posted by Jon on 6/09/03
Since growing too financially instable to keep my precious cable, it has grown apparent to me that network television is a wretched, vapid, homogenous train wreck of a medium. Cable is often lampooned as crass, bush-league and second-rate, but on the whole I find it to be more enjoyable.
Network TV primetime, sadly enough, can be more or less accurately summed up in a few channel clicks.
NBC, Law & Order.
Young, brash cop: Looks like this guy got lit up like a Christmas tree.
Old, grumpy cop: On the Fourth of July.
Young, brash cop: While outside with the sun shining really brightly.
Old, grumpy cop: And a bunch of guys standing around it with flashlights.
Young, brash cop: And those flashlights being pointed at the Christmas tree.
Old, grumpy cop: And--
FOX, Grounded for Life.
Dad: You're grounded.
Daughter: For life?
Dad: FOR LIFE!
Thug: Hey, you're pretty cute.
Sidney Bristow: (pistol-whips THUG)
Thug: Whoa, and you've got some spunk! I like that!
Sidney Bristow: (heel-stomps THUG)
Thug: Whoa, you're into kinky stuff! I like that!
Sidney Bristow: (knees THUG in crotch)
Thug: Now that's a woman with SELF-CONFIDENCE! She doesn't let men tell HER what to do! (passes out)
Host: You must stand on this pole for 10 hours.
(camera pans across contestants standing on poles)
Voice-over of contestant #1: It was really hard standing on that pole for so long. I got tired.
Voice-over of contestant #2: It was so hard, because my legs were hurting so much.
(contestant #3 falls off pole and into water)
Voice-over of contestant #3: I wish I didn't fall off the pole.
Young, brash cop: --and it was sent hurtling into the sun.
Old, grumpy cop: And at this very moment, the sun explodes, sending an infinite amount of light energy throughout the cosmos.
Paramedic: Wait. He's got a pulse. Get him on the stretcher, stat!
Old, grumpy cop: You're lucky, kid.
Young, brash cop: Like you just won the lottery.
Old, grumpy cop: And got struck by lightning at the same time.
Young, brash cop: But it was a good kind of lightning.
Old, grumpy cop: That bestowed unto you the power to shoot fireballs out of your fingers.
At this point, the acceptable course of action would be to unplug your television, disassemble it, remove the screen and internal components, and use it as a stage for sock-puppet plays. They're easy to make; all you need is a sock, some googly eyes, and a winning attitude.
But hold your horses, keep your socks, and save your feet from undue discomfort. Network television has found its savior.
doot DOOT. doot DOOT. doot DOOT. doot DOOT.
"24" just finished its second season. Both consist of 24 episodes each, with events taking place in real time. At first, I was a bit skeptical of this "gimmick". As my friend pointed out to me, it would sort of suck to have to watch characters sleep for hours on end.
It turns out that this is not an issue, because nobody doesn't get the chance to sleep, and because an ensemble of supporting actors who, while tied in to the main story, follow their own separate agendas. Think of it as Seinfeld, only instead of the show about nothing, it's the show about the prevention of nuclear holocaust.
It works so well because while one character is doing something that is mundane to watch, such as driving or getting a bite to eat, another is busy doing something important. The writers put it together like clockwork, resulting in a show that manages to immerse the viewer as if he or she were following the character around, yet ensure that every second is worth watching. It caters perfectly to the instant-gratification generation, without losing any of its intellectual qualities.
Some other shows have recently attempted to follow a concept as unique as this one. "Boomtown", for example, re-told the events of a story from the viewpoints of several different characters. It was an interesting idea, but the show suffered from weak characters and boring plots. Such could not be further from the truth with 24. It's difficult to say that 24 would be just as good without its real-time format since it makes the show what it is, but the "gimmick" is backed up by superb acting and a storyline as gripping as any I've ever seen on television.
