Monday, May 24, 2010

24 - Good Riddance, Jack Bauer

It seems a long time ago when my sister-in law Alex alerted me to a new show called “24”. “You guys would love this show!” she assured me and my wife, Shannon. “Split screens, real time, high-tech, it’s great.” She was right. Just before season three began, we watched the DVD’s of the first two seasons, often watching five or six episodes in a row late at night. It tried to be a relatively realistic show dealing with the reality of our efforts to counter terrorism. The villains were Muslims out to kill Americans, Milosevic’s thug partners in ethnic cleansing and Mexican drug lords. The bad guys on the show actually mirrored the bad guys we see in the news. But then came the Janeane Garofaloization of 24: All torture=bad, All Muslims=good, Islamic terrorists=just reacting to American arrogance.

The effect is quite clear when considering the villains and their aims in the final seasons. American President Charles Logan tried to smuggle nukes into America as a mere political maneuver. American businessman Jon Voight launched terrorist attacks against his own country. American President Alison Taylor covered up a Russian plot to murder a pseudo-Iranian president who fought terrorists to the death to pursue peace with America - ha, that’s a good one! And let’s not forget Jack’s own brother and father plotting against America. Sure, there were always Americans like Nina working with the bad guys for personal gain. But no longer were Americans fighting the terrorists on 24. In this bizarro-24, Americans ARE the terrorists!

Super Jack

In the early seasons of 24, Jack actually got hurt and suffered from his injuries. It had a modicum of realism. He sometimes lost fights, got captured, beaten and couldn’t escape. Then Jack became a superhero, an action hero. In the final season, for example, he has so far been strung up at the wrists, stabbed in the kidney and mercilessly beaten yet he quickly escaped and went on with his day. Later, he was stabbed in the chest by Renee Walker. Just a flesh wound. Carry on. Then his lung collapsed from several bullets taken in a bulletproof vest. Thanks for reflating, Mr. EMT, gotta' go. Hours later, he was stabbed in the abdomen – badly enough that blood is shown left on the wall on which he was leaning. No problem. And let’s not forget he’s kicked his heroin addiction by himself cold turkey.

Part of the original allure of the show was its realistic approach. Once Jack became superhuman, it lost much of its credibility and became just another TV show.

Dumbing Down

While I found superhumanizing Jack Bauer disappointing, it was the dumbing down of the dialog I found downright infuriating. Yes, the episodes were sometimes difficult to follow in the early seasons. You actually had to pay attention and think. Plots unfolded. In later seasons, plots are spoon-fed. Dialog in the early seasons sounded very much like conversation, spoken in the way that people speak. But in recent seasons, the writers take every opportunity to condescendingly remind the viewers what’s going on and who are the bad guys. There are no pronouns. For example, “Jack Bauer killed Dana Walsh…”, or, “Does Jack Bauer know it was President Charles Logan who told President Taylor about the Russian involvement in agent Renee Walker’s death in Jack Bauer's apartment?”

In a tactic commonly used by lazy writers, a scene where Jack visits an old colleague for weapons and tactical support is used as an opportunity to bring the viewers up to speed. “Jack, I won’t help you unless I know everything that’s going on…”. "Ok, well here's everything up to this point in the season...". If Jack would just take a few steps and whirl around before reading his lines it would be as ridiculous as the dialog on the “Young and the Restless”.

Instead of a real-time show with real-life plots and real-time conversation, it’s sunk to the level of ordinary TV. I'll miss you, 24, but good riddance. I've been missing the 24 we know and love for several years, now.

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