Tuned In: '24' is a daze in its illogical sixth season
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Plenty of times in the history of "24," viewers have rolled their eyes and declared, "It's jumping the shark!" It happened in the first season with Teri Bauer's amnesia story and last year when, turning on a dime, the president transformed from an inept weasel into a villainous traitor.
Preposterousness is an innate part of the plot.
But as season six begins with four hours of episodes (8 to 10 tonight and tomorrow before settling into its regular 9 p.m. Monday time slot next week), "24" may be at its most outlandish yet.
Heroic Counter Terrorist Unit agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) was last seen on a slow boat to China. Almost two years later, he's still in Chinese custody and shows the scars of torture. But because he's Jack, he never broke. Now newly elected U.S. President Wayne Palmer (D.B. Woodside) has cut a deal to get Jack back, but it's not about saving Jack. Once again, America's leaders will send Bauer into harm's way in an effort to thwart the mastermind behind a string of terror attacks in America (suicide bombings on public transportation, mostly).
Really? After all he's done in his five very bad days leading up to this, President Palmer 2.0 has the nerve to ask more of Bauer? The rationale for the president's demand -- which Fox doesn't want revealed here, though I'm sure their promos will spoil it before the episode airs -- is also an illogical leap of faith.
"Bauer has to be sacrificed so this country can survive," says presidential adviser Tom Lennox (Peter MacNicol), who butts heads with more liberal returning bureaucrat Karen Hayes (Jayne Atkinson). "Security has its price. Just get used to it, Karen."
Heroic Counter Terrorist Unit agent Jack Bauer played by Kiefer Sutherland.
Click photo for larger image.Illustration by Tony Tye
and Curt Chandler, Post-Gazette
Click for larger image.
The bickering extends from the Oval Office in Washington back to CTU headquarters in L.A., where Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) has reconnected with ex-husband Morris (Carlo Rota), now a CTU employee who doesn't like taking orders from newly promoted former CTU drone Milo (Eric Balfour).
All the relationships that gob up the works in "24," particularly at CTU, make the agency seem more like junior high than the workplace of trained professionals. Their love triangles and petty grudges feel like drama that's been manufactured out of whole cloth and bears little relevance to the main story of beaten and broken Bauer's latest attempt to save the country. (Pittsburgh native Adoni Maropis plays terrorist Abu Fayed, who holds a grudge against Jack, in tonight's season premiere.)
Similarly, the White House story goes off on a tangent as President Palmer's heretofore unseen lawyer sister (Regina King) stirs up trouble when she shreds documents belonging to her Muslim client, who's suspected of terrorist ties.
"24" still maintains some of its trademark intensity, but too often in these first four hours, the show is smack-your-forehead laughable.
Part of why the "24" story seems so ridiculous this year can be attributed to the show's creatively successful fifth season. It's hard to top the story of President Logan (Gregory Itzin) and his wife, Martha (Jean Smart), who proved more compelling than the Bauer story last year. They'll be back, somehow shoe-horned into the story at the midway point in the season.
In a way, last year's "24" was a lot like season one. Everything felt new and fresh. Like season two, this year the story and relationships feel unnatural and a rehash. The same style of attack that happened in an earlier season gets repeated here in the fourth hour. The fate of CTU operative George Mason (Xander Berkeley), who died back in season two, comes to mind while watching hour three.
In a phone interview last week, executive producer Howard Gordon acknowledged that it will be difficult to improve on last season.
"Last year we hit a creative vein that was very fruitful," Gordon said. Where some years "24" is plotted out in six-episode arcs resembling a Russian nesting doll (every time Jack catches what appears to be the lead bad guy, another villain pops up), this year the "24" story is much less precise. "Because we've covered so much ground and are mining territory we've really mined before in some ways, we just haven't hit the creative vein that we need to be too far ahead. Right now it feels very improvisational as we ferret around for the end game in the [season]."
Viewers shocked by last season's bloodbath that killed off a half-dozen major characters can breathe somewhat easier: There are few characters left to kill, and among those who have stuck around, several are so poorly developed that their deaths would ring hollow.
Also working against "24" is perhaps its toughest competition yet: NBC's "Heroes," which returns with original episodes on Jan. 22.
"I hope we both rise on the same tide and more people come to watch TV," Gordon said. "We'll see how it shakes out."
First Published January 14, 2007 12:00 am