The first season is available on DVD, just as the second season is likely to be, so if you ever plan on watching them, it might be best to stop reading. Just bear with me on this please; I know plot summaries can be boring as hell to read, but I'll be done in a couple of paragraphs.
*************JACK'S WIFE DIES**********************************
The first season introduced Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), an agent for the Los Angeles Counter-Terrorism unit. A few minutes past midnight, Jack receives word of a plot to assassinate Senator David Palmer, a leading Presidential candidate. As the story begins to unravel, Jack, a former Delta Force soldier, learns that the attempt on the Senator's life is connected to a vendetta against Jack stemming from a warlord ruined by an operation that Jack conducted in Kosovo. Simultaneouly, Jack's wife and daughter are kidnapped by said family, and Jack races frantically both to find his family and thwart the assassination attempt.
It should be noted that the manner in which this season ended was one of the most shocking in television history. It grows more and more apparent that someone close to Jack has been leaking information to the wrong hands, placing himself and his family in jeopardy. The mole turns out to be a fellow CTU agent whom Jack once had an extramarital affair with. By the time he discovers this, however, it's too late. When he returns to headquarters to reunite with his family, he discovers his wife's dead body in the closing seconds of the final episode.
Not since the series finale of "Dinosaurs", in which Earl manages to bring about the Ice Age, has there been such a dismally shocking moment in television. At this point, plans for a second season were not apparent, and it seemed as though the story would end with Jack sobbing over his wife's lifeless body.
As good as the first season was, the second season bettered it. We are re-introduced to Jack eighteen months later, though he appears to have aged ten years.
Left: First season; would like to your friend. Right: Second season; would not like to be your friend.
Unemployed, wrought with depression, and isolated from his daughter, who won't spend time with him due to emotional stress resulting from her ordeal in the first season, Jack receives a call from now-President Palmer, who asks him to temporarily re-join CTU in order to investigate evidence of a terrorist plot to detonate a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles.
Jack is back.
(Note to self: if you ever decide to make a sequel to an action show or movie, make sure the main character's name rhymes with "back", "returned" or "out for vengeance".)
"Jack is back", "Bauer hour", "Bauer power", "Bauer power hour"...so many ways you could go with that.
This is where the real ass-kicking begins Jack is no longer the family-friendly good guy he was in the first season. He requests the presence of an prisoner that has important connections, shoots him, severs his head, and delivers it to a crime boss. He kills upwards of twenty men. He interrogates a terrorist responsible for the bomb plot, then gives the order to kill his son right in front of him. He locates the bomb, and when it becomes clear that the bomb cannot be de-activated, he volunteers to fly it over the desert (his life is spared at the last minute by a fellow agent). He tracks down a vital piece of information, and when captured, he is tortured until he dies. His captors, who need information from him, manage to resuscitate him, and he responds by killing them all.
24's real-time format was the reason I started watching this show, but Jack Bauer is the primary reason I keep watching. Kiefer Sutherland is Jack Bauer, every bit to the extent that Sean Connery was James Bond. A substantial part of his appeal lies in his appearance. He's not particularly big, tall, or handsome; rather, he looks like that friend of your dad's that came over every Sunday to watch football, down a few brewskies and call you "champ" a lot. Only instead of longingly gazing at your mom from across the room with glazed-over eyes and a hand down his pants, Jack is trying to save the population of Los Angeles from nuclear catastrophe.
And perhaps this is what places Jack Bauer among the greatest action heroes ever. This will probably draw some criticism, but if pitted against today's popular favorite, Neo, Jack would kick his ass.
Who wears a skirt to a gunfight? Seriously.
Not that the two are entirely dissimilar. Both Jack and Neo seem to me to have been cut from the same block. They're unlikely-looking heroes. Jack looks like the guy who owned the baseball card shop I went to when I was a kid; Neo's a dorky-looking computer programmer. Their traits polarize from there, the most significant being that Jack shows more humanity than Neo, though this is likely due to Keanu Reeves' inability to show more emotion than a sock puppet.
