Monday, November 24, 2008

JACK'S BACK: The Return of 24, Plus: Smallville, Office, 30 Rock, Pushing Daisies, and MORE

Dammit! I'm back after a GRAVITAS-filled weekend and there's lots to talk about. In honor of that fact, today's blog will be uploaded directly to your PDA in REAL TIME, baby.

Last night, countdown-clock worshippers everywhere had cause to rejoice, as after months and months of conspicuous absence ...

TWENTY BY-GOD FOUR (24~!) Returned ...!

- Yes, after an extended hiatus from the airwaves, Sunday brought not one but two solid Jack Bauer Power Hours, which comprised a special TV movie event known as 24: REDEMPTION. And let's face it: not only did Jack have some redeemin' to do, but 24 had to, to some extent, redeem itself to a fanbase that had been somewhat burnt out by a Season 6 that was not up to typical 24 standards. On the other hand, absence does tend to make the heart grow fonder, and when push comes to shove, 24 still stands as one of the great shows of the last decade. One off season isn't enough to make me substantially less excited for another round of 24-style gravitas. And all indications have pointed to Season 7 being a return to glory - there's a top-notch supporting cast around the always great Kiefer Sutherland (Jon Voight, Kurtwood Smith, the guy who played the Candyman ...), as well as the much-anticipated return of fan-favorite Tony Almeda, whose soul-patched presence instantly gives the show an extra dosage of whup-ass.

So really, last night's Redemption special was there to serve a pretty basic function - to rally the 24 base and get us revved up for an all-new season of real-time mayhem. In that regard, the movie worked like a charm. I'm now super-hyped for the actual season to begin so that we can get back to hour-by-hour installments of twists, turns, and gratuitous cries of "dammit!" The movie reestablished Bauer as the ultimate badass, planted some interesting seeds for Season 7 - establishing both a reinvigorated and pissed-off hero in Jack and a couple of scheming villains for him to square off against.

In the meantime, we got to see an interesting little experiment in playing with the conventions of 24, as we got a chance to break away from the 24-hour / 24-episode format, as well as from the usual LA setting. It was cool seeing a 24 adventure set in Africa, and it was likewise fun to see Jack operate sans all the usual technical wizardry and gadgets of his CTU backers. It was a little strange to see the show still operate in "real-time" despite being a 2-hour movie, but the familiar countdown clock is such an iconic element of 24 that it might have been even stranger if it had been absent.

As a standalone movie, Redemption could be considered pretty choppy and uneven. Whole stretches would shift from Jack's African adventures to focus in on the Washington DC side of the plot, in which President Noah Daniels from last season serves his last day in office even as a new, female prez is inaugurated. There were all kinds of little hints and teases in these DC-centric segments, as we met the new President's son and daughter-in-law, her husband, and a friend of her son's who may be on the verge of uncovering a typical 24-style shadow conspiracy within the ranks of the White House - a villainous group that seems to link Jon Voight's character, Tony Almeda (absent here but whose affiliations were hinted at in the S7 trailers), and the ruthless African rebels that Jack comes up against in Redemption. Still, while the DC stuff will ultimately come back around and tie in with the African segments of Redemption, there was still a pretty big disconnect between Jack's adventures in Africa and the DC parts, which were really more about setting up S7 than anything else. When you only have two hours for a standalone movie, you want as much Bauer-infused action as you can get, you know?

That being said, Redemption delivered plenty of vintage Jack Bauer violence. We saw Jack give an African captor the old head-scissors of doom, single-handedly take out an entire African rebel squadron, and help fend off an urban assault whilst leading a pack of kids through a village towards the US Embassy. You even had a decent turn from Robert Carlisle as an old special forces friend of Jack's, who played the part of sidekick / martyr in the good fight admirablly. Sure, his big scene was strangely similar to a trick Prison Break pulled mere weeks ago, but hey, it worked as well if not better here. My friends and I cheered, clapped, and let out cries of "daaaaaaaaamn!" as we watched Jack Bauer return to his unstoppable killing-machine ways - it was a sure sign that Jack was, in fact, back.

