Wednesday, January 10, 2007

T.V. on TV: 24 and American Idol

The first four hours of 24's sixth season premiere (Sunday and Monday, 8 to 10 p.m. ET) misplace what makes the series so effective, fixating on stilted policy debates and characters we've never met. Yet two moments at the tail end are so legitimately shocking that they seem to kick the whole season into gear. The first is a plot twist, arrived at via barely-motivated plot machinations but carried out with ruthless efficiency; the second is a moment of absolute terror, played with the requisite gravitas. Together, these incidents encapsulate what the series does best: kinetic melodrama and political exploitation. The two go hand-in-hand.

24 is one of the few series on television that is willing to engage in the things that frighten Americans most. Some of the show’s strongest hours came in its second and third seasons, when, respectively, it detonated a nuclear bomb (in the desert, far from people) and released a virus in a crowded hotel. Even the fourth season’s attack on Air Force One, conveyed almost entirely through the worried faces of the actors watching the plane come down at the Los Angeles Counter Terrorist Unit offices, managed to hit that “Oh shit! Could that happen here?” button.

The show's immediate connection to post-Sept. 11 fears is the source of both its power and its crudeness. A friend describes the show as a “Republican wonderland,” and he’s not far off. The series often wanders close to pure fascism and never seems apologetic for doing so; the subliminal refrain is, “Sure there are badasses like Jack Bauer out there who have to torture and kill indiscriminately, but think of what would happen if there weren't!” The nadir of the show’s views in this regard also came in Season Four, when a liberal human rights lawyer had the nerve to intrude on CTU business (in a thoroughly unrealistic fashion) and demand that the rights of a terrorist suspect be respected. Who did he think he was?

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There's more, along with a review of American Idol, here. And leave a comment!

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