The son of a friend, a bright young man in his mid-20s, complained to my wife recently about the morally reprehensible nature of the show “24,” which returns to the air with a four-hour premiere on Fox Sunday and Monday.
It’s unconscionable, he told her, that a show should exploit the public’s fear of terrorism. (Hey, someone’s got to do it after the Bush administration skulks away.)
He didn’t even mention the show’s regular use of torture as an interrogation technique which, at least on “24,” always produces actionable intelligence. There is, at a minimum, anecdotal evidence that American forces in Iraq and elsewhere use the show as a role model when questioning suspects. This, despite evidence that so-called heightened or aggressive questioning usually produces the opposite of useful information. But I’m sure he meant to.
So – right on, young brother! Fight the corporate media oligarchy.
Meanwhile, I’m afraid I’ll have to feed my “24” jones.
I’ve seen those first four hours of the new season – it’s been almost two years since the last season started, thanks to the writers’ strike – and all I can say is: If they offer me the chance to watch the next 20 hours of the series in a single sitting, I’m so there. Hey – if the characters can go 24 hours without sleep, food, liquids or a bathroom break, who am I to wuss out?
EVEN BEFORE I READ about the political leanings of the show’s creators, it was obvious who they regarded as the good guys – and who the bad guys were.
The bad guys were the terrorists, no matter what stripe: Islamist militants, Chinese, Serbs, African despots (this year’s villains), string-pulling international businessmen. Oh yes – and the U.N. And the ACLU – and all butt-watching bureaucrats and politicians who get in the way of Jack Bauer halting whatever plot threatens Los Angeles/ the state of California/ the USA/ the world/ the universe.
And the good guys were, well, Jack Bauer, uber-agent and seeming superman, played with an Eastwoodian flintiness by Kiefer Sutherland (bet no one messed with him when he was in lock-up for that DUI). Jack Bauer is the possessor of every survival skill known to man. He’s got the sensitivity to develop a deep, meaningful relationship with the woman he loves – and the strength of character to sacrifice her for the greater good.
As this season starts, Jack has been brought back to the USA in cuffs from Africa (see “24: Redemption,” in which he sacrificed his freedom for the sake of a group of African children he rescued).
He’s first seen facing a Senate committee hearing about his use of torture in the past. He’s being grilled by a pinched-looking senator played by Kurtwood Smith, the irascible dad on “That 70s Show” and “Worst Week” (and the sneeringly evil villain in “Robocop”). I love the multiple messages of this scene.
ON THE ONE HAND, here’s Jack Bauer, getting right in the committee’s grill, saying he did what he had to do under the circumstances. (He once shot turncoat Peter Weller’s wife in the knee while Weller looked on to get Weller to talk – now!) And, Bauer says, he committed these acts to avert disaster after disaster, to save a country that thanks him in this way.
On the other hand, you have the producers/writers of the show, essentially saying to Congress, “You don’t even have the stones to hold hearings like this.” Too true.
And then what happens? The FBI swoops into the hearing and grabs Jack – because they need him to help stop a terrorist plot. Jack is like a racehorse at the gate, chomping at the big for that first opportunity to threaten to jam a ballpoint through the eardrum of some malefactor to get a crucial bit of intel (which he does, in the first hour).
Man, I love me some “24.”
I love the headlong pace. I love how much action, how many moments of confrontation, life-or-death decisions, jeopardy and fight-to-the-finish situations they pack into each 42-minute episode.
And I love how ridiculously resilient Jack Bauer is.
During one early season, he intentionally addicted himself to heroin as part of an undercover identity. In the third episode, he had to start kicking heroin. In the fourth and fifth episodes, he went through withdrawal. By the sixth episode, he was clean and sober and ready to kick ass. In other words, he completely beat his heroin in the space of four hours of a single day. Do the rehab centers know about this?
Jack Bauer can drive, fly or pilot any terrestrial, aquatic or aeronautic vehicle he needs to. When tortured, he never breaks – or else he only gives up false info. (Good thing he’s on our side, right?)
THERE WAS ONE TORTURE SCENE in an early season where the bad guys went too far and literally killed Jack Bauer. A physician with defibrillator paddles quickly brought him back to life – and by the end of the episode, Jack managed to free himself, kill his captors and escape.
In the new season premiere, he breaks OUT of FBI headquarters at one point and hotwires a car, while hiding under the dash to avoid gunfire. Still crouched under the dash, he guns the engine, propelling the car off the second floor of a parking garage so that it crashes to the street below. Then he gets out and escapes in a waiting getaway car, while dodging bullets.
It’s so far-fetched, so retrogressive – and such a gleefully guilty pleasure.
If the first four hours of the new season are any indication, it should be a wild, dizzy, blood-drenched, credibility-bending season. Please don’t call when it’s on.