Thursday, 1 April 2010

The Second (and Final) Annual Bill Buchanan Memorial 24 Mid-Season Review

I awoke Saturday morning to discover that the long rumoured cancellation of 24 had finally been confirmed by Fox’s trigger happy execs.

Now unlike some shows that Fox seems to almost joyously cancel, the timing does actually seem right for Jack Bauer to finally hang up his Jack Sack; after all, before this season began it was widely considered by many to be the last anyway.

The plan for this week was always to do a mid-season review, given that we have now just passed the half way mark in the UK, but the news of 24’s official end has made this post seem all the more apt.

I don’t want to dwell too much on 24’s cancellation, but I can’t not touch on it at all.

I never thought I would get to a point where hearing about this show’s cancellation would be greeted by ambivalence but that is what happened, I was almost relieved; I was genuinely more upset when Shasta McNasty got shitcanned.

Very few television shows maintain utter brilliance for the entirety of their run, and 24 was no exception; the show has seen a steady decline in quality over its last few seasons and it pains me to say it but it has gotten to a point where it has become a shadow of its former self.

The decline in quality hasn’t been as obvious as say, a Prison Break and to the casual viewer, 24 probably still seems like one of the most white-knuckle, high octane thrill rides (and all those other clichés) on TV; but to the diehard fans, the magic of those first few brilliant years has now long gone.

I’ll get on to this current eighth season, which will hopefully end the show on the high it deserves to go out on, in a minute, but first I just want to make one thing perfectly clear…

24 has been my favourite TV show now for the best part of a decade and no other show has brought me more joy, and at times, I’ll admit: frustration, than this cultural phenomenon. And looking back at the TV or not TV archives, no show has provided me with more material, good and bad, for this blog either!

So thanks for the memories 24, it’s been one hell of a ride. Let’s just hope that this eighth and now final season of the show can give Jack et al the magnificent send-off they richly deserve…

…But about that…

Season 8 was always going to be fighting a losing battle with me over the shocking decision not to have Tony Almeida as part of it (although, I still hold out hope this could be a ruse and he will eventually return) but all personal bias and feelings aside, thus far, apart from a few classic moments and performances season 8 has been somewhat of a disappointment.

It genuinely feels like the writers have run out of ideas, this year we seem to have had just about every plot line from seasons past recycled – mole at CTU, EMP going off, nuclear materials on US soil, evil Russians, evil middle Eastern terrorists, presidential assassination plot… the list goes on.

There hasn’t really been much of a change in my thoughts since the piece I posted after just four episodes, but as of episode 13 I’ll categorise the good, the bad and the ugly of season 8:

Freddie Prinze Jnr. has been such a surprise as Cole, I never in a million years thought I’d buy this guy as a bad ass but he’s been a pretty convincing partner to Jack thus far and I was pleased to see him get away from the stupid Dana subplot (more on that later), although he will inevitably be dragged back in eventually.

Hastings has also grown on me over the course of the season thus far, but his character seems to have been done in various guises a million times before: the by the books CTU chief who starts the day as an asshole but eventually comes round to Jack’s way of thinking and before you know it is breaking every rule and protocol in the book.

I also like Arlo as a peripheral character, much as I enjoyed Sean Hillinger last season (before he was revealed as the mole and then vanished without an explanation) as that wise-ass geek that always seems to occupy CTU (or the FBI) – We miss you Milo…

The rest of the new characters though: I’m struggling to warm up to, even now over half way in.

As for the old guard: well Jack is just Jack and has been as awesome as always; now I might have slagged off Chloe in my previous post but she has since turned me back around and I’m glad she’s still involved – she’s become almost as 24 as Jack by now.

Seeing her with gun in hand evoked (good) memories of seasons past and her care and concern for Jack is always a touching reminder of their somewhat bizarre friendship.

Renee though, I was never a fan of and I still can’t bring myself to root for her, I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s just me, because other fans of the show seem to like her, but I just can’t bring myself to care. I was pleased when she disappeared for the last few episodes but now she is back and they are seemingly intent on turning her into the female Jack Bauer, so she’s no doubt still to play a big role in the remainder of the season.

Other good points so far this season have been Callum Keith Rennie’s brilliant guest arc as deranged Russian mobster Vladimir Laitanan, which was the undoubted highlight thus far.

Jack’s ridiculous superhuman moment of pulling a knife out of his own torso and throwing it into a bad guy’s throat also sticks in the memory.

And Anil Kapoor’s hair and accent are just about two of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen/heard… but in a good way.

