Tuesday, April 25, 2006

TV, DoaN: Jack Bauer Must Die!

[TBO's Note: I still plan on delving into why consecutive or modified consecutive programming blocks can be ultimately beneficial for all involved, but this tangentially related topic, kinda took my focus. - tbo]

I mean seriously, that's the only way 24 can have a satisfying ending at the end of it all; its central hero must be dead...really, truly dead.

Sadly, Sutherland's signed up for another three years, so...I gotta say, after watching this season, I just wonder where there is left to go, for these guys. I mean, so far, S5 has been pulling out all the stops, what more could they do?

My proposal for S8: Let David Lynch loose on the project, go all kinds of archetypal along with Lynch's propensity for bizarre violence. That'd be a fun season to watch.

Now, I know that someone (*cough*JJ*cough*) is gonna be all "I can't believe you watch that show, it's so right wing!" Which is true, 24 is most definitely right wing entertainment, but the big qualifier here is that last word, "entertainment."

In any scenario, aren't all action enterprises essentially right wing in nature? I mean, the modern mold of action enterprises, which take after the Diehard model...Sure, every once in a while, someone will pull out something in the Poseidon Adventure vein, like Deep Impact (though, more often than not, people end up flocking to something like Armageddon).

Even this strain of action takes its lead from Westerns, and, until recently, what could be more right wing than a lone cowboy shooting it out against multiple bad guys? The Man With No Name had no laws to adhere to, he was a badass motherfucker who just shot the (sometimes foreign) bad guys and got the job done. No questions asked, his motives were pure, and the ends justified the means.

Nowhere is this line of thinking more evident than in 24, as far as entertainment is concerned (in real life, the locus resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW).

And what mythic characteristics they've given Mr. Bauer! So far, the man has personally cheated death more than a handful of times; survived the explosion of a nuclear bomb; has been tortured extensively; exposed to a magnetic pulse bomb (granted, those aren't supposed to create any damage); and held his breath while CTU was exposed to nerve gas, simply to survive it.

Not to mention numerous gigantic explosions, byzantine conspiracies, a heroin habit, and the dreadful presence of his daughter (Elisha Cuthbert, as Kim Bauer).

On top of all of that Jack Bauer is a ruthless, cold-blooded motherfucker, and it is his methods that most people object to when they talk about how right wing 24 is. He cares nothing about Miranda rights, is willing to use children and spouses, plus violence thereupon, to turn a witness, and uses torture tactics only outdone in real life.

The objection here is that by getting used to these notions in entertainment, it makes it easier to be numb to Abu Ghraib or Gitmo. Welllll, I don't know about that. Because just as often as the torture is happening to those who 'deserve' it, it also visits a number of known and unknown innocents, and those are excruciating to sit through.

Excruciating enough to make one question the legitimacy of torture? Good question.

The kind of question that is usually ignored by the entertainments previously described. Personally, I allow room for that in my entertainments, but abhor it when done in real life; a schizm many are probably familiar with. It really does depend on one's mindset...those inclined not to have such things happen to anyone regardless of their guilt or innocence will not have their minds changed, and vice versa.

It does force you to think about it, though; and sometimes, that's enough.

So, shrugging those elements aside, because this ain't about that, one of the other things I wanted to talk about is the ingenious way the writers are using the right wing actioner model to make left-wing commentary on the real world at large. Starting with the casting of Dennis Haysbert, an African-American actor, as a presidential candidate in the first season. "You are the most important presidential candidate in history," he is told in the pilot episode...Well, he would be; and only a left-wing Hollywood type would actually have him winning, especially considering some of the revelations aired in the course of the first season.

President Palmer lasted for three seasons, and he was such an ideal president, outshined only by Martin Sheen's Prez. Bartlet from The West Wing, in terms of left-wing idealism. Palmer, however, was a bit more action ready, due to the nature of the show; when Air Force One is shot down (an indelible moment for me), you half expect him to survive it. A perfect mix of statesman and gunslinger, in the King sense.

It's such an engaging show, especially when the sub-plots aren't insipid (see Kim v. Mountain Cougar, for an example). These finally stopped taking the form of "what's happening with Kim?" at the end of S3. Instead, they've taken a "check out some wacky office politics" shape, which, while still kinda random, at least they've stopped asking us to take anything related to Kim seriously. Besides, the re-focus to what happens in the CTU workplace has actually tightened the pace and upped the stakes admirably (see this season's nerve gas attack).