So yeah, as a whole, Redemption was decent when looked at as a big, super, awesome standalone 24 movie event. But when looked at as a sort of Episode 0 for 24 Season 7, well, like I said, it got the job done and then some. Because I can really only be objective on this one to a certain degree. This was TV's greatest action hero, Jack f'n Bauer, back in our living rooms kicking ass and taking names. And really, it feels like this was just the proverbial warm-up for what is to come, a prelim match leading up to the main event. After last night, all I can say is BRING. IT. ON.

My Grade: B+

- Speaking of 24's little cousin, PRISON BREAK, tonight's ep promises to be a barn-burner. But I have to say, all the talk of this being the end for PB made me wonder if we will get to see one more run for the now-legendary Monday Night Gravitas combo of Scofield and Bauer. With Terminator moving to Fridays in January, will the two most intense shows on TV partner up for one last go at sensory-overload?

- I also need to make mention of the really sad news that emerged late last week - that being that one of TV's best and most imaginative series, the great PUSHING DAISIES, is more than likely about as dead as its title implies. I can only hope that the show receives the Piemaker's patented magic touch of rejuvination, but in this new world of cutthroat, budget-constrained TV, it's not looking particularly good. If the show is in fact done for, I do hope that it at least gets a bit of narrative resolution. Especially with this season ramping up the ongoing storyarcs, it would be truly tragic if Ned and Chuck don't get the ending they deserve. I've already gone on about the merits of Pushing Daisies at length here, and I'll reserve a final tribute for when the last episode has aired. But suffice it to say, it's a scary world in which Dancing With the Stars and three CSI spinoffs can thrive while a wholly original, magical, and intelligent series is unable to find the audience it needs.

- On last week's SMALLVILLE -- well, this one came with a ton of hype and expectations. Fanboys everywhere were salivating at the prospect of an epic Clark vs. Doomsday smackdown, in what promised to be the kind of legendary hero vs. villain battle that Superman fans have demanded to see in live-action form for years and years now. And unfortunately, in this regard Smallville kind of dropped the ball. Sure, it was probably unfair to expect Smallville and its newly-slashed budget to be able to deliver a giant-sized fight straight out of the comics, but, the expecation wa there nonetheless. And what happened instead was, well, we got minimal action, more build-up than release, and what was in many respects simply a fairly typical episode of Smallville, with the focus squarely on the young adult romance and angst rather than superheroics. That said, this was actually a pretty good episode of Smallville. The build up to Chloe and Jimmy's long-awaited wedding was well done. The tension between Lois and Clark got cranked up a notch, and Erica Durance as Lois was great as always. In fact, she's been so good and developed Lois into such a fun, likable character that Lana's big return in this ep was pretty "meh." Lana has long been such a broken character that she is almost a walking punchline at this point. But, it's emblematic of this season's sharper writing that, in her appearance in this episode, Lana was probably the best-written and most likable she's been in years. The one thing I could have done without was the lame, Cloverfield-aping camcorder sequences, which just reeked of sucktitude and "hey look, we're cool and edgy just like that monster movie that the kids were talking about!" desperation.

I mean, look, the Davis Bloome / Doomsday buildup has been handled better than anyone expected, and this season overall has been a pleasant surprise - with sharper writing, better character development, and more cohesive plotting than Smallville fans have been accostumed to. But with this episode, I think we were all hoping for the show to step it up a notch and transcend the usual limitations of what Smallville has been and can be. If ever there was a time for the show to just say "screw it" and go all out to deliver a comic book style epic, this was it. And who knows, maybe that's what they are building up to, and the show is just biding its time until the season (series?) finale. But the fact remains, this wasn't really much in the way of wish-fulfillment for us longtime Smallville fans who have been waiting for the show to really kick into a new gear.

