Friday, February 16, 2007

Why 24 has jumped the shark ...

The problem with shows based on a winning formula is that eventually they do become, well, formulaic. And I have to say, 24 has done a fairly decent job in terms of keeping my interest even when this became apparent around say season three, but lately things have become somewhat ridiculous.

To be fair however, the conception of 24 jumping the shark is sort of entertaining in itself -- one imagines Jack Bauer flashing his badge to Quint and Chief Brody, commandeering the great white "on matters of national security," then riding the shark and jumping it (a la Free Willy) over a jetty or something to have it land squarely on top of the lead terrorist and eat him. Betcha didn't see that coming, Fayed!

But I digress.

My problem is that, now that the show is working through the same basic storyline for the sixth time, in order to keep things from getting stale they've turned things up to eleven.

Bored with the relatively few civilian casualties in previous seasons? Let's start this time with a pre-existing state of emergency! Hundreds already dead!

Not satisfied with near-misses from nuclear weapons? Let's set one off in Los Angeles this time!

You think Jack Bauer's been given an easy ride so far? Let's make him the victim of three years of torture!

And wait! Let's have him kill his best friend to save a terrorist!

Enemies not sufficiently dastardly? Let's make the mysterious bluetooth guy from last season Jack's brother!

That not enough of a disfunctional family for you? Let's make Jack's father the evil mastermind! (Paging Dr. Freud ...)

Jack's willingness to torture has become a little wussy? Let's have him torture his brother! (Shall we start a pool betting on how many episodes it will be before he tortures Daddy?)

To be fair, the expectations game in television is a hard one to play ... shows that hit on a winning formula become understandably reluctant to tamper with it, even when it's painfully obvious that it's becoming tired. Television is a conservative medium in the truest sense of the word insofar as it fears change -- which is why almost every sitcom since The Honeymooners is essentially the same story, with just the characters, fashion and sexual vocabulary changing from year to year. I am in fact enjoying 24 this season, but I have to wonder where it's going to go from here -- what are they going to do next season to up the ante?

And there's the rub. This season we're already starting to venture into the absurd. What happens next?

When Jack was kidnapped by the Chinese at the end of last season, I got excited about the prospect of a 24 that would break all its own conventions and have as its story arc a daring rescue mounted by rogue CTU operatives in Manchuria ... away from their usual setpieces, away from LA, eschewing the comforts of home. Have Chloe set up in a remote trailer with jury-rigged equipment on a Chinese mountainside while Bill and Curtis (RIP, poor Curtis) and whoever else was still walking at the end of last season infiltrates the prison camp. Meanwhile, have the president, upon finding out what's going on, have to choose between running interference for his guys and risk an international incident or giving up his people.

That would have been cool. It would have been a departure. And it would have forestalled the shark-jumping for a season or two.


andrew said...

i'll keep tuning in (ie: downloading) each week to see how obama and hillary make out. she'll struggle back somehow, those clintons can't stay away from the oval office for too long. i just hope that little snake habeas-corpus suspending neo-con secretary of defense is part of a rogue multinational satellite missile terrorist organization and jack gets into some epic hand to hand combat with him in the finale. i just started watching the show this season, i can look forward to that right? how great was it that kumar really was a terrorist? ha! take that aclu!

Lesley said...

Andrew, you really need to watch Season 5. Especially if this season ends up disappointing you...

Chris, I agree, this season is a little...well...lacking. I'm a little disappointed at this moment, but I'm going to save full on "what the hell?" for when they really lose me. I was ticked when they killed Curtis, but that was probably for the "OMG" moment more so than the story line. And the fact that I can pretty much predict whatever it is they've got going on each week has left me a little cold. Considering I watched all five seasons in a row over the holidays, I can safely say that the reveals in last seasons episodes were quite nice and I think this season has really been a little over the top. Let's hope they get back to the winning formula. I'm starting to lose my interest in Jack Bauer as a result. And that's just BAD!

Helmut said...

I prolly shouldn't be reading this. I'm only as far as the beginning of Season 4 on DVD. And I've been bothered by the fact that it's not good writing, acting, or plot that's keeping me watching. It's the gimmick.

Makes it that much harder to take when Jack Bauer is a hypocrite. He must save daughter Kim at all costs, to hell with the planet. But when it's Tony Almeida, Michelle Dessler or Ryan Chappelle, well, national security comes first and they're disposable.

Most stunning moment so far... Bauer's brutal killing of Ryan Chappelle. It's starting to become preposterous and from what you're telling me, there's more of that to come.

Matt said...

"Torture on 24":

The more I read about this show, and the more I see (very little, admittedly), the more it annoys the hell out of me.