It has also been bolstered by some great performances throughout the seasons; Penny Johnson Jerald as Sherry Palmer, President Palmer's wife, seemed to relish a role far meatier than is usual for an African American actress; Shohreh Aghdashloo's turn as the knowing wife of the head of a terrorrist cell was both compassionate and chilling at turns. From the current season, Peter (Robocop) Weller, Jean (Designing Women) Smart, and Gregory Itzin are turning in some stellar work. Itzin, in particular, is walking such a fine line between clueless clown and man of backbone as the "banality of evil" president, I think he deserves to be rewarded with a nomination. Not that the Emmys ever notice an action show.

What makes it the breakneck adrenaline fix it is, though, is the non-stop scheduling format. This makes it particularly easy to deal with those episodes that have to be expository in nature, and can't deliver the pulse-quickening stuff, because you know that things will more than likely heat up over the next week. Compare this with Lost's current season, where they spent the majority of the season setting up the dominoes that are just now starting to fall into place...It's easy to understand why the public was whingeing as much as it was about Lost's scheduling.

S5 of 24, though, has been a headrush, with very little in the way of speedbumps along the way. One episode has just sprinted to the next, and it's been very hard to resist the charms of Sutherland and company, especially when some episodes deliver five or six action climaxes in the course of 47 minutes, as has happened a few times this season...

This is probably a lot more thought than anyone has put into a show that will likely be remembered as this generation's Mission: Impossible, despite the killer concept and execution...Whatever.

In the meantime, it's one of five shows I make the point to watch every week. For a former couch potato, that's a high compliment.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Drive By/The Swan

So, yeah...just a wee update.

firstly: The Anti-Elmo

Life continues apace, folks, as it is wont to do. Work has been particularly hectic, and things are bubbling in the ol' personal life. The fact that I have one still, is remarkable in and of itself. Behind the scenes, I'm pulling a lot of elements together, so that's taking some time.


I have to take some space here to recommend the lyamhound's latest show: The Swan.

It's a twisty little piece, taking the form of a modern epic fable, and its subject matter is so much light-weight frivolity: Love, and Its Ability to Transform Those In Its Thrall.

Quibbles could be had with the script (which is strong regardless), but by and large, the show, like most, depends on the strengths of the performances to carry it through. And in this instance, we have three quite distinctly strong performances to sink our teeth into. Kudos to Grant Knutson for pulling together this cast. Kudos, also, for Knutson's verve and wisdom in creating some amazing pictures while serving the show's absurdist humor quite well, indeed.

Dennis Kleinsmith(as Kevin)turns what could be a threatening blowhard into a maddening example of what's wrong with "nice guys" in general. Beth Peterson delivers what I consider to be her strongest perfomance yet, as Dora, a befuddled woman whose bad luck at love has left her more than a little ambivalent when it comes to matters of the heart. Dora's relationship with Kevin has all the earmarks of a relationship based on convenience: boredom, ennui, and exasperating tediousness.

Then, narratively, along comes the titular Swan. It's probably not hard to guess that Dora's initial motherly attention to the swan (which she names Bill) becomes something else, and that it will have an effect on the other characters in the show, but I won't tell you what that something else is. That is a journey I highly recommend for you to take.

What I can tell you is that Kleinsmith's and Peterson's great performances would come to naught if it wasn't for Lyam White's magnetic effort as Bill*. And this isn't mere praise, it simply is. You need a strong Swan presence for the story mechanics of the show to work.

White virtually thrums as the Swan**. Attention to animalistic detail in terms of mannerisms and characteristics is there in spades, and one doesn't think of him as anything other than a swan. Kick ass.

There's a lot to think about here, all of it very adult and intelligent; which would be enough if the company hadn't also transformed one of the more problematic performance spaces in Seattle into something that suited their needs quite well. Images replay themselves in my head repeatedly. Not least of which is a climactic image of two of the characters staring yearningly at each other...this still haunts me.

Anyway, yaddabladda, go see the freakin' show.

*Am I biased? Well, it's no secret that Ly's a good friend of mine, but let me put it to you this way: If I didn't like it, you wouldn't be reading this.

**White has already been told that if he complains about being fat again, he will be punched where he fucks. A threat I intend to follow through on, no matter what Xtine sez.--tbo