Sunday, January 17, 2010

Inject Me With GRAVITAS, Because ~24~ is Back!

24! 24! 24!

- Well, after a long wait, Twenty-by-god-Four (24~!) is back. And that means 24 straight hours of Jack Bauer kicking ass and taking names. It's a credit to the show that even after seven seasons, I'm still uber-excited about a new season's debut. Sure, 24 now is not quite operating on the same level of awesomeness that it did back in the day. But still ... if you look at the TV landscape nowadays, there are so few shows that seem custom made for us guys. I mean, hey, I might enjoy an episode of Glee or Gossip Girl, but at the end of the day, I want a show that isn't afraid to get grim n' gritty, that features copious amounts of action and badassery, and that doesn't skimp on the gravitas. With Prison Break now over and done with, it's up to the old stalwart 24 to keep the fire burning. So I was primed and ready for Season 8. Jack was once again back, and to that I said: bring it.

So what did I think of Hours 1 and 2 of Season 8? Well, tonight was a decent start to the new season, but at the same time ,you couldn't help but come away feeling slightly underwhelmed. Because, sure, there was a a little bit of polish given to the old 24 formula (a new setting - New York City, a new CTU with a shiny new HQ ...), but at the end of the day it was still very much the same 24 formula that we've seen year in and year out.

I mean, if you're a longtime 24 fan, you had to groan a bit at some of the all-too-familiar plot threads that have already surfaced in the span of two hours. The bumbling CTU chief who doesn't trust Jack despite the fact that Jack's instincts are right 95% of the time. Jack having to "go rogue" and working at odds with local law enforcement and CTU. Inter-CTU rivalries and romances. The head of state with dysfunctional family - the shrewish wife, doting daughter, and scheming brother. The CTU agent with sketchy past coming back to haunt her. The naive CTU agent who looks up to Jack but hasn't yet been hardened by the difficult moral choices that come with the job. And so on ...

I don't mind 24 going back to the well once in a while, but this was all a bit much. Just too by the numbers, especially when you consider that 24 premieres have a history of starting off with a huge bang. I don't mind a slow burn if it leads to a great payoff down the line, but there just didn't seem many plot threads introduced with all that much potential. I think one mistake 24 sometimes makes is that it puts too much stock in out-of-nowhere surprises and twists. Those are fun, but sometimes, it might do the show some good to lay the foundation for the whole season early on. They actually did a pretty nice job with that last year when they slowly introduced Jon Voight's character, Jonas Hodges, as the big villain. This year, the threat so far is a pretty mundane terror plot, with the only twists being the been-there, done-that family intrigue involving Hassan's treacherous brother.

Speaking of big villains, last year's 24 season started out with a veritable rogues gallery of great bad-guys introduced as foils for Jack. Jon Voight's Jonas Hodges and Tony Todd as General Juma. That alone was kickass. But then throw in Dubaku, Tony (Soul Patch!) Almeida, and the great Kurtwood Smith playing an antagonsitic senator ... and man, you had some pretty heavy hitters standing in Jack's way on the road to justice. So far, in Season 8, there's definitely not yet any bigtime villains that can compare. In general, we need some more badasses, some more gravitas. Katee Sackhoff is there as a CTU tech, but you have to wonder why she was cast as a mere computer geek trading barbs with Chloe. Hopefully she plays a larger role soon (and I think she will). But yeah, this new CTU head has yet to impress (he's no Bill Buchanan), and Freddie Prinze Jr. is just sort of "meh." I think fans liked Tony so much because he was nearly as badass as Jack, and it was lots of fun seeing them team up or be at odds. I don't know why the 24 producers are lately so intent on always pairing Jack with fresh-faced characters who are way below him on the awesome scale. But dammit, all I know is that Aaron Pierce needs to show up ASAP so my TV can explode into gravitas-induced spasms.

Complaints aside, I recognize that this was only the very beginning of what will be a marathon and not a sprint. And I do appreciate that there was at least one moment of sheer awesome-sauce in these first two hours, that being when Jack went medieval on a would-be attacker, slicing and dicing him with a fire-ax. Holy Jack-Sack, Batman, that flat-out owned.

At the same time, it was a tad frustrating that these two hours sometimes felt like self-parody. I mean, multiple times now, we've seen a semi-retired Jack get pulled back in to CTU's latest world-in-crisis situation due to sheer bad timing and bad luck. Of course, the day before Jack is due to fly from NYC to LA to relocate with daughter Kim, her husband, and his grandaughter (!), he gets wrapped up in a plot that is, of course, completely based in NYC, with all the major players - the President, the terror plot, and the new CTU HQ - conveniently located within a 5 mile radius of Jack. And of course, Jack tries to minimize his involvement at first, even as we at home know fully well that he's got a nother 23 hours to power through. Ah, the existential crisis of a man trapped in a real-time TV show. It would be nice though if we could go back to just having Jack actually work at CTU, so there didn't have to be some ultra-contrived reason for him to keep getting involved in their cases, and so we wouldn't have to go through yet another instance of Jack getting deputized only to outshine every other weak-ass CTU agent.

Anyways, my hope is that Season 8 of 24 quickly moves to introduce some cool new characters - both heroes and villains - and doesn't wait too long to re-introduce favorites like Tony and Aaron Pierce. We need more gravitas, stat! Also, we need to up the ante of the plot a bit. For once, how about we don't wait until the second-to-last episode to reveal the old white guy who's secretly the mastermind behind everything. Two more hours to go on Monday. Let's hope they thoroughly kick my ass.

My Grade: B-

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