My Grade: B

- I'll just briefly mention that I thought both THE OFFICE and 30 ROCK were hilarious last week. The Office had one of my favorite episodes so far this season. I love the Toby-Michael relationship, and to me that weird dynamic has made for many of the flat-out funniest moments in the show's history. Michael's irrational hatred of Toby is one of the weirdest yet most hilarious quirks of his personality, and seeing it manifest in oddball acts of jackassery is always entertaining. As for 30 ROCK, it was great seeing Steve Martin back doing, you know, comedy. And Tracy Morgan's subplot, in which he was convinced that his little-seen children were out to kill him ("Stop patriciding me!") was gut-bustingly hilarious. While a lot may be going wrong for the Peacock, Thursday was undoubtedly an awesome night of comedy for good ol' NBC.

My Grades:

The Office: A-, 30 Rock: A-

- Anyways, I have a lot to more to talk about. I had a really fun weekend, for one. And I'd like to take a moment to give a shout-out to my adopted home here in CA, Burbank. While it at times gets a bad rap, I've always maintained that Burbank is a city on the up and up. For those of us who work in one of the nearby studios, it's a completely convenient place to live and has a number of shops, resturants, and parks nearby. Now, Burbank has never really had much in the way of nightlife, but the big B did take one small step towards coolness this weekend with the opening of its very own Barney's Beanery. I had the pleasure of visiting the new Barneys on Friday, and I have to say it's pretty darn impressive. Flat-screen TV's at every booth, a mini-arena-style setup centered around a giant-sized TV screen, etc. Sure, a pristine, new, deluxe Barneys will never have the same sleazy Sunset Strip authenticity of the original in Hollywood, but the fact that Burbank has one more cool spot to hit up after a movie is pretty sweet.

- I also had a fun night hanging out with a bunch of NBC and Paramount people on Saturday, coincidentally also in Burbank (aka the place to be in LA). It was cool to meet some of the new crop of NBC Pages and impart my great wisdom and personal success story to them. If they work hard, perhaps they too can have their own all-new, all-awesome adventures.

- Craziness! On Sunday me and the G-Man hit up the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in Hollywood to take in an improv comedy show which featured Meghan B. amongst its troupe of performers. It turns out that the UCB theater is right across the street from the Scientology celebrity center, and it turns out that at the same moments that we were enjoying improv comedy inside, across the street some maniac wielding a SWORD charged the Scientology compound, where he was subsequently SHOT to death by a perhaps-overzealous security guard. I mean, WTF, mate? Only in LA, only in LA. Check out the link below for more:,0,1860441.story

- Actually though, Sunday turned out to be quite the funday. After the comedy show, we grabbed lunch at Mel's Diner, and I had a stupendous belgian waffle that really and truly hit the spot. We then went back to my place where we fired up my newest PS3 purchase, MORTAL KOMBAT vs. DC UNIVERSE, and proceeded to mash buttons for a couple of hours straight until we had played through the enitre epic story mode and led a band of DC Comic's greatest heroes and vilest villains on a cross-universe battle and saved the universe. I'll admit, at first I thought the game looked pretty lame - lacking the polish or sophistication of a Soul Caliber or Street Fighter. But after several rounds joy-buzzing suckers as The Joker of reigning down holy lightning as Captain Marvel, I was a believer in the simple joys of MK vs. DC. It may not be game-of-the-year material, but it sure was a fun way to waste a couple of hours.

- And of course, the weekend was capped off by a trip to Seth E's for pizza, drinks, and a solid two hours of TWENTY BY-GOD FOUR.

And, oh yeah, somewhere in between all of that, I met up with Abby W. and took in the pop-cult sensation that all the teen girls are talkin' about, Twilight.

Now, this has been a pretty long blog post and I don't want to overload it. So stay tuned soon to see what a 26 year old dude thinks of the goth-emo-mumblecore-vampire-romance known as Twilight.

Until then, I'm out. Here's to short weeks and Jack Bauer, dammit all.

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