Most TV tie-in books are almost entirely harmless parasites on the cash cow of a show. The “Such-and-Such” Companion. The Watcher’s Guide to “This-Other-Thing”. If you like the show and have the spare cash, you can get a hundred or so pages of episode guide, some cast bios, interviews with the creators and main actors, some trivia, photos and maybe something on those wacky fans. If the show is still around in three years, they do another one just like it called “Volume 2.”
Mark Cerasini’s 24: The House Special Subcommittee’s Findings at CTU tries to be a little different. The bulk of Findings consists of testimony given by Jack Bauer and others to a Congressional committee investigating the attempted assassination of then Senator and “now” President-elect David Palmer. In other words, what happened during season one of 24. Findings never drops the pretense of being a document of real events. In addition to the testimonies, Cerasini, posing as a reporter, provides things like dossiers on key players, magazine articles about Palmer’s campaign after the assassination attempt, autopsy reports, and transcripts of commentary from fictitious TV shows. Some background material appears as “reporter’s notes” on stationary “from the desk of Mark Cerasini.” The idea has a lot of potential. Unfortunately, most of that potential is unrealized.
24 is the best show currently on TV. It follows the rules of its own universe scrupulously. Everything must happen in 24 hours, and something must happen every hour. Anyone can be a turncoat. If that turncoat dies, he will leave one and only one lead for the always desperate Jack Bauer. There are plenty of crazy plans and all of them just might work. Co-workers often pull guns on each other and frequently with reason. This is big fun done right.
The format of the show encourages the creators to pull out the most absurd twists without fretting over the ramifications. We don’t worry about how a candidate can divorce his sort of evil wife mid-campaign and still get elected. That happens later. We don’t worry about how a government agent can shoot his own supervisor and one of his colleagues in the same day and still keep his job. It’s 24, not The Continuing Adventures of Jack Bauer. The writers can’t resist the temptation of their farthest over the top ideas and it works for me.
Findings never comes to life in the same way. One of the apparent motives of the book, or perhaps just an inevitable side effect of the format, is to address plot holes and questions lobbed by fans. Cerasini uses the Congressional inquiry to offer answers for those who care about such things. If Jack could review surveillance footage to see that Nina killed Jamey, why didn’t they use the security cameras to see who smuggled out the doctored key card in the early episodes? Since footage more than 48 hours old is compressed, archived and stored in Washington, it would take too long to retrieve, Jack testifies. If Nina were a double agent, why did she help Jack in the early episodes? She was maintaining her cover, we are told. There’s nothing wrong with these answers, but really, who cares other than nitpickers and people who wear out their pause buttons looking for problems?
Cerasini fills in some background on Jack Bauer’s early mission against Victor Drazen (played by Dennis Hopper with the funniest Eastern European villain accent I’ve ever heard by an actor not wearing plastic fangs). But this new material is brief and concentrated at the start of the book. 24 understands its own disposability. The creators clearly want to keep the thrills and twists coming. Take this season for example. Remember when CTU headquarters was bombed? Jack went undercover and had to simultaneously plant a bomb and prevent the bombing. Ultimately, this plot line didn’t accomplish much besides killing Sara Gilbert. In the early hours, the characters needed some tension, Jack needed the next lead and the show needed a bang. It served its purpose, but there’s no need for the casual fan to go back and investigate it in detail.
Cerasini’s book doesn’t truly depart from the TV tie-in standard since the testimony is given hour-by-hour, resulting in an episode guide by character recollection. The format of Findings ultimately works against the strengths of 24. While it is entertaining to watch Jack throw himself into some brutal and desperate plan, it is no fun reading his later justifications. Findings also misses out on the humor of the show. The tough guy dialogue fueled by constantly simmering rage generally cracks me up. 24 knows how to push a situation without ever winking at the camera. In Findings, we’ve already seen the over the top events and the things that are new—a Democratic Congresswoman from Connecticut who needs military jargon explained to her—aren’t exciting or funny. Findings is stuck halfway between a novel based on a TV show and a cut-and-paste “Official Guide.”
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