Thursday, January 10, 2008


[This is part of my recent series of dispatches from the recent past. Netflix has me watching TV shows that I missed for various reasons, and I just finished 24 season one.]

For all the trouble it must cause to editors, costume designers, and lighting technicians, the “24 episodes portraying 24 hours” conceit is a screenwriter’s dream. It allows you to talk to the audience, tell them something and make them believe it without question. When someone says they will kill Jack if they do not hear from Palmer in 15 minutes – you know this is fifteen minutes of YOUR LIFE, including the trip to the bathroom you are going to take when the show goes to commercial. Characters are constantly making proclamations about time on the show because the writers know that if you can demonstrate that the characters have something in common with the audience – the desire to see a little girl saved for example – the audience will be more emotionally involved. On 24 time is a device the show can use to make this connection, in addition to all the other tools in the toolbox.

It is admittedly a fairly absurd device. Because 24 usually relies on four things going on at once (Jack’s story, Palmer’s story, Kim’s story, CTU’s story) the show is premised on the idea that at no point will something interesting be going on in two places at once. Jack will do something interesting for five minutes, then have a short stretch to drive with nothing going on while we cut to something beginning and ending with Kim, then downtime for her while we move to CTU, and so on. The show’s creators like to stress the “realism” of 24, but there is nothing realistic about it. It is an American James Bond story, whose very artificial premise gives it a boost of energy that sets it a bit above its counterparts. In the first season, by the way, Kim Bauer is kidnapped, on average, every eight hours.

52 was an attempt to create a comic book analogue for 24, but they misunderstood the main virtue of the thing – 52 accurately measures what week you are reading the book – the same week the story takes place – but this is a far cry from matching the reader on a minute by minute basis.


Adam F. said...

I really enjoy your parallel between 24 and 52. I hadn't realized it until I read your post, but it does seem that the 52 creators were more concerned about having a Halloween issue at the end of October, rather than focus on story progression.

Marc Caputo said...

There are several nearly axiomatic things about this show:

1. Everything in L.A. is 10-15 minutes away.
2. CTU is the EASIEST building to attack/compromise/access IF you're a bad guy.
3. DO NOT hang with Jack Bauer if you're not in the opening credits.
4. Nothing can "get rid of" Kim Bauer.
5. Jack has a 1700 hour cell phone battery.
6. Jack Bauer is essentially the most important figure in the UNIVERSE, yet he still has to go through the switchboard to get to the director of CTU.

Enjoy, Geoff. Season 1 has kinks, Seasons 2-5 are all great and they actually get better and better (but I'd go with 4 as my favorite.) Season 6 is god-awful - the producers even admitted as much. It's great watching them at your leisure, but when S7 comes on, watch it from week to week - nail biting.

Is Battlestar Galactica on your horizon? Hope so.

Geoff Klock said...

Adam -- thanks for posting.

Marc -- that is hilarious, especially #1 and 5.

Battlestar Galactica is ALL waiting in my Netflix que.

Stephen said...

It is an American James Bond story, whose very artificial premise gives it a boost of energy that sets it a bit above its counterparts.

That about sums it up... although I thought that the multiple split-screen stuff they did was innovative for the time, for fiction anyway.

Season Two builds reasonably on S1 (and for all the show's conservative rep. can be read as a critique of Bush on several levels). But S3 is just a mess, obviously done without any planning. I gave up towards the end and haven't seen the show since. If you want more of what S1 did, S2 provides it (although with the Kim plots being, actually, even lamer than S1... but no amnesia balances it out). S3 just sucks.


Ultimate Matt said...

I can't tell from your review whether you actually like the show. By coincidence, I'm also watching the first season (just finished disc 4), and everything after disc 2 we've been watching out of sheer morbid curiosity - we (my fiance and myself) are finding it almost irredeemably awful. Poor dialogue; long, slow, boring segments; ridiculous plot devices that come out of nowhere to artificially pad out the length (AMNESIA????) over and under acting, etc.

So anyway, back to my original question... Geoff, did you like it?

Geoff Klock said...

Stephen -- thanks.

Matt -- remember how I said There Will Be Blood is obviously a brilliant movie that is not really for me, that my dislike of it has nothing to do with the movie and everything to do with a set of tastes that I have that I would not foist on others? Well 24 is the opposite. It is obviously trash, but I often like trash. Also I only ever watch it while working out -- when I usually want to see alpha males just beating people up.

Ultimate Matt said...

Understood then - I really couldn't tell from the review. I also was in kind of a bad mood when I wrote that :).