Sunday, January 11, 2009

the return of Jack Bauer

I had expected a bit more from "24" this time around, but ended up feeling it was more of the same-- this despite the supposed leftward turn the show might be taking.

The first two hours of the seventh season of "24" premiered tonight, featuring newly inaugurated President Allison Taylor (a super-bland Cherry Jones); her stressed-out husband Henry (Colm Feore, who was the ill-fated President Adar on BSG), an advisor who has secretly hired a private investigator to investigate his son's death; FBI agent Renee Walker (Annie Wersching); a beleaguered Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland, back in growling/throaty whispering mode); and Jack's old friend Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard), now apparently on the other side of the law and helping terrorists who appear to want to undermine the American cybernetic infrastructure, but who are actually thinking bigger than that.

It was disappointing to see the premiere rip off "Die Hard 2" and "Live Free or Die Hard": we see the bad guys provoke a near-collision at JFK Airport by usurping the air traffic control software, and discover that the device that allows this sort of hack might also be capable of doing far greater damage to all the computer-run networks that now form an integral part of American society.

It was also disappointing to see that the new president fails to project an authoritative presence, this despite the series' usually reliable inclusion of strong female characters (Nina Meyers, Chloe O'Brian, Sherry Palmer, Mandy the Freelance Terrorist, et al.). At least so far, Allison Taylor is no David Palmer-- a character I sorely miss.

The premiere quickly establishes its More of the Same feel, this despite the shakeups: CTU has been disbanded, Jack is working with the FBI, and we don't get to see Chloe or the super-cool Bill Buchanan (loved him in Season 6) yet. But Jack's intuition is still dead-on (he quickly concludes the FBI has-- surprise!-- a mole in its ranks), the camera work remains largely hand-held, the villains have some personal connection with Jack (who seems to be on a first-name basis with every bad guy in existence), and Jack bucks the system the first chance he gets.

Conservative fans of the show needn't worry. Bauer's impatience with the system still mirrors the classical conservative's chafing against the perceived ineffectiveness of government; the show will have plenty of explosions and gunfire to scare away the squeamish pansies who shrink from TV violence; and I'm pretty sure Bauer will have a chance to torture some bad guys, or be tortured by them.

The premiere does have one strong female presence: Agent Walker, the fierce, freckly redhead. She's not as confrontational as Bauer, but she's just as direct, and handles herself supercompetently in physical confrontations (she gets a shining hapkido moment against a heavy when she and Bauer track down an associate of the terrorists). I'll be curious to see what her character's arc will be. There's a good chance Bauer will come to like and respect her... which, in the "24" universe, often means the character is dead meat.

It may be too early to make predictions, but at this point I'm going to wager that Janeane Garofalo's character, Janis Gold, is the FBI mole. Garofalo is, in real life, a person of strong convictions, and she's played gritty, stern characters before. From what I've seen of her in "24," her character seems suspiciously meek and mousy, but I've also noticed she's always in the midst of the action. That combination of unobtrusiveness and nearness to power smells like mole to me. I will also tentatively predict the deaths of Agent Walker and Tony Almeida. Jack and Tony have issues to work out, and it's not going to end well for Tony, who in six-plus seasons of "24" has never once beaten Jack in a direct confrontation. Jack has killed both friends and superiors before (Curtis Manning and Ryan Chapelle) in the line of duty, so if Tony stubbornly continues his attempts at undermining the country, he's toast, no matter how close he might have been to Jack.

"24" is known for introducing heavy hitters late in the season, so I can't make any predictions beyond the ones above. The overall story arc of a "24" season is always hard to predict. I thought it was hilarious when, in Season 1, we eventually discovered that the big villain was none other than a wild-eyed Dennis Hopper. That was fantastic! I was watching the series on a bootleg DVD at my university office in Korea (sshhhh), and when the big reveal of the true bad guy occurred, I laughed out loud. And Hopper didn't disappoint, either: in the episodes following his unveiling, he attacked his role as Victor Drazen with fiendish glee, corny Serbian accent and all.

Despite the disappointments with tonight's episodes, I thought that the script was still tightly written and the action was as watchable as ever. As I wrote elsewhere, "24" has about the same structure as a Dan Brown novel. The methods by which the show manipulates viewer interest are obvious, but they hook the viewer, anyway. Season 7 doesn't seem to break new ground, but we're off to a running start.

UPDATE: A conservative argument that Season 7 will most assuredly not be more of the same.



Anonymous said...

I know how busy you are, but if you miss the ex-prez (Dennis Haysbert--he was also great as a crewman on "Buck Rogers" back in the 70's--sea. 2), you might want to check out "The Unit." While Joel Surnow may have been the guts and glue holding "24" together before he was fired for his love of country, the men behind "The Unit" know a bit about good writing (David Mamet and Shawn Ryan).

John from Daejeon

Anonymous said...

It looks like I spoke too soon. I just noticed that Joel is doing the co-writing of the first two episodes at least and back on as a consultant for the season. Since he co-created and was executive producer for many years, those who sought his ouster, couldn't get him removed from those credits last year or in future years.
It’s sad that Hollywood was quick to write him off last year in numerous articles because of his political beliefs that don’t mesh with those of the left, but not one of those same sources welcomed him back into the fold.
By the way, if you really want to be scared about the fate of the world, give "Rules of Deception" by Christopher Reich a shot. It turns out that this fictional novel wasn't so fictional after all according to the news out of Isreal and Iran this week (U.S. Rejected Aid for Israeli Raid on Iranian Nuclear Site -- ). For this author to write about this years before it became public knowledge makes the case for his own mole within the secretive organizations working deep inside the governments of numerous nations or he has esp.

John from Daejeon