Sunday, March 11, 2007

‘24’ Veers Off Course on Day 6


It’s my theory the writers and producers of “24” break the season down into six four-episode chunks, saving some of the biggest and best cliffhangers for the installments that fall on the “fours”—eps 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, and, of course, 24.
Episode 12, historically, is particularly significant. The halfway point of the day often features resolutions to major plotlines and spins the show off in a new direction. On Day 1, Jack rescued Teri and Kim from their kidnappers; on Day 3, the Salazar brothers died while Nina and the virus escaped amid a massive firefight; on Day 4, Michelle came back to CTU; and on Day 5—hello!—Edgar died.
After a brilliant start, Day 6 has been wandering and rather listless—by “24” standards—since the nuclear bomb exploded in Valencia at the end of … wait for it … Episode 4. Let me preface the rest of this by saying this show is still as good or better than anything else on TV, but the bar has been set so high—especially coming off Day 5, arguably the best of the series—that any slip feels significant.
That being said, Day 6 is shaping up to be the “worst” of the show’s seasons. For the past two months, I’ve been telling myself to trust the process, but when Episode 12 comes and goes with rather little impact, there’s trouble. My major complaint is the deaths of so many key characters in the past two seasons. With Tony, Michelle, Edgar, David Palmer, and, now, Curtis all gone, we’re left with essentially no one to root for other than Jack and Chloe. There just simply aren’t enough characters outside of the Big Guy that we even know, much less care about. The intrigue at CTU and inside the presidency has always been just as compelling as whatever trouble Jack’s into, but this year both of those areas are sorely lacking. And to make things even worse, the beloved Chloe has done absolutely NOTHING in 12 episodes, other than harangue her ex-husband/current boyfriend Morris.
In a recent Entertainment Weekly cover story, Executive Producer/Head Writer Howard Gordon admitted the “24” team has had trouble coming up with this season’s “big idea,” and it’s painfully obvious. The year started out with promise, focusing on Jack’s fallibility and struggle to recover from his unimaginable 18 months under Chinese torture. But that thread has faded to the background, leaving us with “24’s” increasingly familiar plotlines and tricks. It seems like after the bomb blew up, the writers looked at each other and said: “Now what?” They tried a more political approach, which fell flat. They tried a more familial approach, and that, too, fell rather flat (James Cromwell was cool as Jack’s dad, but the whole thing wasn’t as good as the sum of its parts). And, what’s more, the villains in this season are probably the least compelling of the entire series—where has Fayed been since torturing poor Morris several weeks ago? Gredenko is cartoonish in his stereotypicability (yes, I just invented that word).
That’s not to say the show isn’t still entertaining, because it is. Last week’s episode was intense, with Jack breaking into a foreign consulate (again!) and the fallout from the attempted presidential assassination attempt. But, wow, using Wayne Palmer as the new president—probably the worst decision in the history of this show—D.B. Woodside just isn’t up to the task, especially following up Gregory Itzin’s Emmy-winning performance last season. The trouble with most of the episodes this season is after the initial rush is over, the creeping feeling of been-there-done-that sets in.
There’s still time to salvage Day 6, of course. Rick Schroder joins the cast this week, which hopefully will give us a new CTU wingman to like. Itzin’s return to the series as disgraced President Logan is exciting, too, especially since this week Jean Smart also reprises her role as Logan’s manic (and now presumably estranged) wife.
I’m certainly not going to give up on “24”—not even close. The writers have learned from their past mistakes (Teri’s amnesia during Day 1, Kim and the mountain lion during Day 2, etc.), so I’m hopeful for a return to greatness. My suggestion for next year: Rein in the threat a bit. We don’t need nuclear bombs and mass casualties every season (matter of fact, the relative calm in California after a nuclear explosion continues to be a major problem with this season). I’d like to see the show’s producers hearken back to Day 1 and handle something a bit more down-to-earth—and personal.
Until then, I can only hope they remember what made their show great in the first place—it’s never been about the bombs, but the bombshells dropped on a weekly basis.

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