Thursday, May 31, 2007

Jack Bauer needs saving. I'm here to help.

Even the most devoted fans of 24, like myself, have to admit that Day 6 was a colossal disappointment. After all, Day 5 was almost universally acclaimed by critics, awards and fans as the "best ever." It had a solid mix of intrigue, multiple storylines, charismatic and interesting characters (besides Jack) and believable threats. But Day 6 collapsed under the weight of early promise, boring supporting characters, forgotten story threads and rehashed scenarios. Before we look at what went wrong with Day 6, and suggestions for improving Day 7, let's quickly look at some of the good from Day 6:
  • Jack Bauer/Kiefer Sutherland. There's hardly a more compelling protagonist on TV than Jack Bauer. He's heroic, extraordinarily competent, conflicted, tortured and driven, and acted superbly. The stories -- as wacky and high concept as they can be -- only work if we believe in Jack, and Jack/Kiefer gets the benefit of the doubt every time.
  • Bill Buchanan. Bill has been around a while now, and adds a gravitas to the proceedings usually being a glorified traffic cop and exposition provider. But he does it well.
  • A try at something kinda different. You've got to give the producers credit for at least trying something different. Yes, we had lots of reheated terrorist shenanigans and tired scenarios, but the producers wanted to give us, and Jack, something a little out of the ordinary to play here and they offered us "The Bauer Family Reunion." In the end, it was a jumbled debacle (despite being cast with top notch actors) but at least they tried, right? Also, once they realized the plot was flagging and the audience carping, they wrapped up the initial threat early and changed gears, albeit not that compellingly. Give the producers and writers credit: they realized the problems just as we the viewers did and responded honestly and forthrightly.
  • Action. 24 never fails to disappoint in the action category. And Jack killed more people than last year, (and beat Day 4's record of 44, too), at least according to this wonderful site. Plus, we had the "vampire bite" and "hanging Fayed by a chain" kills, and Doyle's "damn, Jack" response to the one man carnage. The shoot outs were solid, the "fake van terrorist rescue" was a nice twist, and the final explosions on the oil rig were feature film quality.
  • Tom Lennox/Peter MacNicol. MacNicol's jittery presidential aide switched positions more times than Mitt Romney, but his self preservation and continued belief in "doing the right thing" made him one of the few compelling characters recently added.
Okay, so there a few things to keep us watching. But the problems were far greater:
  • Recycled plot points. I know when you're doing a story about CTU, presidential intrigue and terrorists, there are only so many clubs in the bag. But the recycling and rehashing hit new lows this year, and it was just tough to care or be interested. We don't want to see anymore of: CTU invasions. CTU moles. Presidential pardons faxed at the last minute. Machiavellian White House power grabs. Presidential "bunkers." Assassination attempts.
  • I loved DB Woodside on Buffy. But Wayne Palmer was no "RFK" to David Palmer's "JFK." I appreciate the fact that they tried to show his fallibility and living in his brother's shadow, but the in and out of coma stuff was just too over the top and silly.
  • Wolverine-like healing power. I know 24 takes liberties with their hour to hour concept, but having folks recover from gunshot wounds and drill bits to the shoulder over the course of a couple of hours? Jesus.
  • CTU has become predictable and boring. Everything that could possibly happen there has already happened. Coups. Moles. Tech shutdown. "Holes" in the satellite coverage. Tech omnipotence one minute, tech incompetence the next.
  • Dumb escapes. How many times in 6 days has it looked like they have "the perimeter" set up, only to find the villain miraculously escape? They've even stopped giving excuses for how it happens. Enough.
  • Dropped plot points and no follow through. What the fuck happened with former President Logan? And Martha? And Agent Aaron? We get one scene (with a fruit knife, for god's sake!) and then nothing? Not even a throwaway line?
  • Dumb "love" triangles. Chloe, Milo and Morris? Doyle, Nadia and Milo? Jack, Graem and Marilyn? Lisa Miller, VP/President Daniels and "Daniel Jackson?" You're kidding, right?
  • No interesting new characters (outside of Tom Lennox). Nadia, who was hot, but utterly boring. Doyle, who was okay, but not enough to latch onto. Palmer's shrieking sister and Wallid? Ugh. Papa Bauer, with ridiculous motivations? (All he wants is the grandson he threatened to shoot a couple of hours earlier?) And don't even get me started on the world's worst guest star, Eric Balfour, as Milo. About the only time I cheered all season was when he took one to the forehead.
  • Complete misuse of Chloe. Other than Jack, Chloe is definitely the most interesting 24 character. And this year they stuck her in the torpid melodrama with Morris and Milo, and gave her virtually NO snark. Chloe with no snark is like Jack without a 9mm. And then the fucking "pregnancy" thing? Dear lord, don't they realize that kids kill shows? Hopefully, this will all be a "false alarm" for next year or something, but I don't want any fucking babies on 24.
  • Charmless and inconsistent villains. The only one who seemed to have any depth or fun was ST:DS9/Kingdom of Heaven's Alexander Siddig, and he turned out to be a good guy. And dead.

