Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"How about don't arm nuclear bombs for terrorists?": 24

"The writers of this show have to realize that they're not Dostoevsky," said Luke, summing up whatever it was he was babbling on about this week. To be honest, though, he made a lot of sense. Most weeks, when we talk 24, it's a verbal parry, jetting back and forth. This week, I mostly just agreed with him as he ripped into the season. In fact, I'm just going to repeat most of his thoughts and add on a few of my own. Because I'm lazy, that's why, and because all you really want to do is read Libby's American Idol coverage anyway.

Here's how Luke first proposed his issues with season six of 24 to me: "To make up for the lack of any genuinely compelling drama, the writers have begun simply being very cruel to their characters."

"Explain more," I said.

Luke maintains (and I agree) that 24 initially set up a universe where anything could happen to any of the characters. The first season played by a lot of TV rules -- it didn't seem like any of the regulars would ACTUALLY die, and the shocking twists mostly had to do with guest stars and other things of that nature. (Like when the guy Teri was with turned out to not be the father of the other girl? THAT was good.) But the one-two punch of Nina being the mole and Teri dying gave the show that aura of craziness it needed to persuade the audience that anything really COULD happen. Presidents could be unseated! The boss of CTU could contract radiation sickness and ditch a plane in the desert! Nuclear bombs could blow up, and viruses could escape! Good times, all around.

Season five took the "anything can happen" idea to its logical conclusion. A lot of anything sure happened, leading to lots of characters dying and even more shocking twists (an evil president! Jack being shipped off to prison!). It was great, pulpy fun. The show exemplifying its best, twisty storytelling self. But because of how much story was packed into that season, there was really nowhere else to go. There were no more anythings to happen that could seem genuinely exciting without just seeming tragic or unnecessary. As we've talked about many a time before, the show just doesn't have the passel of characters to inflict damage on that it did in season five, so we just don't care. The best it could do was having President Logan get stabbed, and that was a dud of a plot point that was dropped rather quickly. The show can't kill Chloe or Jack, and killing anyone else would just be yawn-worthy. Sure I like Bill Buchanan, but I don't buy that he and Jack are so close that it would deeply mess Jack up.

And so on.

So now, Luke argues, the show has just started messing with its characters to mess with them. And the things it's making the characters do are not believable AND they're cruel. Whatever happened to Audrey, she's clearly been messed up in some way (and the spoilers I've read are simply too awful to even be imagined). Why do this to a bland, yet still pretty likable, character? And why have Karen Hayes have to fire Bill Buchanan, her husband? It's just depressing drama for the sake of having depressing drama -- misery porn, in other words.

As Luke said, 24 has simply become a big downer, hard to watch and a real bummer to sit through. They think they're a big tragedy, but they don't seem to understand that television makes it very hard to DO tragedy, because when you reach the point in the narrative when the stage is littered with bodies, the story, by necessity, ENDS. TV doesn't have that luxury, much less a hit show like 24.

So we plod on, season to season, hoping for Jack to find some state of grace.

Though, at this point, I would just take a few great Chloe one-liners.


Anonymous said...

My friends and I try to guess the quote you'll use for your header for your posts. My guess was "Haven't you already resigned once today?" I was wrong. Next time though.

Todd VanDerWerff said...

Ooh. That was a good one. Too bad I missed it!

I often don't write down great quotes because I just don't have a notebook (or computer) handy. I need, like, a robot brain.