his captor turned out to be the real mastermind behind everything, Kiefer Sutherland chewed off a guard’s neck and escaped to get the word out just in the nick of time.

Then a nuclear bomb went off near Valencia. Wow. We were left to wonder: What will be the consequences of a mass-casualty attack on American soil? How would our freedoms be affected? What implications would the atomic explosion have, both physically and emotionally, on the people in the blast radius? These were questions with dozens of potentially exciting storylines that could have unfolded as the season went on. This could have been one of the best seasons of 24 ever, if not some of the most compelling material on television.

How far the show has fallen.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that this season of “24” has been the worst season ever. For a variety of reasons which I’ll get into shortly, the show wasn’t doing that well for the first half of the season or so, but “24” unquestionably reached its nadir two episodes ago (Day 6, Hour 15), when a mentally challenged/autistic/Rainman-like character was introduced in a brazenly manipulative subplot that found Jack Bauer coaching him through a dangerous exchange with a terrorist. It’s as if the writers knew we didn’t care about any of the other characters (whose fault is that?), so they shoehorned in a mental disability to MAKE us care. I'm sad to say that it worked, but it made me feel dirty afterwards.

If two episodes ago was the low point of the show, then last episode (Day 6, Hour 16) was when the series officially jumped the shark. A Supreme Court that convenes within minutes and hears cases within the hour? A blond, sexy assistant that is willing to drink the Vice President's Kool Aid, only to be blackmailed by a spying Chief of Staff? And a preposterous storyline in which Gredanko CUT OFF HIS OWN ARM and bled out on a beach, rather than cooperate with the US government, even with the slight risk of Jack Bauer getting medieval on his ass? It's like the show decided to throw any last vestige of reality out the window and go for broke as the most insane and cringe-inducingly-campy-but-unaware-of-its-own-campiness show on television.

I’ve seen every single episode of “24” when it has originally aired. I’ve always been a huge fan of the show, but this season has taxed my devotion more than anything else. Here’s why:

1) We've seen the same thing before...really

Many shows ripoff other shows. "Twenty Four" brazenly rips off itself, to an extent rarely seen in television. You may have gotten a strong sense of deja vu this season; that's because we've already seen "Unstable woman unexpectedly kills domineering man" (Season Four, with the sex slave). We've already seen "Cabinet invokes 25th Amendment to unseat President" (Season Two, with David Palmer). We've already seen "Terrorist somehow manages to slip through CTU's sieve-like perimeters" (Seasons 3-4). We've already seen "Wrong woman from CTU get accused and interrogated for being a mole" (Season Four). For that matter, we've already seen "Mole suspected in CTU" (Seasons 1-5). The only thing we've seen before that we're not tired of seeing is Jack Bauer kicking ass, and he hasn't even been doing that as much! (See #4)

Fans need to see something fresh, or else they won't be tuning in again next season.

2) Increasingly less believable political figures

For the first few seasons, Dennis Haysbert played David Palmer as a firm, dignified president who was commanding, yet gentle; idealistic, yet wizened. Last season saw Gregory Itzin portray the delightfully slimy President Logan, and although he was a character we all loved to hate, his ascension to the presidency was at least believable. This was partially due to some of the plot dynamics at the end of Season Four, but also because of Itzin’s amazing performance.

This season, we’re led to believe that Wayne Palmer is President of the United States. Let’s pause for a minute to contemplate this development. First of all, wouldn’t Palmer’s connection to the murder/suicide at the end of Season Three have virtually eliminated his political future? (Then again, this is a world in which David Palmer won the Presidency as a divorced, single man). And secondly, Wayne Palmer wasn’t even the most popular character on 24; how could he possibly have been the most popular character in a presidential campaign? Can you honestly imagine him giving a stump speech? The man has the charisma of a withered tortoise.

But Wayne Palmer’s ascension is nothing compared to Vice President Daniels, who is so cartoonishly evil that I would wager he has no soul. Although I suppose he could just be a ringer for Dick Cheney…

In any event, the America in “24” has plunged past the realm of “Banana Republic” and into the nether regions of “Wildly Insane.” The show has taken our courteous suspension of our disbelief and run it straight into the ground at 100 mph.

3) Killing off characters…poorly

In Season Three, the killing of Chappelle (from Division) was one of the most moving and powerful moments that year. Somehow, the writers had found a way to provoke a reaction from the death of a character who was basically a non-character. Chappelle’s duties on the show mainly consisted of trying to slow things down with bureaucratic red tape and generally being a jackass, yet when Jack is finally forced to pull the trigger, you could almost feel a tear come to your eye.

All of that emotion, that consideration, that respect that was given to character deaths is gone now.

