Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Day Late and A Dollar Short

On the Decline of 24

Season 6 of "24" is a shining example of a great series that doesn't quite know when to stop. Allow me to preface all this by saying I've been a fan of the show for many years now, even defending the many episodes where daughter Kim (Elisa Cuthbert) was continually put in peril by kidnappers, demented baby-sitting fathers, and yes even a wild tiger. I mean, honestly, the situations were far-fetched, but she looked so good being caught between a rock and a hardplace that I couldn't help but forgive her (and all that has been erased by loathsome career choices like Captivity.) Bottom line, while the series often took exaggerated detours, Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer and his frenetic chase for American righteousness was always just short of electric. He commanded the screen with authority and the contrast between his tense field exploits and the personal drama of peers at CTU and the White House made for a winning combination of well-edited gunfire and menacing political skulduggery.

But, in Season 6, I felt like I was forcing myself to watch each and every episode. The mechanics felt rote, the personal tension felt awkward and even the timing of the show's trademark counting clock felt stretched to the point of unbelievability. Without giving too much away for those who haven't seen the latest season, Los Angeles finds itself again fighting off the hatred of Islamic extremists carrying suitcase nukes and CTU finds themselves heading the search for the terrorists. There are some new faces, but the show's reliance on Sutherland kicking ass and taking names is mired behind soap opera theatrics (or maybe it was ALWAYS this way and season 6 was bad enough to finally call attention to itself). There are some interesting diversions thrown Jack's way this time and needless to say, the calamity hits very close to home for him. My real problem with season 6 is the lazy way emotions and narrative are strung together. I couldn't count how many times I rolled my eyes or let out an "uggh" when ex-Vice President Logan and his loony tunes wife pop up for a mid-season cameo. Or we're made to suffer ponderous back stabbings inside the underground bunker of President Palmer (yes, that's right.. the OTHER Palmer... his brother who seems to have been elected in 2 years only due to his last name) as power grabs are executed like chess moves. And I haven't even mentioned the entrance of Jacks' brother, father and ex-girlfriend who just happens to be the wife of his brother. I know.. I know.. I'm even confusing myself. If anything, Season 6 feels like a parody of itself. There's very little tension mounted from any of the show's numerous twists and turns and with the introduction of each new face (Ricky Schroeder, Powers Boothe, James Cromwell), I could feel myself being removed further and further from the genuine excitement I used to get from "24". Perhaps the scale has gotten too big, and the consequences too great. The first two seasons (and I could argue for 3 and 4 as well) dealt with huge issues, but they worked through with plausibility. Remember how economical the narrative was in the first few seasons and how much we cared for the characters? Case in point- in season 1 when Jack is asked to assassinate candidate Palmer, I remember thinking how in the hell are they going to write themselves out of this one. And they did. You can name the same thing from many moments throughout the next couple of seasons. In Season 6, the breaks come with a resounding "huh".

Even the timeline of Season 6 is sketchy. For the first time in the show's history, I question the amount of time taken with so many plot points. Perhaps watching the season back to back on DVD, eliminating the week long hibernation and memory loss between episodes, opens one up to the illegitimate flow of time more evenly (although I've watched all of them since season 2 this same way, and the implausibilities were not this glaring). One episode ends and the next starts (seemingly within 1-3 seconds of its timeline), and they've already swept the entire crime scene, downloaded any incriminating evidence off a computer hard drive and ran background checks one 101 known business associates? This occurred continually throughout season 6, and when you don't buy into something after the first minute, its hard to regain your acceptance of everything that follows. Season 6 tackles world war, international crisis and nuclear explosions, but as the show's story grows exponentially, it loses the vitality and originality of its predecessors. Season 6 does redeem itself, slightly, in the last few episodes when it unleashes Jack Bauer into a frenzy of gunfire and personal vendettas. But, everything up until that point, remains a ghost of itself.

Having said all of this, I'll still tune into Season 7 if there is one. Part of the magnetic draw with shows like 24, besides the feeling that 'I-was-there-when-nobody-cared-about-this-show' way back in 2001, is the strong fan base they've established over the past 6 years. It wasn't long ago when I remembered how great this show was. Perhaps, with a new season, Sutherland fresh off his jail stint, and an end to a lengthy writer's strike, "24" will find some of the magic of season's past and toss off a truly energetic and fresh premise for its prime-time rebirth. If nothing else, maybe bring Kim back to get lost in the valley or something in one of these tight-fitting shirts?

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