Sunday, January 18, 2009

TV: Tragedies in real time

"If you ever start to feel too good about yourself," Tina Fey said haltingly as she took the prize she'd paid for (no one 'wins' a Golden Globe, kids -- ask Pia Zadora), "they have this thing called the internet --"

"They have this thing called 'the ratings,' too," joked one person at our table.

"They have this thing called a 'mirror'!" added another.

We laughed so hard we feared our faces would become as damp and shiny as Tina's. But there she was onstage, looking ridiculous. And the only person in the world who could be laughing harder than we were was whomever convinced Tina Fey to buy that dress.

From the side, the hoop skirt made her appear even fatter than she was and from the front she looked like your six-year-old daughter dressed up in one of Carmen Electra's castoffs. In other words, when you have no reason to wear a plunging neckline, don't. (Or as The Young Turks would critique the outfit later in the week: "She's surprisingly flat chested.")

Poor Tina Fey, unloved, unliked and flat chested. No wonder 30 Rock has to film in New York.

Cell phones buzzing.

"Are you watching this?"

Yeah, we were. Fey was babbling on about her husband.

"No!" hissed a friend over the phone.

What's going on?

"It looks like season seven is going to be all about justifying torture."



We were practically bumping heads as we shared the cell to hear the details.

"We gotta get to a TV!" exclaimed one of us.

"Right now!" agreed the other.

"Oh! Fresh drinks!"

TV could wait. Or so we thought. Intentions to nurse the latest round slowly were tossed aside as Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese did a soft-shoe while inverting an old classic into "Anything I Can Do, You Can Do Better." No, I can't! Yes, you can!

We slammed our drinks and got the hell out of there as self-eFace/Off continued onstage.

We needed a TV and somewhere away from the noise. We doubted there was a room available (we were at the Beverly Hilton). We hurried through the lobby (we were at the Beverly Hilton). Shielding our eyes (we were at the Beverly Hilton).

Someone might mistake Nancy Lorzenz' school-girl fascination with urine as art but it wouldn't be us. "Studies of Water." "American." We'd seen her work. She didn't have a technique. What she had was a highly limited 'vision.' Calling it derivative would be crediting it with more complexity than it actually had.

We headed for the limo. Later, we'd learn that viewers avoided the Globes like crazy. Not surprising considering the parking lot looked like the running of the bulls. Spielberg and Scorsese really know how to clear a room. Grasping that we'd be stuck forever if we waited, we high stepped it (less than a mile, but in high heels) to the Oliver Cafe Lounge and called for the limo to meet us there hoping it would be far enough away from the traffic jam. (And we dashed inside for a quick drink, two Purple Roses -- thank you, Franka!)

"Oh my God! She is so ugly!" laughed a friend who looked up from his TV as we were ushered in. He was talking about Tina Fey. And, yes, her nose did seem even more pointy than usual. Our friend, a power-player agent, noted how strange it was that 'hit' Tina still didn't have another film lined up. We pointed out that she did have her little bit part in This Side of the Truth and industry word hailed it another Ghost Town -- Ricky, maybe somethings should never attempt to cross the Atlantic?

"Yeah, yeah," said the agent, "look at her sweaty face!"

He'd Tivo-ed Tina's speech in order to preserve it. We laughed even harder watching it on the screen -- the unforgiving screen. From a distance, she had almost passed for plain.

But 24. We were there for 24. It's supposedly a nightmare.

He was Tivo-ing that as well. We could check it out in a bit but, first, let's watch and laugh at Tina Fey one -- or twenty -- more time(s).

"You know she thinks she's a player," our friend got out between laughs and had to raise his left hand to indicate we needed to give him a moment to catch his breath. "Be-because! She's 'friends' with Sue Mengers!"

We started to comment but he was laughing and waiving his hand frantically, "That - that ought be a big help when she wants to get booked on The Dinah Shore Show."

Okay, we had to laugh at that one.

And we had to go to two parties. Looking at the time, we realized we had to leave.

"But it's only the talent in front of the camera that's even remotely liberal."

So advised a film director. We were talking 24. Of course, no one had seen it. But, at both parties, there was a general feeling of why couldn't it leave the air when the current occupant of the White House left?

There was a feeling that it had outlived its purpose, whatever that purpose was.

We were watching.

We'd gotten the four episodes. There were two for Sunday night and two for Monday. Because it's that time of year when Fox turns its entire schedule over to American Idol, it can afford to upload four episodes all at once. Could we afford to watch them?

