When Tutors Attack: Thoughts on the New Season of 24

So our boy Jack is back from that Chinese prison, and, predictably, the shit is already flying big time. After last season, we all expected big things from this one. And by "we," I mean, those of us who are stupid enough to fall into the same goddam hole six times in a row. So as a card-carrying moron who likes to turn his brain off and watch explosions and implausible solutions and tiny little men shouting "there's no time!," here are my thoughts on the new season so far.

This isn't shaping up to be a great season.

I know, that's not a very popular opinion right now. But here's the thing: a good season of 24 starts off with a bang, a huge grabber, something like "President Palmer gets a bullet through his neck in the first two minutes." This season it was supposed to be Jack back from the hands of those Chinese bastards. And that's a good one. But it seems like its over already. After a few hairy, trembly minutes, Jack is back -- hair highlighted, cell phone programmed, clean and killing and shouting directions. Remember, we're four hours removed from Jack stumbling off that cargo plane, all shaky and bearded and "we don't know how he's going to react..." I don't know, that was a good gimmick, but I don't think they played it up very well. I know he's having these moments, but its more like a tick than a serious change. At least for now.

This plot is a little shaky, even for 24:

Anybody who likes 24 appreciates the absurdity of the plot. There's no getting around the fact that, in even the most, well, plausible isn't the word so much as swallowable season of 24, there are going to be huge moments of cartoon plotting and unintentional comedy. But in the good seasons, there's at least a plausible engine driving the explosions and car chases and satellite repositioning. This season it seems they've gotten a little lazy, and instead of doing the work necessary to make me able to swallow the action, they've resorted to the "plot summary" sound bite: "now we have to find Fayed. That's our only hope." Or, "now we have to find Hassan. That's our only hope." Well, not really. There are probably a lot of different options. But if all of you keep shouting that this one bullseye where the plot is headed is the only place for it to go, well then I guess I'll swallow it and just sit back and watch. It's a lazy, bully move, and they're relying way too much on it already.

The unintentional comedy factor is high already

I love the unintentional comedy factor of 24, but it seems like there's been a lot of it already, especially for a season with no Kim "Cougar" Bauer. Like last night, when Jack is following the terrorist and decides, all of the sudden, that even though the guy doesn't know Jack or Hassad, following him on the freeway will be way too much of a risk. Better to have one guy slam into him with a stolen car, and the other guy offer to drive him wherever he wants to go.

Side characters are not pulling their weight

The side characters on 24 are always a key ingredient. They're alternately annoying, plotting, evil, likeable, or something. But they always add important balance to the story: it's easier to swallow Jack ripping some dude's throat out (okay, I admit: that scene was awesome) when you have good old Edgar slaving away at his computer, bitching about something or other and staring at Chloe over his monitor. This time out we have two strangely photogenic geeks fighting it out for Chloe. Wait, did I just say fighting it out for Chloe? Jesus, even for 24, that's improbable.

We also have Kumar from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. The guy is actually a pretty good actor. But I can't help but think, every time he's onscreen, Whoa, dude, what's Kumar doing with that gun? I'm thinking, wasn't he, like, helping that little moptop pussy with his trig homework like two hours ago?

And more Palmers are not necessarily a good thing. How did Wayne Palmer get to be president? I think we need at least a little bit of a description on that one, some throwaway lines, at least. I mean, last time we saw him, wasn't he running around some compound in LA with a gun in his hand? Wayne is fine. I like him, although I liked him more as the "is he evil or is he not" Principal of Sunnydale High. It's just that after President Whathisname, that great slimy Nixon from last season, a President with a little more weight behind him might be a good thing. If last season proved anything, its that Jack is more interesting when the President isn't in his jock and he's gotta work a little harder.

And has anybody else noticed that Regina King has the George Bush "Only Person in the Family with a Southern Accent" thing going on?

The one exception might be the Peter MacNichol dude from Ally McBeal and Numbers. He's got potential, although he's very straightforwardly evil at this point.

Black and white characters:

But that's the other thing: most of these characters seem pretty much good or evil, not much in-between. There was a big good to evil shift with Kumar, but everybody else seems pretty straightforward. Regina King and the Ally McBeal dude roles might as well be played by Al Franken and Bill O' Reilly for all the subtlety we're seeing in those characters so far. On a good season of 24, one of these people would surely surprise us (most likely: the Ally McBeal guy, Hassad, or Chloe's annoying British ex-husband). I'm also keeping my eye on Wali, Regina King's upright main squeeze. That guy is a little too out of central casting Upright Muslim Guy, and he could have a surprise in store for us. So I'm hoping something'll happen with these characters, but so far it's looking a little straightforward, and that's no good and not very interesting, either.

Civil Liberties for Dummies

And that leads me to the thing that's kind of creeping me out. 24 has always toyed with this idea of civil liberties versus national security. And toyed with it is the right phrase, I think, because, like a 12 year old boy with one porn magazine, they pull it out constantly, flop it around in their hands, pore over it, toy with it, then wipe themselves down and then put it away. They never really do much with it, other than, you know, what 12 year old boys do with porn mags. I know it's not in their best interest to actually take a side on this thing -- this is, after all, the cartoon that is 24 and not the docu-drama that is The Wire -- but they're going to that well so often, and so much, and with such ripped-from-the-headlines detail (rounding up the "enemy combatants," filing sneaky-ass search warrants, soliciting personnel records, etc), and with such over-the-top, obvious, For Dummies expository dialogue, that I can't help but feel like they're gonna have to do more than just play around with this thing.

I am a moron

All that said, of course I'll keep watching. And I was glad to see that Wile E. Terrorist finally got a shot off at Jack Roadrunner Bauer and his CTU buddies, with that nuclear blast. I hope I'm wrong about all of the above, especially the plot stuff -- they've fooled me before, and I'm hoping they do it again. As usual, I'll be watching straight through the final saving of the world, wondering why I'm too goddam stupid to cut it off, and waiting for Patrick Swayze to swagger in as a world famous bouncer-terrorist-hunter and save the day with a well placed roundhouse kick.

1 comment:

aaron said...

I watched the first season of 24 on DVD and it was such a chore I couldn't do it again. So now I'm 5 seasons behind and I feel like I need to catch up, but like the morning of your Lit Class and you've only read the first 200 pages of War and Peace, it ain't going to happen...