Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Your mistakes have been totally unacceptable.": 24

The failure of 24's sixth season wasn't surprising because it was a calamitous fall (though it was that) or because the show could never rebound from it. It was surprising because the show fell apart so quickly and so completely. Even a late-in-the-game attempt to completely reboot the season's storyline couldn't get anything going, in spite of a few brief scenes that worked almost in spite of themselves or because they managed to channel the near-operatic quality the show has had in its best moments in prior seasons.

And the season actually started off pretty well. The first four episodes had their completely daft moments (particularly in the White House scenes -- where it felt like the characters were going to just talk each other to death), but they concluded with the haunting image of a man weeping as a nuclear bomb wiped out Valencia, and their portrayal of Jack Bauer as a man wounded by years of torture and turned into a bleak shell of himself. This all promised something vaguely post-apocalyptic as the season moved on. It might not have been as action-packed as what we were used to, but the mournful tone would sustain it.

Instead, the show just completely ditched any of that, using the nuclear bomb less as something fearful to hang over the season and more as a mere plot device that set up the season's main threats -- more nuclear bombs were going to go off anywhere in the U.S. at any minute. While this wasn't a bad idea for a series, it intractably placed the series in a weird, neo-conservative place right from the start. The difference between the first five seasons and season six of 24 was that in the first five seasons, there were diligent men and women working to keep the terrorists from us. In season six, at least at first, they simply weren't enough any more to keep out the wily terrorist menace.

There was other stuff along the way -- somehow, the series wrapped in the Russians and the Chinese and Jack Bauer's evil family (that played just as oddly as it sounds) and a bunch of boring CTU plotlines, including Chloe trying to figure out if her ex-husband was drinking again. Now, the show has always had crappy melodrama, but it's been balanced with good melodrama (think of how the shocking death of Edgar came in an episode with a boring series of scenes between Jack and Kim last year) and pitch-perfect action sequences. The series has never been a perfect one, but it's willing to get by with brute force when need be. In season six, even the action felt almost perfunctory.

And that's because, it bears noting once again, the characters this bad melodrama and this action were happening to were simply not as interesting as any of the characters killed off in season five. Jack was still compelling, and so was Chloe, but she got saddled with some of the worst plotlines on the show (she's pregnant now? seriously?), while Jack was sidelined for whole episodes at a time in the middle of the season, particularly as he was breaking into Russian embassies and the like. Even the blatant copying of prior seasons was more forgivable than the lack of interesting characters to care about (after all, a series in its sixth season can be forgiven a little self-worship, right?). It's as if the series completely forgot everything that won it the Emmy in the prior season, and none of the new characters it introduced could compete with, say, the Logans.

It's worth noting that 24 has followed roughly the same path as another Fox series -- American Idol. The first seasons set the templates for the seasons to come (and were the most successful seasons in many ways). The second seasons saw substantial growth from the years before. The third seasons then fell back down when the formula debuted in the first seasons revealed its weaknesses. Then, the fourth seasons revamped the formula, and the fifth and sixth seasons followed the same patterns as the second and third seasons. But in this case, perhaps there's no reinvention that could save 24, a show which seems unlikely to suddenly develop a whole new cast of compelling folks for Jack to hang out with.

The episode left Jack looking out over the ocean as the sun rose, his face a grim mask of shock and pain at realizing he once again had to leave behind everything he loved. For the first time since season three, it wasn't a cliffhanger at all. That's probably good, as the series can do just about anything in season seven to try to resurrect itself. But the show's going to need to do a lot more than just shake up the format completely. It simply may be too late for 24.


Jon said...

At first I was insanely annoyed by the final scene when it ended, though maybe that's because I foolishly believed some spoilers that would've brought the show to a whole new level of absurdity (One word: resurrection), but it still got my hopes up for reversing what made this season so bland: uninteresting new characters.

However, up to the end I actually thought the scene was incredibly well done, with Jack finally venting to someone about how he was abandoned by everyone close to him until he was needed a a sacrificial lamb, with the exception of Audrey, who payed the price of trying to get him back.

Overall though, as a person that has worshiped at the alter of 24 since Episode One, this season blew. Season seven better improve, or else... :(

hater said...

I think that time 24 tv show is passing from its bad time that every show faces ones in his tenure.But in the next season they made a stronger come back and we all forget the mistakes of the past season.