Sunday, April 20, 2008

24 x 6: Now I can stop

I never watched the TV show "24" when it was on. I'd heard the name "Jack Bauer" of course. Upon looking him up in the Wikipedia just now I was a bit surprised at the length of the entry (around 6,400 words)... The entry on George Washington has around 6,200 words, for the sake of comparative irony.

My brother, John, usually has similar taste to mine in media, and so, last year, when he highly recommended watching "24," I thought I'd give it a go. Being that we were in the "Put something on your Christmas list or else!" timeframe, I added the DVD of the first season to my wish list. My lovely wife got me the first two seasons for under the tree.

After a couple weeks, we were both referring to my "24"-watching experiences as, "Andy's TV crack." The show is addictive, bad for you and messes with your head.

Today, I just finished watching the last episode of season 6, the last season shot/available. That means (math alert!) that I've watch around 115 hours (144 episodes x 80%) of  one show in about 4 months. Roughly one episode a day.

Now, of course, I didn't watch one episode a day. Some days (like today) I watched four. I think the most I ever watched in one 24 hour period (ha ha) was six. I had oral surgery back in January, and it was very nice to just crash on pain meds and do nothing but eat mooshy food and watch Jack Bauer save the universe for large blocks of time.

I have mixed feelings about the show:

  • I really like watching Kiefer. I have for years. I thought he was great in "The Lost Boys" back in the 80's. I've always liked his dad, and some of that bleeds over, I suppose. He's easy to watch. I find his style/look to be a kind of "corn fed danger boy" thing. The kid next door who owns guns. Lots of guns. My only problem with him in "24" is that most of the lines are delivered in an anxious, urgent whisper. That gets old. He got a bit more pink-noise in the vocals in season six, which was nice to see (er... hear). I think he was a good choice for the role of Jack Bauer. If you've watched the show, try to imagine Charlie Sheen, for example, in the lead. Giggling ensues."

  • I am well aware of the whole torture issue. Jack's character embodies the current administration's idea that, under some circumstances, it's OK to torture people because, well, you really, really need to stop the nuke from going off. To be fair, it runs both ways in "24," as Jack and other good guys get tortured both by the bad guys, and by earnest good guys who think that Jack and/or others might be hiding info. To be more fair, torturing works sometimes and not others. Sometimes all Jack has to do is shoot a guy in the leg, and he gives over. Sometimes they do the whole pharma-torture thing, and get nothing. After awhile, I became used to torture as a minor plot development action that simply moved the plot one way or another. And (again, after awhile), I got used to Jack cutting people's fingers off, electrocuting them and threatening to put out their eyeballs. I'm not comfortable with that situation -- that I got used to seeing it -- but there it is. After something becomes almost as much of a trope as the "there's a mole on the inside" thing (see below), it just doesn't have the same power to horrify.

  • Apparently, there's always a mole. Every season features some kind of situation where an American is aiding the bad guys. And, frankly, I can tell you why -- the people who run CTU (the Counter Terrorist Unit where Jack works... kind) are idiots when it comes to their own security. There are all kinds of scenes where a person they bring in as a witness or friend or family member is allowed to wander around the facility. People who work there slip away to make phone calls in a little stone corridor off to one side. Sometimes these calls are overheard. Mostly not. But you think they'd learn to bug that little hallway. I don't mind "Big Stupid" stuff like the whole idea of an international conspiracy to start a Middle East war and drive up the price of oil. That's fine. But a counter terrorism department shouldn't let people have their own, private cell phones in the office, and should be more careful about civilians wandering around. I'm just sayin'.

  • The stakes are too f'ing high. You can have a fantastic, scary, tense movie where the whole thing that's "at stake" is one person's life, or even their career or morality. You don't need to threaten the West Coast with bio-plague or nukes every damned time. Now, I understand, this is Tom Clancy-esque anti-terrorist stuff. But, seriously, there were seasons where Jack rescuing a friend was better drama than Jack saving 6-10 U.S. cities from imminent destruction. The other problem with "high stakes" is that the math ends up being really bad. [Spoiler alert] In season six, one of the briefcase nukes that Jack is chasing goes off in an L.A. suburb killing around 12,000 people + whoever dies later from radiation poisoning. And while further Jacksonian efforts to avert WW3 are in line with that scale, the rescue of one or two people just seems... trite... when you put it on the table with 12k dead. Jack saved the day for these two nice people? That's swell. What about the whole town of Valencia that just when ker-poof?

  • The cinematography and direction are really nice. Multiple shots at one time, the whole "real time" schtick... Nice work, team. In many ways, the direction and pacing are what makes the show so addictive. The acting is OK, and some of the writing isn't bad... but it's not very deep or, really, very different from season to season. Like candy, sex, cigarettes, crack, booze and Abba, it's not really about the quality, but the intrinsic fun.

I'm glad it's over, frankly. For me. For now. Maybe I can finally start blogging regularly again or read some more books or... wait... there's a new season of Battlestar Gallactica.   Mmmmm....

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