Monday, January 16, 2006

The return of 24

What happens when the first fifteen minutes of a season premiere goes through more action than most programs do in three episodes? I almost get a heart attack, that’s what. Case in point? Last night’s 24.

Exhibit 1: David Palmer. Here I am, riding a geeky little return-to-TV high as we’re sympathetically reintroduced to our hero Jack Bauer. Afterward, I’m ready to meet up again with all the other characters we’ve grown to appreciate during the previous four seasons. David Palmer, our favorite ex-president, is next. Generally, this is what happens: he’s talking with his brother, former chief of staff, blah-de-dah, David are you listening to me or are you looking at the newspaper to provide the audience with backstory about the current administration and how they worked you over, bla-de-la-dah-tra-do-dah, David don’t you dare turn your back on me and walk toward that window while I’m talking to you-- BAM! Oh. My. God. David Palmer has been shot. And not only shot…he’s dead. That’s right—one of our favorite characters, a guy who spent the entire first season trying not to be assassinated, has just been wasted. But we’re not going to stop there.

Exhibit 2: Tony and Michelle are reunited, and amidst the exposition about how they’re reacting to President Palmer’s death and their new jobs at a security firm they own, I take a second to think, “Awwwww. Tony and Michelle together again. This makes me so happy, especially after how they spent all of last season looking longingly at each other--” BOOOOOOOOOM. Michelle’s car blows up and Tony gets a bit of the bomb, too. Damn you, 24!

Exhibit 3: Oh, crap, Jeff Kober is now after Chloe’s butt. She’s dust, because we know that Jeff Kober not only shot Palmer, but he usually plays the nearly indestructible bad guy. Also, I have a totally inexplicable fondness for Chloe; I really like how she’s a basic disaster but, in the office, she’s amazing. In fact, if you need help, Chloe’s the gal you’d want on your side because she kicks techno ass (and ever since they put her in the field for that one episode last season, she’s The Terminator, so she can shoot, too. Therefore, do not mess with Miss Personality Disorder.). My pep squad rah-rah for this character is odd, but it’s there, and I really don’t want her to die. Yet, since she’s able to call Jack, I feel a bit better about her chances. But…man, the writers killed Palmer and Michelle. I am not so secure at this moment. In fact, I am a scared weenie.

Exhibit 4: Okay, they killed Michelle, but they’ve brought back…Audrey??? Audrey, the ballbuster who broke Jack’s heart last season? As she darkens my TV screen, I hear millions of voices cry out in terror. But I feel better when I realize that she’s surely on the hit list, too. Please? But…wait. Audrey is defending Jack. Then I realize something and the world rights itself once again: if she’s on Jack’s side, she’s definitely going to die. Excellent.

My point is, by this time, 24 has not only killed off two main characters and put a beloved one in surgery, but they’ve just let us know in no uncertain terms that everyone on this show is fair game. That’s why this program is awesome, and that’s why I get so pukey nervous watching it. Pukey in a good way, though.

Another thing: it struck me that when the writing on 24 is good, it’s damned good. Take, for instance, the way the writers revealed some of the main characters during the first minutes and emphasized what they wanted us to remember about them:

  • Jack (Oh, Jack, good to see you again!) is our hero, but he’s been reduced to a mere face in the back of a crowd. His leathered features are puckered in some kind of anguished grimace as he finds out that he doesn’t have a job to earn him some moola today. Instant sympathy slays me. He reminds me of a Depression-era man who needs to put food in the mouths of his destitute family, but this guy is a loner, and he doesn’t even have anyone to come home to, I’ll bet. We find out that’s only half true when we follow him back to the Jack Shack, where this season’s love interest immediately hits on him. I pretty much can’t blame her, because who can resist The Voice?
  • Derek is this season’s requisite brat teenager (Early Kim with a sex change, but maybe smarter. Allow me to qualify that with only two words: mountain lion. You all know what I mean when that particular phrase refers to Kim. At this early point, Derek still has a fighting chance of not being a Kim-caliber dipthwack since we barely know him.). We first see Derek of the Long Flowing Blond Locks snarking at his mom in the kitchen about Jack, who’s been invited to breakfast. “Use a cup,” the patently put-upon mom then tells her son as he swills the orange juice straight from the carton. But you can tell that every request this woman makes of Derek is useless and she’s basically just sort of pretending that she has a son who listens to her; her request is an exhausted parody of the household’s pecking order, really. Anyway, cue Jack trying to make some attempt to establish a foundation with the kid before he has to have that majorly awkward talk with him about how he’s having sex with the teen’s mom. “Here,” Jack says, kindly giving Derek a cup. In a silent slam, our petulant token rebelette takes a big, screw-you gulp at Jack, telling the audience everything we need to know about how much of a royal pain he’s going to be. Then, later, as terrorists shoot up a lobby that Derek has wandered into, he proves us right by exposing how much of a village idiot he actually is while standing as everyone else hits the floor. He is mountain lion bait after all.
  • Chloe is the aforementioned unexpected heroine. At first, she’s shown tumbling out of bed. Then, with a mixture of appalled disgust, shameful discomfort, and maybe even wonderment that she actually got some hot sex last night, she tells her coworker to get his underling-one-night-stand-boinkin’ self out of her sight. Ah, Chloe, even if you are Xena now, you’re still the same social moron. Her inability to deal on a one-to-one basis with a guy who seems to like her (We’ll see about that, you token CTU mole candidate….) is on full view here. After that, her life is threatened and she goes on the run with Jack until she’s caught. Yea, Team ChloeJack!
  • The First Lady of the Twilight Zone is very interesting to me, even at first sight. Is she the White House equivalent of that great TZ episode in which William Shatner or John Lithgow sees the gremlin on the plane wing and no one believes him? When we initially see her, she’s staring at herself in a mirror. “I look like a wedding cake,” she pronounces in a dead tone that somehow also manages to be pompous. She then suddenly dunks her face with poised abandon in a sink full of water. Mascara running from her eyes, she grandly deems herself ready to start over. Now, I have no idea why she completes her vanity in front of a full sink of water—does this little episode happen every day?—but it was a neat introduction.

I missed you, 24, even if you are a bit daffy sometimes. Thank you once again for introducing high blood pressure into my weekly existence.

Until next week: Boop (boom). Biip (boom). Boop (boom). Biip (boom).

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