Thursday, January 22, 2009

"24" Jumps The Shark

We occasionally like mindless entertainment, so we've been fans of the television drama "24" ever since our friend L.S. introduced it to us in season three.

Now in its seventh season, the franchise seriously needs to be killed off. Early reviews this year suggested that the new season would cure the ills of seasons past, making the show more plausible and relevant.

Well, those reviews were wrong.

As far as we're concerned, 24 is worse than ever. This year, agent extraordinaire Jack Bauer finds himself in Washington, D.C., rather than Los Angeles, where he'd been the previous six seasons. Washington is certainly more plausible.

Jack's also working with the FBI--ok, he started out working with them, now the FBI thinks he's gone rogue--which is also more plausible than the fictional "Counter-terrorism Unit" (CTU) of seasons past.

But for some reason the writers, based in L.A., have decided that the FBI will work out of a "field office" in Washington. Memo to 24's creative staff: the FBI's headquarters is right here in Washington. Agents don't work out of a "field office" off in some suburb. It doesn't take an FBI swat team 20 minutes to get to a critical location near downtown D.C. (as it did on the last episode). We also think that if the FBI was warned of an imminent kidnapping of a diplomat, it would involve local police in sealing off the area, rather than waiting 20 minutes for a lone swat team to arrive, only to be too late.

What's really got us bothered, though, is the silly internal conspiracies in the government. In past seasons these intrigues became ridiculous, climaxing with the President's chief of staff conspiring with Russian terrorists while the President himself was involved with a group of super-patriots using terrorism to alert the country to the need to do something about terrorism.

We thought maybe this season the show would get a little more serious, but no. The primary threat is a tin-pot dictator from Africa who's managed to obtain a device that will allow his henchmen to pierce the government's computer firewalls and bring down airplanes, poison water supplies and whatever else the "24" writers deem terror-worthy. The reality, of course, is that the government's computers are so poorly interconnected and coordinated that they barely speak to each other--the idea of one device breaching them is pretty lame.

Meanwhile, this African dictator has managed to infiltrate the government at the "highest levels," so he can thwart the FBI from within.

Of course, "24" also has to have subplots to fill up the required 60 minutes per episode of non-stop action. So this season's primary subplot is that the female President's husband is off on a secret investigation of his son's death, which had been labelled a suicide. After stumbling on evidence that his son was, in reality, murdered, the President's husband is being set up by his Secret Service protective agent, all as part of a scheme to protect some other vague financial interests.

The President herself is so enamored of saving lives in the fictional African country of Saangala that she is willing to risk American lives to terrorism rather than wait a few hours to delay an invasion. The real question is why she doesn't just launch a few missiles into his palace when he makes the threat.

We were also told that this season torture wouldn't be used to extract information from suspects, but torture is still the tool du jour not only of Jack Bauer, but now of a female FBI agent infected with Bauer's fervor.

The legal system works fast in 24-land too. In the time it takes the FBI to dispatch a swat team, lawyers for a tortured terrorist manage to issue a subpoena to the feds (the 24 writers like to use subpoenas for many purposes--they used one to get Bauer released from a Senate committee to the FBI; we had no idea subpoenas were so versatile, powerful and quick), and the Justice Dept. manages to dispatch a senior lawyer to the FBI "field office" to start an investigation. Just think: if the FBI had issued a subpoena, instead of sending a swat team, it could've acted fast enough to prevent that kidnapping!

We're not too sure we'll get to the end of this season. Even if we do, it's time to end this franchise.


James Young said...

I had real doubts about the effort to reflect real time when it had Jack getting from Point Hueneme to downtown LA in ten minutes. Can't be done.

Mike@Blueweeds said...

The FBI has its FBI Headquarters (Hoover Building on 10th St.) and the Washington Field Office (4th St.) located in DC. The functions of the headqurters and operational field offices are very different. FBI also has field offices located in NOVA and Southern Maryland.


Other than being factually inaccurate, good post.