The thing is, there's an immense reservoir of goodwill built up for the character of Jack and the show as a whole. And the producers of 24 face a completely different challenge than most shows. On a typical show, if you have a bad episode or bad series of episodes or even a bad "arc," you can recalibrate and get on to the next thing later in the season. However, locked into the "one bad day" format, if 24 starts to go off the rails, then it's almost impossible to get it "righted" in the same season. Being a forgiving TV nation, we're willing to give 24 a "mulligan" on this season, and the fact that they've owned up to this season's shortcomings (just one short year after snagging Emmy gold) says a lot about the courage of the producers and their unwritten "contract" with their audience (unlike, say, Sorkin, who continued to shove the same crap down our throats -- with pseudo intellectual contempt, no less -- when it was abundantly clear audiences and critics weren't responding). They promise a different and more entertaining Day 7, and given their track record, I'm definitely going to give them, and Jack Bauer, of course, another chance to stay on my TiVo.

One fan's humble suggestions for Day 7:
  1. Move out of LA. It's hard to believe so much has happened there. The setting is tired. Go someplace else.
  2. Lose CTU as the primary "nerve center." It's played out. The dichotomy between their skill and incompetence has strained belief. We've done all we can there.
  3. Have Jack work for a new, shadowy organization. Really, after all Jack has been through, having him work for the government is too much. Why would it not be plausible to have some extraordinarily wealthy, connected right wing patriot assemble his own team to "right wrongs" and combat terrorism? You could still have all the technological spy toys, except that they would be privately funded. It would make for interesting political debate, too, with all the action taking place "outside the law" but for the "right" reasons. And give us a perfectly good excuse to introduce new, interesting characters not constrained by the politics and precedents previously set up. Plus, with somewhat limited manpower resources, we wouldn't have to suffer though all the bullshit about the "perimeter being secure" with armed forces and FBI and local police, only to have the bad guy miraculously sneak through. In addition, it would "up the ante" with regard to conflict. Not only would Bauer and company have to be facing nefarious terrorist threats, they would also have to work around the government.
  4. Bring Chloe into this new organization. But WITHOUT A CHILD. Give her her backbone and wit back. Have her still run point for Jack, and talk about "satellites" and "traces" and "sockets" and whatnot, but without worrying about a long and boring chain of command.
  5. Here's one of the biggest things for me. Inject some humor. I'm not talking about making 24 into The Office. But plenty of shows (most notably, Angel, Firefly and Lost) take dark, grim circumstances and leaven them with occasional doses of well-placed wit, fun and smart-assery. Plenty of writers on the 24 staff have shown their skill in this area.
  6. Limit the White House stuff. We've done pretty much all we can here. If things follow my lead, then there's no need for endless "bunker" or "Oval Office" discussions. Yes, you can still have some "palace intrigue" if you choose to, with the government wondering what the hell to do about Jack's effective new organization and the political fallout of it. But we wouldn't be tied intrinsically to it.
  7. Add interesting new characters and actors. If we get out of the trappings of government service, the opportunities for charming rogues and misfits expand exponentially. They could come from any variety of backgrounds and countries, and have colorful backstories. You're telling me that Eric Fucking Balfour is the best 24 can do? There are a number of charismatic actors out there with a good following (that would generate some nice blog/geek/web buzz and discussion, too) that would make excellent additions. Just off the top of my head: Nathan Fillion. Alexis Denisoff. Connor Trinneer. Carla Gugino. Christian Kane. Adam Baldwin. Caroline Dhavernas. Amy Acker. David Anders. Ben Browder. Johnathon Woodward. Jolene Blaylock. Scott Patterson. Peta Wilson. Nicole Sullivan. Michael Imperioli. Victor Garber. Steven Weber. Billie Piper. Claudia Black. Kristen Bell. They could be analysts. Former government agents. Ex military. Spies. All part of a "rogue team" of anti-terrorists, brought together because of their bitterness and disillusionment with always going through the "proper channels." Or because they go to the highest bidder. Or because of personal vengeance. Getting out of the "government proper" creates a broader sandbox in which to play. Also, this season anytime we took the story away from Jack (which was far too often) no one cared -- especially with Chloe neutered. But who wouldn't mind taking time away from Jack to watch Veronica Mars and Captain Tightpants kick a little ass?
  8. Also, don't be afraid to introduce a great character and threaten them. We all KNOW Jack isn't going to die. But if we introduce SEVERAL good, well written and well acted characters, and threaten and/or kill them, we're invested.
  9. Set up multiple "threats" in the beginning. Don't just make it about "stop the nukes." If you have a singularity of purpose, and that storyline falters or doesn't capture the imagination of the viewers, then you can't move on to others without shoehorning it in at the last moment. There's no need to keep "upping the ante" with the significance of the threat, either (we've done nukes. Where to do from there? It's not the "size" of the threat that keeps us watching). It's compelling stories, action and characters.
  10. Use "string theory" to plan most of the season. We're all familiar with the genre trope of "string theory" and the idea that there are multiple universes with multiple outcomes, each hinging on a potential action or reaction. Get a huge frakkin' whiteboard and plot out all the possible options for what could happen in the beginning. The producers admittedly went "by the seat of their pants" too much this year writing stories and plotting. Give some thought to it in the beginning, and plan for several interesting outcomes.
  11. Give us fascinating villains. If we take things out of the realm of "state vs. state," they don't have do be either boring politicians or single minded unnamed middle eastern country zealots. Hell, this could even open the door for Charles Logan to return, if he survived his sporking.

Whatcha think? Who else has ideas for breathing some life into this great show?

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