I also liked the albeit brief development of poor little Agent Owen who went from looking like he had about one episode in him to proving himself to be a nice little supporting character who on more than one occasion showed some surprising balls… Okay, those balls eventually got him killed but at least he died a hero rather than a coward.

But the bad, sadly, at this point has far out-weighed the good, the majority of which is down to anything involving the Cougar in the room Dana Walsh (or whatever her name is).

24 has always required the viewer to suspend disbelief pretty much completely – the real time concept that they seemed keen to adhere to during the first season has since been almost completely abandoned – see Jack getting from Queens to Manhattan in the space of about 2 minutes if you need evidence.

But what they have asked of us this year with this Dana storyline is just too much. Are we honestly supposed to believe that this woman wouldn’t have been vetted within an inch of her life before she was given this job?

Given CTU’s history of moles and double agents you would think it would be almost impossible to get a job with them if you’re history didn’t check out; but it genuinely seems that there screening process is (channelling my inner Arnie here) “when can you start…?”

Every season it seems there is a bad guy within CTU and yes I appreciate it adds to the tension and the drama but it needs to be believable – in these remaining 11 episodes they have to address how Dana managed to fabricate this life and how the hell this girl from Hicksville managed to get ties to the IRK, otherwise it’s just sloppy writing. A show like this needs to be watertight in terms of plot holes but there have been more gaping holes in this season than Briana Loves Jenna.

I know that each time the writers put a mole inside CTU that they are doing their best to recapture the Nina twist of season 1 but that’s just never going to happen. The Nina double crossed worked so well because they had painstakingly built up our trust in her over the entire season – she didn’t just betray Jack and Tony… she betrayed all of us.

But now, we’re so desensitised by these moles at CTU it just doesn’t shock anymore; plus we already had no trust in Dana because we know her life is built on lies, so when it was revealed she was in league with the terrorists this past week it was more just a shrug of the shoulders than a jaw on the floor moment.

One thing I’ll give the Dana twist is that at least she’s a bad guy that’s at least been built up somewhat. This season’s bad guys have dropped like flies so far and each time they are replaced by the next on the conveyor belt, who you think is going to be the season’s big bad, they are unceremoniously killed/captured a couple of episodes later.

First we had Davros who would have made a good villain had he not been killed after four episodes – but this one was acceptable as the general rule since the four hour premieres were introduced has been that they are almost a self-contained story, with the real threat then emerging just after.

Then it looked as though Farhad was going to be the villain, which I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled about, but at least we had reason to hate him and knew what he wanted. Farhad’s dealings with the Bazhaevs had potential and any one of them could have gone on to be a good villain but no, they criminally wasted talented actors like Jurgen Prochnow and David Anders and have instead seemingly gone with generic terrorist number 1: Samir as the season’s main villain.

When Tarin predictably was revealed to be on the dark side I had hoped that he would take up a leadership position with the terrorists but he seems to be nothing more than Samir’s bitch and has had a couple of moments since switching allegiance that have convinced me that he will eventually flip back and gain some final reel redemption.

To save these last ten episodes they really need to bring in an ultimate villain with some charisma because Samir is about the least compelling bad guy the show has ever seen. Who is he? What does he want? Why is he doing this? Do we know a single thing about him? His introduction and transformation to main threat has been dreadful storytelling; we’ve had plenty of episodes since he assumed command of the villains to establish some sort of back-story and make us care, but thus far we’ve had nothing.

My personal hope is that President Hassan turns out to be behind all this, but I think that’s too much of a long shot now, so all we can hope is that they introduce someone else in the next couple of episodes, who at least has a modicum of charisma and seems like they might be a match for Jack Bauer.

Elsewhere, Hassan’s family continue to annoy the hell out of me – could his wife come across as any more of a cold-hearted bitch if she tried? I suppose if your husband had been screwing around with a US reporter who, in a matter of hours, he has now conveniently forgotten about, you’d be cold too – but still.

And his daughter is just about the most naïve character this show has ever seen, and let’s not forget that Kim went into Drama off Entourage’s fall out shelter in season 2.

Here’s hoping one, or ideally both, of these two will get smoked before the day is out.

There’s been a disappointing lack of White House action recently as well, although it usually serves as more of an unwelcome interruption to Bauer’s latest bout of badassery I would far rather see a White House subplot with established characters like President Taylor, Ethan and slimy new recruit Weiss than tedious B plots involving the likes of the Hassans and Dana/Jenny.

24 has eleven episodes left to turn this now final season into a memorable farewell for Jack Bauer, which given the fact that most of the episodes were probably filmed before the cancellation announcement was made I don’t have much hope for them achieving.