"We're investigating the human rights violations by the recently disbanded Counter Terrorist Unit," informed That 70s Show's Red Foreman playing a US senator. A big, flashy car crash had opened the season debut --- a crash that was really a kidnapping. We'd moved from that to the Grand Suffering: Keifer was being questioned in an open Senate hearing.

He said his name was "Jack Bauer" but it was obvious he was playing Ollie North.

Or Joan Crawford.

Anybody capable of lugging a cross around on their shoulders.

Senator Foreman was explaining the topics were brutality and torture.

Keifer telegraphed it was torture for him to sit there. Oh, the humanity.

The entire exchange will last less than five minutes but they'll try to turn it into Ross & Rachel's "We were on a break!" moment by endlessly bringing it up in episode after episode.

Episode two will find Agent Kilner getting his one and only big scene.

Agent Kilner: Mr. Bauer.

Jack: Yeah.

Agent Kilner: I just wanted to tell you what they're making you go through at that Senate hearing, it's wrong.

Jack: No, it's better that everything comes out in the open. We've done so many secret things over the years in the name of protecting this country, we've created two worlds: ours and the people we promise to protect. They deserve to know the truth and then they can decide how far they want to let us go.

Golly, we kind of thought the law had been a settled issued on this for some time. We kind of thought treaties signed and laws passed by the Congress of the United States had established "how far" the authorities could go.

In a scene that unintentionally recalls the White supremacists of Betrayed, Agent Kilner adds, "Still, not after what you've done for our country. And I'm not the only one who think so." Our Suffering Joan Crawford looks up and to the right while saying, "Thank you." Stay strong, Jackie, stay strong!

Episode four offers Chloe needing to weigh in: "I saw the hearings on CSPAN and I can't believe what the senator said to you. You looked good though." Always remember that Joan Crawfords demand such praise for their characters be written into the scripts.

80s film conventions demand trite dialogue like this be included, "He's a wild card. He's dangerous as a matter of fact. I want Jack Bauer out of the building." FBI head Larry Moss does everything but call Jack a "loose canon." So we're pretty sure he'll end up being one of the bad guys.

In the up-is-down world of 24, that's par for the course.

So is the lack of excitement. You'd never believe shooting guns, chasing suspects and break-outs could be so boring.

Janeane Garofalo shows up as FBI computer expert Janis. She shows up. They don't give her anything much to do for four episodes so she mainly relies on doing the stand up character we all know and love.

She has the only scene with tension. No, not when she stands up against torture -- this is 24, you know she'll cave in 30 seconds and she manages to do it in even less than that.

But in one interrogation scene, she needs to attach sensors to Tony (Carlos Bernard).

"I'm going to lift up your shirt," she'll tell him. And she'll do it. Providing the only excitement in four hours of bad television. The camera will study the pecs. It will be especially fond of his nipples. Janis will ask, "Is that comfortable for you?"

Tony won't say anything. Janis will rub her nose and say, "I'll take that as a 'yes'." And then she'll pull down his shirt, thereby ending the only moment of interest.

Oh, if only Janis could have pulled him across the interrogation table and had her way with him.

That might have made for 24 interesting hours.

Instead, we've got Jack Bauer defending torture. Jack Bauer using torture. Jack Bauer rationalizing torture.

He'll refuse counsel in that first scene that none of the other characters can stop talking about. He'll tell the senator to start the questioning. Yes, it's all very Bring-It-On-Bully-Boy like.

Senator Foreman: Mr. Bauer, who is Abraham Haddad?

Jack: That information is classified.

Senator: We represent the people of the United States and we have declassified that on their behalf. Now I'm going to ask you one more time, who is Abraham Haddad?

Jack: He was the member of a terrorist sleep cell CTU had under surveillance in 2002.

Senator: And isn't it true that you detained Mr. Haddad without due process and that you used extreme interrogation methods on him until he answered your questions?

Jack: Yes, sir.

Senator: Would you say that you broke procedure with this interrogation?

Jack: Probably.

Senator: Probably? Well that's a very cavalier answer. You don't seem to care about the implications here? Well, Mr. Bauer?

Jack: I'm sorry, Senator, I didn't hear a question.

Senator: Alright then, did you torture Mr. Haddad?

Jack: According to the definition set forth by the Geneva Convention, yes, I did. Senator why don't I save you some time. It's obvious that your agenda is to discredit CTU and generate a series of indictments.

Senator: My only agenda is the truth.

