Back on the Clock: A New Season of 24

My thoughts as a new season of 24 begins on Fox.

I realize that by the time this blog is posted, most people reading this (including myself) will probably be four hours into the eighth season of 24. I am sure that there will be some dire situation involving the President and members of his/her family/staff, a real/fictional foreign country (depending on how poorly the writers plan on portraying its government), and a crisis of epic proportions. All of this will obviously cause Jack Bauer to return reluctantly to serve his country. Along the way, my guess is that he will deal with the difficult issues of whether national security justifies torture and whether it is possible to have a personal and professional life simultaneously.

I typically am excited about a new season of 24 and enjoy how it ushers in the Spring TV season. Over the past few seasons as the DVR has become a bigger factor in governing my relationship with TV series, I find myself often falling a few hours behind; however, once I start watching, there is always enough going on to propel me forward. In short, 24 has never gotten to the point where it felt like a chore to watch (except for the season that I skipped... Jack has a brother?).

I have to be honest, though, that the four hours currently sitting on my DVR just are not exciting me right now. At this point, my memories of last season place it right up there with Jersey Shore or anything on VH1 in terms of absurdity. And last season was a relatively good one, with the introduction of two compelling characters played by Annie Wersching, as a genuinely compelling love interest for Jack, and Cherry Jones, as a David-Palmer-like President.

I guess the fundamental problem is the utter inability of the writers/producers to use any sort of long-term planning. I have read interviews where producer Howard Gordon claims only to have a vague sense of where a particular season will end up, and this is clearly evident in any attempt to watch a particular season as a coherent narrative. The failure of the series to create a season that hangs together over 24 hours into a compelling and coherently mapped-out narrative is especially disappointing given the many wonderful examples out there today. I am not even asking for the sort of uber-mythos of a series like Lost; just give me some indication that you know where this ship is heading and that we won’t run out of gas before we get there.

Last season is a great example of taking promising elements and frittering them away inexplicably. The showrunner’s ADD continually causes them to plow through potentially long-term foils for Jack with shocking speed. Perhaps the best example occurred in the middle of last season, as the villains plotted an attack on the White House. When this mini-arc began, I foolishly imagined that we had just begun into the season’s end-game, and the remaining 12 or so hours would unfold in and around the White House. Instead, the entire plot was started and finished by the end of one of those “Special Two-Hour Episodes", the villain in charge was captured, and of course the next villain up the ladder had revealed himself. Oh, the plot to take over the White House was just a diversion... really? Taking over THE WHITE HOUSE was a diversion?

So, like Jack Bauer will undoubtedly do ten or fifteen minutes into the first episode, I imagine that sometime in the next week or so I will suit back up, have a good shave (I love the moment a few hours into each day when Jack cleans himself up...), and start the clock. I just wish that the ticking clock that begins and ends each episode felt more like an entrance into the escapist entertainment that the series clearly wants to be -- and less like I was clocking in at work.

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