Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Breaking The 24 Addiction

"This must be what crack cocaine is like." So said my wife, halfway through the first season of 24. We'd rented the discs from the local video store, and were having a very difficult time restraining ourselves from watching all 24 episodes in one sitting. The "ticking time bomb" narrative device is viscerally effective, especially in an environment where paranoia reigns supreme. I'm not the first to point out that the show perfectly embodies the working day atmosphere in Corporate America; in 24, everyone around you could turn out to be your worst enemy.

Lots and lots of "fun", to be sure. But I stopped watching the show at the end of Season 2, for two reasons: (1) Season 1 closed on a tragic note, but one that resolved every frayed storyline we'd been exposed to; Season 2, on the other hand, saw fit to conclude with two portentous scenes that ominously suggested everything was about to take deeper and darker turns than we could possibly have imagined. If you've been reading this blog, you will know that nothing pisses me off more thoroughly than getting strung along with no resolution in sight. I believe the technical term for this is called, "Being taken for a chump." (2) Back when I was a sullen adolescent, my mother would take note of a particular book I might be carrying around, or a television series I was hooked on, or a band I'd developed a taste for. She'd ask me about it, and if I painted a picture that raised a red flag or two, she'd trot out the Pauline injunction, "Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." I'm sure I set her heart to rest with a snort and a sneer, but if you hear something like that frequently enough, it sticks to the brainpan. It's a quarter-century later, and I've stopped watching 24 because it makes me feel like shite: twitchy, edgy, suspicious, angry so that when some bad guy gets it you jump to your feet, pump your fist in the air and shout, "YEAH!! DIE, DIE, DIE!!!"

Hm. I jumped from first person to second person. Anyone else notice that? That shift in perspective is pretty common among those of us Doing The Program.

You can Do The Program, too: go cold turkey, and break yourself of the 24 habit. Need another good reason? The entertainment lords and dealers behind 24 are amoral creeps.


Yahmdallah said...

You describe exactly the experience my wife and I had. We borrowed the DVDs of the first season and would watch until we couldn't stay awake. It was silly.

You also nailed the similarity to corporate America. I said that a few times to my wife, "It's like that where I work."

I'm glad you've warned me about the later seasons, because I hate being schlumped along, too.

I've already given up on "Heroes" because contrary to the claims of the creators, they are doing just that. And it's too gristly for my 10 year old. When they flashed on the dead cheerleader on the autopsy table with her chest spread open and a stick in her neck after she'd been date raped, I just shut the TV off (after having muted the date rape scene and directing her to cover her eyes) and said, to MPC1, "Dear, this show is too bloody for both of us."

Scott said...

Ugh. I wish I hadn't read that. Not because it'll make me give up 24 (which I can take or leave after I've been watching with grim fascination) but because the excellent article made me feel like I was spending ten minutes with Mr. Surnow:

“Conservatives are the new oppressed class...Isn’t it bizarre that in Hollywood it’s easier to come out as gay than as conservative?”

As Paul Monette famously observed, "It's not so hard to be politically correct. All you have to do is not be an asshole." I love that he knows better than the FBI agents on interrogation techniques, too.

Wow, what a jackass.

You're in good company today, Mr. Darrell -- the mighty James Wolcott weighed in on 24 as well:

I've seen maybe two complete episodes out of its entire run and pieces of a few others. Not only am I not a torture junkie (the popularity on the right of 24's pulp fiction is proof that the real reason they approve of torture is not because it yields information and saves lives but because they vicariously enjoy the infliction of suffering--it's their favorite brand of porn), a prerequisite for being a regular viewer, but I'm not sure which is more cliched and ridiculous: the Intense Cell Phone Clamped to the Ear conversations or the Straight-Armed Double-Handgripped Gun-Pointing Commando stance; everyone's either barking into the cell or pointing their weapon at the nearest swarthy head and the throbbing doomsday urgency is unrelieved by a single grace note or stray glimpse of fugitive beauty in the post-industrial warehouse sprawl. Politically, aesthetically, 24 is for people who don't get enough fiber from eating the latest issue of Commentary and think acting consists entirely of grimacing.

So, yeah, what you said. As for more optimistic TV, Yamdallah's right about the gore in Heroes (so not for kids -- might I recommend a little show called Doctor Who?) but I don't feel strung along at all -- the show is galloping along to its big 'save New York City' finish while brandishing tons of little character curlicues to pick up for next year. I'm loving it.

DarkoV said...

CP, I count myself lucky that I was never entrapped in the 24 net. the few times I saw the show in its first two seasons, Sutherland's character was perpetually on the phone. On the cell phone, to boot. The Devil's portabel little workshop.
The only guy I'm going to watch talk on the phone for that long is Bob Newhart. His patter was always a lot more interesting.

ジョエル said...

Like you, I saw the first season as a rental rather than on TV. It wasn't the worst show ever, but when you watch all the episodes in close succession, you become more aware of the artificial ways in which the story is lengthened. Like, how many times did the daughter need to be kidnapped and then escape? I never felt a need to go on to the second season.

Whisky Prajer said...

yahmdallah - "for both of us" - amen to that.

scott - there's no question Surnow is a real piece of work, but I think everyone involved is implicated, even Sutherland. It's fine enough to wring your hands on Charley Rose on Friday, but if you drive back to work on Monday and continue with the cell-phone talking, the shooting and the torturing - and it's looking like your country's citizens seriously think this is "the dialogue" - then there is a moral disconnect.

DV - Bob Newhart does 24 is a concept I'd pay money to see!

JS - the Elisha Cuthbert scenes got to be a standing joke among viewers. A good time to use the bathroom, if you've already sat through six episodes in a row.

dan h. said...

Okay, I'll go...

My name is Dan, and I'm a 24 addict.

I agree with everything said, but I JUST CAN'T STOP. Please send help.

Mentally replacing Keifer with Bob Newhart might be a good start. Great idea!

F.C. Bearded said...

Afraid I tired of it very, very quickly. LA just is not that exciting.

The whole thing strikes me as wishful thinking on the part of its authors.