Jack: I don't think it is, Senator.

Senator: Excuse me?

Jack: Abraham Haddad had targeted a bus carrying 45 people, ten of which were children. The truth, Senator, is that I stopped that attack from happening.

Senator: By torturing Mr. Haddad?

Jack: By doing what I deemed necessary to protect innocent lives.

Senator: So basically what you're saying, Mr. Bauer, is that the ends justify the means and that you are above the law?

Jack: When I am activated, when I come into a situation, there is a reason and that reason is to complete the objective of my mission at all costs.

Senator: Even if it means breaking the law?

Jack: For a combat soldier the difference between success and failure is your ability to adapt to your enemy. The people that I deal with, they don't care about your rules. All they care about is a result. My job is to stop them from accomplishing their objectives.

It needs to be noted that Posse Comitatus really rules out law enforcement Jack trying to cast himself as a combat soldier. It further must be noted that "your rules" being referred to are the laws of the United States of America, laws that every law enforcement agent is supposed to pledge to uphold. Suddenly, Jack gets to snarl that they are "your rules" as though the Senator just passed them yesterday when, in fact, they predate the Senator's elected career.

It's more right-wing crap from a show that doesn't deserve anymore excuses. Not only that, it reminded us a great deal of another liar:

And in terms of the decisions that I had made to protect the homeland, I wouldn't worry about popularity. What I would worry about is the Constitution of the United States, and putting plans in place that makes it easier to find out what the enemy is thinking, because all these debates will matter not if there's another attack on the homeland. The question won't be, you know, were you critical of this plan or not; the question is going to be, why didn't you do something?
Do you remember what it was like right after September the 11th around here? In press conferences and opinion pieces and in stories -- that sometimes were news stories and sometimes opinion pieces -- people were saying, how come they didn't see it, how come they didn't connect the dots? Do you remember what the environment was like in Washington? I do. When people were hauled up in front of Congress and members of Congress were asking questions about, how come you didn't know this, that, or the other? And then we start putting policy in place -- legal policy in place to connect the dots, and all of a sudden people were saying, how come you're connecting the dots?
And so, Mike, I've heard all that. I've heard all that. My view is, is that most people around the world, they respect America. And some of them doesn't like me, I understand that -- some of the writers and the, you know, opiners and all that. That's fine, that's part of the deal. But I'm more concerned about the country and our -- how people view the United States. They view us as strong, compassionate people who care deeply about the universality of freedom.

That was the outgoing Bully Boy of the United States, attempting, last week, to justify what he'd done to this country.

24 was supposed to be different this year. Actually, it was supposed to be different last year but between the writer's strike and Keifer getting busted for drunk driving again (hey, what ever happened to MADD -- or do only famous women get called out for arrests?), last year didn't serve up a season of 24. But it was supposed to be different -- whenever it aired -- and as part of the difference, Janeane was going to be on. Janeane's on. Not a damn thing's changed. It's still a show justifying and excusing torture.

Similarly, this week sees the US swear in a new president. New in name. But, as his statements to The Washington Post editorial board Thursday indicated, little difference outside of name. Like the Bully Boy, he is attacking Social Security. Like the Bully Boy, he believes in torture.

Barack Obama is going to close Guantanamo, he says. But what about the prisoners? Believe it or not, the cry to close Guantanamo was not a cry for relocation. It was a cry for freedom. But Barack made clear to The Post that some people held at Guantanamo could not be convicted in a court of law because their 'confessions' resulted from torture.

The American justice system dictates that those people be set free. But that's not what Barack plans. He revealed he needs to explore setting a new system that could handle these prisoners. And -- pay attention -- others like them in the future.

No, the election has not ended the use of torture. Nor has it ended unlawful imprisonment. It will be interesting to watch and see if the left disgraces itself the same way Kiefer does, if it repeatedly offers excuses for refusing to call out torture, for refusing to end it. Kiefer loves to say 24 is just entertainment and, as a result, he banks more money than any other actor on a TV show. So his soul is more than bought and paid for (and that explains the alcohol problem).

What will be the left's excuse? Tina Fey spoke of wanting to feel good about herself last Sunday and how what people say can make that impossible. Here's reality, you feel good about yourself when you do the right thing. When you do the wrong thing, you feel shame. You can try to pin it off on what someone said at The Los Angeles Times or what someone who came before you did. But you are responsible for your actions and until you can admit that and live accordingly, you really haven't done anything to feel 'good' about yourself.

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