Sunday, July 23, 2006

TV: 24 -- like 60 Minutes with less action

Let me try a theory at this with them, Cheryl. We're watching the show on Wednesday afternoon and here we are in the middle... "The Centox is about to be released through the natural gas pipeline, all hell is about to break loose," and Jack pauses to give a nice, big wet kiss to Audrey, and Joel looks at me and says, "We've got to keep the women."
[. . .]
And I said, "I know. You cover all the demographics in this show. You've got romance in the middle of terrorism," but it's a business. You're trying to get all demographics. You want young people so you've got Kim in there acting like she does. That's what so amazing about this. You have to factor all these things in. It's a business. It's your creative life; you're having fun doing it, but there are business requirements that you have to meet if you want to continue to grow the audience which you have. Is that not brilliant or what, for me to understand that?
-- 24 fan and rotund, authoritarian cheerleader Rush Limbaugh

Out of respect for Shirley Douglas and Donald Sutherland, we've avoided reviewing the Fox garbage starring Kiefer Sutherland. Then, last week, a Common Ills community member (West) mentioned that Matthew Rothschild recently noted how hideous the show was. Would we (Ava and C.I.) tackle it now, West wondered?

Far be it from us to leave Rothschild hanging. Could we do a review about 24 without delving into the reality of the Julia Roberts and Kiefer Sutherland break up? Or without cracking at least a few jokes?

We pictured the show zipping along full speed and spending our time during the commercial breaks talking about the things that didn't quite make it into the press. (Okay, we can't resist. Celeste? Really now. That's all we'll say other than, eczema! We're done. We're minding our Ps&Qs now.) But we never had time to relive reality versus what passed for coverage 'back in the day.' Not even a chance to talk about how lucky Julia Roberts was to end that when she did. Why? We didn't relax during the commercials -- we were too busy trying to stay awake.

24 -- it's like 60 Minutes with less action. If you know of the show, you know it's "trick" and you may be fully aware that Falcon Crest hack Joel Surnow really didn't "create" anything original with 24 because many others such as Patrick Sheane Duncan (with the 1995 film Nick of Time) have tried the same thing before.

But traffic in Arab stereotypes and fear -- BAM! you've got a show Rupert Murdoch can get behind even though, like most of the Fox lineup that doesn't revolve around singing, it really can't be called a "hit." It can't be called art or acting either though lingering close ups are supposed to convince you that it is.

The biggest surprise for us was the boredom factor (we were expecting to be outraged and weren't -- has Jerry Bruckheimer left us that jaded -- it was all so flacid and predictable) and how nothing happened . . . slowly.


A submarine's been invaded. At 0:36 we're told "It's safe to breathe" and Julian Sands begins speaking for no other reason than to demonstrate that Jeromy Irons, in Die Hard III (With a Vengeance), didn't give the hammiest performance as an Aryan villan. Back in the old days, when Kelly McGillis had a career, Julian Sands was hailed as the next big thing (even getting some nice notices for Vibes, if you can believe it). No one's said the words "Julian Sands" and "promising" in the same sentence in decades so it makes perfect sense that he'd show up on crap TV to give one of the worst performances of his career (which, by contrast, actually makes the praise for Vibes seem justified). We tried to stay awake by wondering if he still wears bicycle shorts despite the gut?

1:26 We are staring at a computer screen and visiting the Land of Recap -- which we'll sight see in until 2:46, at which point, it's explained that if fighter jets are scrambled to take out the submarine, now occupied by terrorists (last episode) who have control of the missiles, it will take more than twenty minutes for the planes to reach the sub and they only have twenty minutes before the missiles are launched! Twenty minutes, we'll see later, figures in the episode more than once.

2:50 first shot of Kiefer.

2:55 first close up of Kiefer's sweaty face.

Nothing much happens still -- just a lot of talk about how will they get onto the sub and whether or not RoboCop's Peter Weller is going to get a gun. Through yawns, we note that Weiller has a strong attraction to these authoritarian screeds and wonder when he'll start appearing in filmed religous tracts?

6:27 the only survivor of the submarine's crew balks at Kiefer's suggestion that he kill someone: "I'm an engineer. I'm not trained for that."

7:01 debate over who gets to hold a penis, er, gun, ends as Kiefer hands over a piece to Weller.

Lot of nonsense follows. "Don't have time to evacuate." Charlene from Designing Women shows up in a scene set elsewhere -- but without her accent or common sense. We note that she still looks and acts like the poor man's Judith Light.

