Monday, January 16, 2006

TV: 24

Spoilers ahead for Sunday's two-hour premiere.

America's favorite advocate of torture is back! No, not Dick Cheney -- Jack Bauer, former government agent and master of hurting bad guys a lot. Also some good guys every once in a while, but he always feels sorry for it later. Kind of.

The 5th season of 24 kicked off Sunday with a hell of a beginning. When Fox kept telling us the first ten minutes would blow us away, they weren't kidding. (Actually, it carried over into the first fifteen minutes.) Hey, there's our old buddy, ex-President David Palmer! How nice to see Dennis Haysbert guest-starring once ag-- BLAM!! DEAD!! Ho-lee shit. Not fake dead, not missing-body, might-turn-up-all-right-later dead: dead dead, with an assassin's bullet through his throat. I honestly did not believe this show had the guts to kill him off. But they did, and it was a brutal shock. Hey, but look -- it's Tony and Michelle, our favorite lovebirds from CTU, no longer working for the government, but ready to spring back into action to find the assassin-- BLAM!! DEAD!! (Well, Michelle's dead, Tony's in a coma.) NO WAY!!

Yes way. 24 is telling us right up front: they are pulling out all the stops this year. And I love it.

24 has not always thrilled me. It's definitely a "take your brain off the hook" kind of show, by which I mean you really, really need to ignore logic and consistency. If you can do that, it'll deliver you the best action on TV. But sometimes, even that hasn't been enough to keep me watching, and there is one reason for that: Kim Bauer, the dumbest character in the history of television (and I am including characters whose sole purpose is to be dumb, like Chrissy Snow, Gomer Pyle, Homer Simpson, and George W. Bush. Aw, hell yeah, that's two completely gratuitous shots at the current administration in one post. It's a good day).

I watched the first season of 24, and mostly enjoyed it, but any bit with Jack's idiot daughter Kim made me want to shoot my TV screen. She stepped in an animal trap and got menaced by a freakin' cougar, dude, that's how lame she was. [EDIT: Commenter Greg thinks this was in season two. He's probably right. Still: a freakin' cougar.] Also, she couldn't cross the street without getting kidnapped or revealing vital secrets to a bad guy.

Then she came back in season two, and she was even worse. I dropped the show for a while, but came back for the end of the season. Then, in season three, there she was, working at CTU. Yes, Kim Bauer was responsible for stopping terrorists. That's like counting on Gilligan to rescue you from the island. I quit after two episodes, and didn't come back.

Season four did the best thing they could possibly have done to bring me back: they wrote her out of the show. And it was a pretty darn good year, culminating in Jack faking his own death and walking off into the sunset all by his lonesome, a la Dr. Richard Kimble/David Banner. And here we have season five: the four people who know Jack's still alive have been targeted for death. Only Chloe evades the trap -- yay, Chloe!

Ostensibly, the four were targeted so that Jack could be framed for their murders. But there are always twists on top of twists -- it later seems that only Palmer was the real target, and the other three were diversions. But diversions from what? Surely not the hostage situation at the airport -- I imagine that will be resolved by the end of tonight's two-hour continuation. No, I'd bet there's an even bigger, more sinister plan looming on the horizon, and then probably another one or two after that.

Even at its best, 24 is far from perfect -- for example, the women characters are almost uniformly hostage-bait, crazy, or evil bitches. And Jack is, at this point, basically a psychopath. He will kill or maim anyone who gets in his way, and exhibit as much emotion as someone who just swatted a fly. And the middle episodes of each season tend to wander aimlessly. But for the explosive action, for the over-the-top twists, for the thrill of it all, it's solid popcorn entertainment. And this season is already looking like the best yet.

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