Kiefer Sutherland's hero probably has more similarities to the meat-and-potatoes variety of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, in that he's tough as nails and won't accept defeat. And he does that "squint" look that is a staple of any badass.
They should really try some contacts or something. Well, except for John Wayne. Too late for him, since he's dead.
Though I can't quite summon the nerve to put Sutherland's character on a pedestal above the characters of these two, he's at least even with them. What I like more about Jack Bauer is that he's arguably just as badass as Big Jake or Dirty Harry, but doesn't come across as arrogant. The others seem to know that they're the shit. Perhaps Jack does, but he doesn't show it. He's got more important shit on his agenda than self-congratulation or swagger.
And perhaps it's this, his moral fiber, that makes him so likeable. Though he does carry on a romance, he never tries to impress the girl. If most other heroes saved the President's life, they wouldn't mind calling him by his first name. Bauer, though, never fails to address him as "Mr. President", even while he's pinned down by gunfire, even after he saved millions of lives from a nuclear strike, even when he's nearing the end of the most hellish day imaginable.
Sutherland's presence is such that he might be able to carry the show by himself. But the first-rate supporting cast makes that unnecessary. President David Palmer, the second most important character on the show, is played flawlessly by Dennis Haysbert. Though not an action hero, of course, he commands respect not only among the other characters, but through the television screen as well. In fact, he's probably the main reason that I wish that the real-world political scenario was more like that in 24. Palmer dwarfs Bush, and just about any President in recent history, across the board. He's intelligent, he's committed solely to the well-being of the American people, he's completely honest, and he can strike fear in whomever he wants. Hell, I just might write-in Haysbert on next year's Presidential ballot. Nevermind his stance on the issues. We need a President we can believe in, and whom the international community can respect.
So this show has everything, right? Clever cinematography. A unique format. A badass main character. A stellar supporting cast. Anything I'm forgetting?
Oh, yeah. Boobies.
What is normally the sole saving grace of most television dramas is merely the icing on the cake for this show. Nearly every single woman in this show is model-quality hot. The token ugly chick, who was played by the daughter from Roseanne, was killed off in hour number 5. The ugly chick quota was then filled in a rather half-assed sort of way by the chief Presidential aide, but even she was a hot chick with a weird-looking mole on her face. The abundance of hotties is likely the show's most implausible element, but I'm sure as hell not going to complain.
"What? Who are you? ...No, I won't grant you an interview for your stupid website. Fuck off."
The second season ended just a few nights ago. Jack, though his heart is failing due to being clinically dead for ten minutes, has managed to do what nobody believed he could: collect evidence proving that the nuclear attack was an effort to frame three Middle Eastern nations. Paramedics rush to give him much-needed attention. He is joyfully reunited with his daughter. His crush, Kate Warner, smiles in the background. President Palmer, whom his Cabinet removed from office earlier in the night because of his refusal to retaliate against the Middle Eastern nations, has been reinstated only moments ago. He gives a press conference praising America's courage and strength. As the on-screen digital clock appears and shows the final episode moving closer and closer to 8:00, all problems have found their resolutions, and everything is as it should be.
As Palmer shakes hands with bystanders following the press conference, a young woman calls to him. He hears her, and reaches over to shake her hand. "Thank you, Mr. President", she says tearfully, then slips out of view.
A few moments later, as Palmer waves to the crowd, he notices a strange sensation coming from his hand. He looks at it, and finds the flesh to be eaten away. He looks up with utter shock and disbelief, a look we have not seen from this President before. His knees buckle and he falls to the ground, struggling for breath.
7:59:57. 7:59:58. 7:59:59. 8:00:00. End of season two.
So now you're filled in. Season three is slated to begin in October, and I presume it will occupy its present slot of Tuesday night at 9:00. Do yourself a great big favor and be there. If the show gets canceled because you didn't watch it, I'm going to hit you in the ear with a brick.
Jon falls down dead, to the mixed reactions of his readers.