I used to count myself among the biggest fans of 24. A friend recommended 24 during Season 2, and I went back and rented Season 1. It was addictive, fast-paced, genuinely adrenaline-pumping. The first half of Season 2 was almost as good. Season 3 was similarly excellent, and while Season 4 dropped off in quality a bit, it still kept the blood moving. The much-derided Season 5 was more than half decent, despite its Nixonian tinge. Season 6, of course, was a full scale disaster.
But I was hopeful that Season 7 would provide redemption. Tony Almeida was back. Sure, it was Joey Tribiani-esque soap opera reappearance, but Tony was Tony and I was happy to see him, even if they wheeled him in Bernie-style. Jack Bauer was back to his old ways, making impossible shots with a handgun while shouting brilliantisms like “Dammit!” and “We’re running out of time!” The Palmer family was gone, once and for all. So was the Bauer family, from James Cromwell’s insipid dad to Elisha Cuthbert’s horrifyingly dull daughter. Jon Voight would pop in. It was a recipe for a good time.
Well, not so much. I’m not going to pass judgment on the entire season just yet – I owe Jack and Tony that much. But I can say with complete certainty that so far this season, 24 isn’t just jumping the shark, it’s leaping the shark with a rocket-powered pogo stick. I offer the following compendium of complaints in an effort to steer the show in a better direction in future seasons:
1. President Allison Taylor. It was difficult to take a step down from Wayne Palmer, but somehow President Taylor manages to do it. Repeating over and over that you won’t negotiate with terrorists – and retaining advisors who keep telling you to do it – is boring. No, boring isn’t right. Drool-cup, soporific, double dose valium boring. Honestly, I found David Palmer boring as well. He never made a single tough decision in all his time as president. The best president on 24 was Keeler, and he was knocked off after a few episodes to make way for President Nixon-Lookalike. Can we have a president who isn’t either Nixon (Logan — pure evil) or Obama (Palmer – pure purity) or Hillary (Taylor — pure gumption)? How about a Clinton type (pure STDs)? Or a Bush type (sometimes makes mistakes, but does the right thing)? Or even a Carter type (surrender first)?
2. Sangala. No one has ever heard of this country, but Taylor’s spending all this time deciding whether to invade it. Can we start talking about real countries, please? Call this one Sudan, and at least you can get a good debate going. Or how about Iran, or Syria? There’s no apparent reason for this invasion of Sangala. It’s like Yugoslavia – which liberals think was the most moral war of all time, since it accomplished nothing that could remotely be said to redound to America’s benefit – except that it’s got a lot of cute African kids. It is, therefore, boring. As long as we’re invading random made-up countries, why don’t the writers just have Taylor embrace a full-scale invasion of Neverland to depose that dastardly Hook fellow?
3. First Gentleman Taylor. Allison Taylor is a whiny good-for-nothing, who so far this season has done nothing except ream out her advisors. And she’s the better half. Her husband is a pusillanimous little weasel of a fellow who goes around bullying his son’s ex-girlfriend and stupidly relying on the most transparent villain ever, Secret Service Agent GQ. The nice thing for First Gentleman Taylor is that Agent GQ is even dumber than Taylor is. Instead of just killing the ex-girlfriend and then shooting Taylor in the head at close range, he decides that the best way to fake a suicide is to hang Taylor from a lofty balcony. Naturally, he leaves himself wide open to First Gentleman Taylor, who suddenly becomes Ray Lewis and tackles Agent GQ over the balcony, killing him. This is about as convincing a set-up as Rosie O’Donnell playing a woman in A League of Their Own.
4. Janeane Garofalo. You knew I had to go here. I don’t mind Garofalo as an actress. I don’t even mind her idiotic attempts at political commentary – it’s actually rather amusing. To paraphrase Shaw, Garofalo’s preaching is like a dog walking on its hind legs; it is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all. What I do mind is her character, who is a Chloe-lite annoying bundle of neurosis. One Chloe per show is enough. And her bitchy slap-fight with Greasy-Looking Computer Guy Having an Affair With Blonde Computer Lady ain’t Edgar vs. Chloe. Make her the mole, and we can sleep happily tonight. Make her a likeable employee who takes one for the team (RIP Edgar) and we’ll be bored. Let her survive, and we’ll be weeping.
5. Tony Almeida. Sorry, Tony. I’m glad Tony’s alive. I really am. But they should give him something to do so that we can sense that he’s alive. He hasn’t gone off on anybody yet, which is ridiculous – after spending several years going after the American government for getting his wife killed, he’s certainly taking this whole “save the government” thing pretty well. I have hope that this will change, and that we will see Psycho Killer Tony some time in the future. If the little kickboxing match he had with Jack in the first couple of episodes was the extent of his comeback, they should have left him wandering around in 24 purgatory.
6. The Techniques. Stop setting up perimeters. Just stop it. They don’t work. Stop trying to track calls. It never works. You have a better shot at asking the villain politely where he is. Stop preventing Jack from beating up suspects. That always works, and you keep intervening. Dammit, we’re running out of patience!
7. The Writers. Okay, seriously guys, it’s time to trash your storyboard and come up with a new one. I can summarize your pattern every season. It’s the most predictable pattern on TV, outside of House (seizure, House bitches, makes a snide sexual reference, theory, failure, House bitches, makes an atheist reference, theory, failure, Cuddy and House fight, correct theory, House has snarky sign off). Here’s the underlying pattern to every season of 24: (1) Second-Tier Villain (STV) threatens attack. He is secretly working for someone else, the shadowy First-Tier Villain (FTV). Usually, the STV is of minority persuasion, and the FTV is a white corporate/political mastermind. (2) Jack prevents the attack, recognizes there is a mole in law enforcement. (3) STV threatens president’s family, President hesitates. (4) Jack tracks down STV, kills him, tries to find mole, fails, but finds a clue leading him to the “shocking” identity of FTV. (5) FTV activates “Plan B.” (6) Somebody we like dies (see George Mason, Edgar, Curtis). (7) Jack gets pissed, tracks down FTV, kills him, but does something bad in the process to tick somebody off, or leaves the Biggest Mastermind intact, who still wants to kill Jack in revenge. (8) Jack runs away and/or is depressed. Come on, now. Variety is the spice of entertainment. You have to stop writing the scripts as though you’re filling in a mad lib.
8. The Villains. Dubaku is right out of central casting, the kind of guy who kills kids for breakfast and then blows up planes for dessert. How about a villain with a complex motivation and/or personality rather than some evil dude who stands around and scowls? The best TV and movie villains either (a) are brilliant and/or have a sense of humor (Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor, Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, Lost‘s Ben Linus) or (b) have a motivation that is backed by an interestingly evil philosophy or a serious mental defect, or both (Heath Ledger’s Joker, Emperor Palpatine, Peter Lorre’s Hans Beckert, Angela Lansbury’s Mrs. Iselin). 24‘s villains have typically been stock terrorists of all colors, and/or greedy scumsuckers of the upper crust. That’s fine, but there’s a way to make that compelling. 24 hasn’t done it.
I’m interested to hear what other people believe is going wrong with 24. Has it just played out its string?
I still hold out hope. If Jack can come back from the dead not once, but twice, there’s no reason the writers can’t resurrect the show. But they’d better hurry. We’re running out of time.