8:23 it's announced that there are "less than ten minutes" until the missiles are launched. We got to wait ten more minutes for something to happen?

We check our notes and see that less than twenty minutes at 2:46 is now less than ten at 8:23. We do the math repeatedly. We keep coming back to ten minutes passed in less than six minutes. We wonder where the time went? We wonder when the show ends?

8:54 to 9:32 is Kiefer explaining to all the kids out there how you slit a throat as he lectures the engineer on the sub (hint, you have to go deep). He says: "You can't afford to think about this, son" and we're left wondering why it sounds like a pickup line?

11:27 it's announced: "You have less than 7 minutes until they [the missiles] launch."

We figure the "less than" is used so much because a) it's imprecise and b) the show's never going be mentioned in a sentence that begins: "24 is greater than . . ."

We get our first "kill" as the engineer kills one of the terrorists. It doesn't go as easy as Kiefer promised. What does? Kiefer, Robocop and a third man (yes, they're all men) move towards the submarine, a terrorist get shot (by Kiefer, he's the star, remember), they board the sub.

14:36 announcement: "Jack the missiles are armed. Three minutes to launch."

At 11: 27, there was less than 7 minutes until the missiles launch. At 14:36, we're down to three minutes. The clock on the show moves much faster than the characters.

16:20 it's announced: "60 seconds until they launch." Robocop is attempting to stop the launch by 'manually overriding' the system -- yeah, we've seen that a million times in films and TV shows that actually had suspense. Right now, it's making the scene on Charlie's Angels where Farrah had to choose between the green wire and the red wire look like Speed.

17:21 it's announced "10 seconds to launch" causing us to groan because the missiles should have launched one second prior. They've reset the clock. Did the refs make a call we missed?

For what passes for suspense, during the last few minutes, having gotten into the control room after the engineer drew all but one of the terrorists out (don't ask how, Nancy Drew & The Hardy Boys was more riveting -- even after they got the shampoo commercial blond to replace Pamela Sue Martin as Nancy) Kiefer and the other guy leave Robocop alone in the room. Instead of doing the smart thing and staying in the control room, 'securing it' - to put it in the show's parlance, Kiefer and the other guy left. The other's guy's now dead. Kiefer's fighting in badly staged action scenes. Possibly a Falcon's Crest creative 'genius' isn't the best go-to for action?

The missiles have been stopped. Kiefer notices that Robocop, like our patience, has vanished. He goes looking for Robocop and, apparently having never watched an action or horror film, doesn't think to look behind him. Robocop confronts Kiefer with gun aimed: "You were never really going to let me go, were you?"

"No," Kiefer responds in a quieter moment.

This is supposed to be Weller's big moment, Emmy nom written all over it. His failure to deliver goes a long way to explaining why the film career never took off. Like the gun Kiefer passed him at 7:01, Weller's shooting blanks.

19:24 Weller's dead. Killed by Kiefer. Because Weller killed "friends of mine." Robocop cut down by a vigilante. That may be symmetry. It's also true that judge & jury plays big these days. Gone are the times when issues related to Dirty Harry's actions could be seriously questioned. Probably helps when you sell non-stop fear and have an administration that does as well. We hold a moment of silence to honor Henry Fonda who didn't put easy, big money ahead of strong principles and take the part of Dirty Harry.

19:58-23:58 is a commercial break. We feel like we should head for our corners and rest before the bell rings.

We ponder why Rush Limbaugh needed to take (smuggle?) viagra on a trip to the Dominican Republic with 24's Joel Surnow ('creator' -- more like foster parent -- and exec producer) and Howard Gordon (exec producer and headwriter and who, despite a name that calls to mind "Howard Borden" actually looks a lot like William Devane if Devane's face got stuck in a vice for . . . 24 hours)? We wonder who the effects of the viagra were intended for? And whether Daryn Kagan is fine with selling her soul and self-respect to be with a grotesque loud mouth even after it's obvious to the world that he's getting some action on the side? (We also wonder if Kagan is unaware of how many careers have been destroyed by 'dating' Rush? We could provide her with names but we have no sympathy for her and she's sealed her own fate.)

24:40-24:50 Kiefer lies that Robocop is dead because "He fired on me. I didn't have a chance." (Robocop's gun had no bullets. Kiefer gave him the gun knowing that.)

We're stuck with soap opera and bad melodrama until 31:57 -- well this is a from a Falcon Crester. And just like that show, it's long and talky. Charlene says goodbye to a guy she really cares about.