At the beginning of Season Five, they offed David Palmer, Michelle Desslar, Edgar, and Tony Almeida, all within a short period of time and for no real discernable purpose. But it was Almeida’s death that was the most pointless of all; he went out like a wimp at the hands of Henderson. Fans far and wide complained that there was no silent clock for him, a dignity which even Chappelle got. And Tony’s death seemed to be forgotten by Jack as quickly as it was by the writers. This season, Curtis’ death was forgotten equally quickly, and Ex-President Logan’s death wasn’t even mentioned in the next episode (!)

Killing people off is a perfectly good way to advance the plot, to grab your audience’s attention, and to deepen their connection with the surviving characters (See: Last episode of Season 1). But when you do it so quickly and the characters don’t respond to these deaths in any believable way, it lessens the impact considerably.

4) Where is Jack Bauer?

The writers made a bad decision when they decided to take Jack Bauer out of the “Twenty Four” equation this season. Season Six has seen less of Jack Bauer than any other season. Instead, we’ve been given an insufferable Morris/Chloe subplot, a lame romance between Milo/Nadia, and way too much of a dead-end plot involving Regina King and Walid (what a waste of my time and life). We've seen more of Tom Lennox than we have of Jack Bauer. And that, my friends ia shame.

Let’s face it: Jack Bauer is been the reason everyone, male or female, tunes into this show. It’s not to see Wayne Palmer wax ineloquent on the dangers of a nuclear bomb going off. But even what little we’ve seen of Jack has been unequal to his previous antics.

Remember in Season Four when Jack just up and decided to storm the terrorist stronghold, rogue-like?

Aside from the episode when Jack ate a man, this season has given us nothing close to a siege that audacious. Where has Jack Bauer gone?

5) The heart is gone

In Season One, Jack Bauer was just a normal man put into extraordinary circumstances. Even in the face of conspiracy theories, hot lesbian assassins, and Dennis Hopper’s Serbian accent, the core of the season remained Jack’s emotional connection to his wife and child. The impact of this was felt very clearly in Season One’s finale episode:

In Seasons Two and Three, the same thing applied. Despite how annoying Kim Bauer was, I will argue that she was important to the series in that she imbued Jack with some sort of humanity and kept him grounded in the real world as a family man.

But after Season Three, Jack seemed to become more and more superhuman by the episode, shrugging off injuries (even rising from the dead…twice), and enduring and inflicting countless brutal torture sessions including one on his own brother. Jack was no longer the skillful but desperate head of CTU we saw in Season One; he was an unstoppable relentless killing machine.

This has ultimately been what the show has been losing, and continues to lose: its heart. Jack Bauer is the guy we all want protecting our borders and foiling terrorists plots. But he’s no longer a guy we’d want to ever spend time with because he’s no longer a person that can exist in the real world. He’s not the type of guy you’d want to grab a drink with at a bar, or share a meal with (because he doesn’t eat). Also, he’d probably kill you with his pinky if you spilled on him by accident.

As bad as the cougar-licious Season Two was, it still brought us this intensely moving scene between Jack and George Mason:

This one of those times when it's okay for men to cry. Nothing since then has really come close to having the same emotional impact, this season least of all.


In the above post, you might think that I’ve argued that Jack doesn’t do enough killing and yet also argued that he has killed too much. This may seem contradictory, but let me explain: I don’t mind Jack going on unstoppable killing sprees so much as I mind the fact that he no longer appears to have any relatable motivations to go on those sprees. In Season One, we could relate to the fact that Jack’s family was held hostage and he was pushed into an extraordinary situation. But now we don’t really have a firm handle on what his motivations are and I think the show has suffered greatly because of it. You can argue that he has an undying commitment to this country and its values, but even if you could articulate what those values are, how can we relate to a man whose commitment is so total, so all-encompassing?

At its best, “24” has been a campy, streamlined, wildly unrealistic thrill ride that has wowed us with Jack Bauer’s badass-ery and caused us to think a little more deeply about the political world around us. At its worst, it’s a lame soap opera in which we care about none of the characters and where there's a complete lack of tension, despite the attempted use of real-time format. This season it has edged ever more towards the latter. I honestly think the show can still be salvaged but it doesn’t look like it’ll happen anytime soon. I’m still holding out hope for a Season Seven in which a CTU-less Jack just goes on a revenge killing spree to find Audrey’s killer. The show desperately needs something fresh to keep loyal fans excited to be coming back. We can always hope….

(Note: This is an update of an earlier post)

1 comment:

Tim said...

I think more and more fans are beginning to feel this way about 24. The producers' even admitted it was going to be a challenge to maintain the level of quality established in the first few seasons. I'm still a fan, but not a fanatic.