Sunday, July 20, 2014

TV: What the return of 24 meant

24 was a show of the '00s, capturing all the fear, cruelty and hate of that ugly decade and regurgitating it into mass propaganda.


Art transforms and enriches.  However, the program that blurred the line between Fox entertainment and Fox 'News' was the televised equivalent of nitrogen deficiency, robbing humanity and common sense from the public.  It was awarded with honors it didn't really deserve and became the show pimped by Rush Limbaugh and others in his set.  From the left, there were a few of us who pushed back (we did in 2006, Matthew Rothschild is another on the left who pushed back).

The pushback was stronger than the endorsement -- in part because the pushback against the vile lies of the show included commentary from Donald Sutherland and Shirley Douglas, the parents of 24 star Kiefer Sutherland.

Noted actors and leftists, Sutherland and Douglas didn't go public with their sharp critiques but their private critiques led Kiefer to begin public rebuking the torture the show embraced and portrayed as effective.

His parents criticism also led to Kiefer's two follow up projects.

First up was the ten-episode web series The Confession which paired Kiefer with John Hurt.  The 24 star went from playing 'rouge' agent Jack Bauer to playing a hitman confessing to a priest (Hurt).  The ten episodes explore issues of guilt and rage as well as consequences.

It was weighty fare for Kiefer and led many to wonder if it was also his penance for 24?

There was no question that Touch was penance.

That 26 episode  (spread out over two seasons) series found Kiefer playing a journalist whose son was the target of a corporation's conspiracy as well as a centuries old religious conspiracy.  There were twists and turns and possibly the ratings for the second season might not have been so bad if the show hadn't aired on Fridays?

Equally true, Friday is a night of the week and the networks, when they program smart, can pull in viewers on that night.

What's not in dispute is that Kiefer's Martin Bohm was far removed from Kiefer's Jack Bauer.  Martin avoided violence as much as possible and resorted to it only when his son was in danger.  In many ways, the series recalled Lindsay Wagner's TV classic The Bionic Woman with conflict resolution being more important than fist-a-cuffs.

Equally true, it attempted to forge a new career path for Kiefer Sutherland, even more so than The Confession.

In May of 2013, Fox cancelled Touch.

A year later, Kiefer was back on Fox with the 12-episode series 24: Live Another Day.

Jack Bauer returned but this time he was the terrorist in England, not America.  As usual, he wasn't seen as a terrorist at all.   He was the 'tortured' and brooding thing of beauty.

Torture porn?

Casino Royale's opening with a nude Daniel Craig being tortured had many dismissing the Bond reboot as torture porn.

And, coming after 24, the events onscreen may have confused many.

We define torture porn as using violence to titillate while pimping the lie that torture works.

That had nothing to do with the Daniel Craig scenes.

Actresses tend to go middle or working class -- a peculiar form of movie 'middle class' and  'working class' -- when they reach a certain level of stardom.  They want to be seen as real and usually portray mothers attempting to save their children -- especially if stardom was found via the comedy route.

When men reach a certain level of stardom, they want to suffer as well.  But children sick or missing aren't enough for them.  They want to be strung up like a side of beef and suffer physical abuse.  See the work of Sylvester Stallone, Clint Eastwood, among others.  Especially pay attention to the work of Mel Gibson who probably exemplified male beauty better than any actor (peak years 1979 to 1990) and who indulged in repeated scenes of onscreen abuse and torture.

When the star is physically tortured or battered, this really isn't torture porn.

It may be masochism.

But it's really not torture in the sense that we now, thanks to the Bully Boy Bush and Barack administrations, contemplate when we hear the term 'torture.'

24 was always torture porn.  In its eighth season, it also indulged in torturing Jack Bauer.

But that suffering seems mild in comparison to 24: Live Another Day.  Should the series return for another season, Jack Bauer's suffering may surpass that of the title character in the Mel Gibson directed film The Passion of the Christ.

The latest season found Jack suffering beatings, suffering the loss of a loved one (a former flame he gave up seasons ago), suffering the kidnapping of his only friend (Mary Lynn Rajskub's Chloe O'Brian) and much more.

We were supposed to marvel over how Jack endured, how he carried on, how -- when the Russians had Chloe in the final episode of the season -- Jack sacrificed himself for Chloe.

All of this claptrap was supposed to make Jack come off noble.

And for the simple-minded, it probably did the trick.

Chloe is kidnapped by the Russians and Jack hands himself over because he's a 'man of honor' -- that's what some probably thought.

But he's not honorable, not at all.

Margot al-Harazi (Michelle Fairley) was this season's villain, the widow of a terrorist killed by a US drone who wanted vengeance.  She wants US President James Heller (William Devane) to turn himself over to her -- to go to a sports stadium alone -- so that she can use a drone to kill him.

If he does not agree, she will use the US drones (which she's found a backdoor into) to kill hundreds of people throughout England.

When Jack's unable to locate her or to disable the drones, President Heller makes the decision to turn himself in at the stadium.  He does this to save the lives of innocents.

But Jack does a video loop of Heller to make it appear that he's standing in one spot in the stadium when he's actually at another spot.

The 'man of honor' is happy to trick terrorists to save Heller's life.

But when he could have done the same to save himself and Chloe?

Jacky Bauer goes all weak-kneed.

We're also missing the honor in torturing Simone al-Harazi (Emily Berrington) who is already injured and at death's door.  We also question the 'honor' in the decision to toss Margot al-Harazi out a window to her death instead of having her stand trial.

Most of all, we don't see anyone -- man or woman -- of 'honor' firing at and injuring civilians just to create a distraction.

In the episode "Day 9: 1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.," Jack is at the US Embassy, unable to enter and pursued by the CIA (primarly Yvonne Strahovski's agent Kate Morgan).  So what does he do?

He shoots at -- and wounds -- civilians taking part in a peaceful protest against drones.

In the next episode, Kate Morgan will argue that Jack's trying to help because he aimed at the bullet proof vests of the people he shot.


No, the protesters were not wearing bullet proof vests.  In this follow up episode, once in the Embassy compound, Jack fires at US military personnel and, instead of killing them, aims for their vests to knock them out.

What he did to the civilians immediately prior to entering the compound -- which Kate Morgan observed -- is never mentioned nor noted.

Jack Bauer is a good guy, Kate insists, because he didn't try to kill soldiers.

She is not the least bit concerned that Jack shot into a crowd of civilians and injured several.  Or that he risked human life just to get into a building.

24 returned and managed to demonstrate that it could get even uglier.

But what it really revealed is how stunted and over Kiefer Sutherland's career is.

Second acts on TV are not common.  They do, however, take place.  Alyssa Milano, for example, can smoothly move from a star of Who's The Boss to a star of Charmed to a star of Mistresses.  Larry Hagman can go from starring on I Dream of Jeannie to Dallas.  Kate Jackson can go from The Rookies  to Charlie's Angels to Scarecrow & Mrs. King.  Jane Curtin can go from Saturday Night Live to Kate & Allie to 3rd Rock From The Sun to Unforgettable. That's luck and it's talent.

But there are those who lack luck and who, especially, lack talent.

They stop trying to find new roles to explore and instead repeat the only thing that ever prompted applause.  Usually, you see an actor or actress go a decade or more before admitting defeat -- David Caruso comes to mind -- and repeating themselves.  Not Kiefer.

Four years after he was determined to try something new, he's back on TV repeating himself, the Bob Denver of his peer group, as he admits to himself and to the world that he's little more than a one trick pony.  And it's that  desperation factor and sameness that made 24: Live Another Day such a tired and pointless effort.

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