"Will you let me know that you're alright?"

"It's probably safer if we don't have any contact."

Safer for his career. Like all bad scenes, this one ends oh-so-slowy.

36:12 to 36:13 the writers please Rush by dumping a dead body -- of someone ordered killed by the President of the United States -- in the woods. Not a lot of talky (for this show) since we're all supposed to be thinking "Vince Foster!"

Kiefer's in the scene via a phone call. He's put on speaker phone, cell speaker phone. They're all like children in separate sandboxes. Kiefer's going to force the president to confess his evil deeds. He's going to confront him and record the confession. With, you know this, whatever it takes. He obviously trained at Guantanamo.

37:39 how long will it take for him to get to the president?

37:40 Kiefer replies, "20 minutes." The show is obsessed with 20 minutes.

37:42 Kiefer is told, "That's too long."

Kiefer insists that they delay the president's departure so that he can make it to the president.

Kiefer: "I don't need to remind you that he was responsible for David Palmer's assassination and a terrorist attack on this country's soil."

You don't? Then why did you?

The third commercial break at 42:18. At least the third. One of us says, "Remember how much was spent on that wedding that never took place?" The other laughs about how much was spent the night before. Gallows laughter.

45:18 we groan thinking the torture, er, show is back on. It's not. It's just a heavily made up Kiefer, with back lighting, schilling for a 'cause' and reinforcing the message of the show (and the administration) that danger is everywhere and parents should take steps "to protect them" -- kids -- from the trouble on the internet. But who will protect them from the boredom of 24?

46:19 show's on. When will it end? We keep thinking, when will it end? And yes, we get that we're paraphrasing Stephen Sondheim's "Not a Day Goes By" from Merrily We Roll Along.

Together we sing:

But I go on thinking and sweating
And cursing and crying
And turning and reaching
And waking and dying
And no, not a day goes by
Not a blessed day
But you're still somehow part of my life
And you won't go away
So there's hell to pay
And until I die . . .

Which pretty much sums up our attitude about this lethargic show.

We stare at the screen in horror realizing Charlene's about to put out for God and country. That's how she's going to delay the president from catching his helicopter long enough for Kiefer to arrive on the scene, sleep with the president. They only needed a few minutes. Since Charlene hates the man, considers him a killer, you might think the writers could be inventive. But as Rush pointed out, creative 'genius' Joel thought a kiss was a way to interest female viewers. Therefore, it stands to reason, that the same 'genius' couldn't think of any way for a woman to irritate the president and prevent him from leaving except to put out. Apparently Joel's never heard of Martha Mitchell.

Kiefer's arrived safely. Charlene's bought time.

53:01 Kiefer is asked, "How far are you willing to go?"

53:08 Kiefer responds, "As far as I have to."

Thereby summing up the desperation factor of his career that led him to 24. As the show's clock tells us it is now 6:00 a.m, the episode ends.

So what did you get? Bad acting galore. Very little action (in fact what Charlene did to the president may have been the most action of the entire show -- thankfully, that took place, for the most part, offscreen).

How's it pull in veiwers? (The ones it does pull in.) Not with fast pacing. Not with twists and turns. With a lot of soap opera. Throw some guns in, let 'em go off every now and then, and some guys who scoff at soap operas get all caught up. "Did Charlene really put out?" "Yeah, man! It was awesome! I wonder what happens next?" "Hey, how 'bout that Chloe, bringing in her ex-husband for that one scene? Man, the tension between that divorced couple."

It's the same sort of logic that helped the same studio (no, not Fox -- the boutique run by the 'geniuses' who whined that the Weinsteins played dirty while insisting that A Beautiful Mind was "truth, man") sell a Felicity clone to ABC -- Jennifer Garner had fun scenes hanging out with her friends, talking relationships with Francie, getting close to Will, getting close to Vaughn. Toss her a gun, let some explosives go off and it's a "manly" show. That's one of the common threads between the crap that was Alias and the crap that is 24. Another is that you limit the number of women onscreen because the American population has more adult males than women. Oh, it doesn't? Well on TV it does. Especially on bad TV. The final thread the two shows share is that they get you to root for vigilante 'justice' and for the law being shredded.

In Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seaons, when pressured by Henry VIII to grant him a divorce, Lord Chancellor Thomas Moore refuses and explains his decision with: "The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal, not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal." Possibly the biggest differences between art and bad TV.
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