But even if 24’s swansong doesn’t quite hit those dizzying heights of season 1 – 4 and to a lesser extent 5 & 7 (6 just plain sucked) then we have almost ten years of great memories and moments to look back on.

We’ll miss you Jack…

Search #24, #Best24Moments & #Worst24Moments on twitter for a selection of both laugh out loud funny and emotional memories, thoughts and opinions that I’ve been contributing to on this unparalleled show’s storied history.

24’s 8th (and final) season airs Sundays @ 9pm on Sky 1 in the UK and Mondays on Fox in the US

Speaking of 24…

24 Day 8 Death Counter

Hour 13

x1 Terrorist – shot by Jack Bauer (JBK)

x1 Terrorist – shot by Cole Ortiz

Agent King – shot by terrorist

Agent Owen – shot by terrorist

x2 Terrorists – shot by Jack Bauer (JBK x2)

Ali – shot by Renee Walker

x1 Terrorist – shot by Renee Walker

Bill Prady – garrotted by Dana Walsh

Episode Death Total = 9

Cumulative Season Death Total = 50

(Ongoing) Jack Bauer Kills (JBK) Total = 12


Other Musings:

- This past week’s episode of Lost was just as great as the rest of this season has been. For my money this is the best show on TV at the moment, it’s going to be a real shame to see it end, but unlike 24 at least it will go out at its peak.

Some people have been calling Ab Aeterno one of the best episodes ever and I can’t argue with that; Nestor Carbonell was fucking awesome and acted everyone around him off the screen this week. That said though it was great seeing Titus Weliver back as The Man in Black as opposed to Terry O’Quinn playing him, because Weliver just might be the coolest actor ever.

My only gripe with Lost at the moment is where the hell is Desmond? I’m sure we’ll get some resolution for one of the best characters on the show but given that he’s listed as a main cast member he’s been severely lacking in presence since the season opener.

- House meanwhile is really starting to stink of desperation as viewers continue to desert the cantankerous M.D.

That’s two ‘special’ episodes we’ve had now in the space of about five – first we had the Wilson dedicated episode before the mid-season break and now Cuddy gets the same treatment.

Now although I stomached the Wilson episode because I like the character, this Cuddy episode was just plain crap. I really didn’t need to see an episode devoted to Cuddy, at all.

Even through association they’ve managed to ruin a potentially great character like Lucas and waste the talents of a great actor like Michael Weston, reducing him to nothing more than Cuddy’s bitch – she isn’t that hot.

David Shore and the crew need to quickly get back to what made this show such an international force in the first place: Gregory House. Yes, the supporting players are important but this is House’s show (as the title suggests) and the fans want to see the Machiavellian protagonist feature prominently not his lacklustre love interest.

- Praise needs to go out to Comedy Central for getting the fourth season of the majestic 30 Rock on to UK screens so soon after premiering the third season.

I know we’re still way behind the US, but in light of the speed it took to get previous seasons on UK screens: this is practically Mach 2; and this at least means I won’t have to shell out for a Region 1 DVD for season 4 just to be able to see it this decade.

Even though they insist on peddling gash like Dirty, Sexy, Funny and Grouchy Young Men, Comedy Central have proven here that they know how to use possibly the greatest comedy on television now they have it in their ranks – take note Channel Five, you twats.

- Before Cheltenham I sung the praises of Channel 4 Racing and their excellent coverage, but perhaps I spoke too soon because they managed to both frustrate and disappoint with their much-hyped coverage from Meydan of the richest race in Horse Racing: The Dubai World Cup at the weekend.

With the feature race going to a photo finish and no result yet announced, they inexplicably ended their coverage just as a cheer could be heard ringing out around the course – who won? Well unless you had access to Sky Sports or At the Races you would have had no way of knowing.

This was the worst piece of live sports broadcasting since ITV went to ads in extra time and missed the Everton goal in the FA Cup game against Plymouth last season.

I’m not blaming the Racing team because I’m sure if they could’ve they would’ve stayed with the coverage longer (another 30 seconds was all that was needed). This is no doubt Channel 4 ushering off the Racing coverage to make way for a Come Dine With Me REPEAT, not a new episode a fucking repeat, which they clearly desperately needed to show.

Props to The Media Blog though for picking up my drunken tweet on Saturday evening on this very topic:

And profanity was on display elsewhere: "Channel 4's coverage of the Dubai World Cup was fucking disgraceful."

Check out the full article featuring some more profane tweets on the subject here:

http://themediablog.typepad.com/the-media-blog/2010/03/dubai-world-cup-channel-4-come-dine-1923270310.html


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