24 – Episodes 7-1 and 7-2 Review

At last, 24 has returned. That which was once my favorite series (Seasons 1 and 2 specifically) spent 2007 in a dark place, and 2008 off the air entirely thanks to the WGA strike, and has left me hungry for a seemingly everlasting two years. If anything is to be taken from these first two hours of Season 7, it is that the series has at the very least taken strides to improve itself significantly.

First, let’s recap what was wrong with Season 6, shall we? After the fifth season went out of its way to break form and offer new and exciting prospects for the series, the sixth went the route of the easy way out, and chose to abandon new directions and instead construct an entire season out every 24 cliche the previous five seasons had inspired. Boring Islamic terrorist plot? Check. Jack Bauer action hour every week? Check. Overuse of every other main character, pulling even the most interesting ones into the realm of downright boring? Check. Perhaps the worst offense was taking the wire frame blueprint for what could have been an excellent new storyline left open at the end of Season 5, and throwing it out in favor of making the villains Jack Bauer’s FAMILY? “And this time… it’s personal!” Check again. Not helpful were the awful character based decisions sprinkled about. I didn’t buy Wayne Palmer being president suddenly. I especially didn’t buy Jack killing Curtis in cold blood. I also didn’t buy the Chloe/Morris tension, which is a testament to how truly awful this season was, as Chloe and Morris were arguably my favorite parts of the season.

So, the priorities for the writing team pre-Season 7 (which has been in the can for a while now, with much of the first half being filmed under the assumption that it would have aired last January) should have looked something like this:

– No more Jack Bauer cliches.
– No more family melodrama.
– Develop more interesting storylines, both primary and secondary.
– Keep 24 character oriented like it was in the past.
– Don’t go crazy, and keep the show grounded in some level of believability.

I am happy to report that, so far, each of these concerns was addressed, and at the very least, suppressed. In these first two hours, there was not a lot going on that outright broke my attention. The context and plot are built with intrigue and depth, the new characters are for the most part successful, and perhaps most importantly, Jack Bauer was not superman. The stigma of Jack Bauer has grown dank and self-important as 24 has grown more popular. In early seasons, he was a pristine character, flawed but competent. In Season 6, he was an action movie stereotype, not exacly helped out by the fact that Bauer caught “Chuck Norrisism” syndrome in the internet sphere (“When Kim Bauer lost her virginity, Jack Bauer found it and put it back.”), taking his character to an all-time simplistic high.

My biggest concern going into the season was the return of Tony Almeida. For the most part, his return went over just as I expected. I am satisfied enough with the “how”, but am still not sold on the “why”. There are still 22 more hours of television to explain what made dear Tony the terrorist thug he is today, but it will not be an easy sell (I am of the opinion they may be pulling a Gael from season 3, and Tony has been on some kind of undercover mission this entire time). The fact that his return was pulled off with at least some level of grace is hope that the writers are putting more thought into this show once again, which means that there is a good chance my above problems with season 6 have been addressed long term.

As stated above, I am happy with the new characters. Renee Walker is proving to be an able partner for Bauer, a believable voice of reason behind the FBI, but not without a flare of her own. Her attitude towards working with Bauer is nuanced, with a good balance between skepticism and acceptance of Bauer, especially when it comes to his ever-so-controversial interrogation methodology. Cherry Jones and Colm Feore are both competent in their new roles as the Madame President and “First Gentleman”. So far, President Allison Taylor is more of a traditional 24 president figure, without much beyond the initial woodwork, but I am glad that they didn’t make her election into a spectacle as they did with David Palmer in Season 1. Henry Taylor’s storyline could go either way; it is a direct sequel to the story of 24: Redemption, looking into the wherabouts of his son’s death (remember that he had attracted suspicions when his doomed friend had discovered mysterious company records). It reminds me a bit of Palmer’s storyline in Season 1, hunting down information about his son’s actions. That storyline was a successful one overall, but it did occasionally break the pace. They’re walking a tight line with it, but so far it works. Henry’s obsession and eventual anger over his son’s death was not handled perfectly, but it didn’t compromise the integrity of the episode.

Larry Moss and Sean Hillinger are not established enough to lean one way or the other for me yet. I will not make the same mistake of giving up on them too early as I did with Bill Buchannan in Season 4, who turned out to be one of the best parts of Season 5. I’m also still not sold on Janeane’s Garafalo’s character of Janis Gold, who seems a bit too much of a Chloe clone right now, though Garafolo’s performance is better than I had expected; count me as one of many who underestimated her. Bob Gunton returning as the Secretary of Defense is also up in the air, as his character was never really developed in Season 6, we know very little about him.

There is a lot of potential with the primary storyline; there seem to be several villainous parties at play here, any of which could turn out to be the power player; I can honestly say that this aspect of the season so far is unpredictable, and that is vintage 24. Exciting.

So, with all of the above concerns improved upon, let’s get to the parts I didn’t like. First of all, I didn’t care for the “near miss” red herring of the jet plane collision. I understand that they are trying to keep us on our toes about Tony and his gang, but the moment wasn’t played right. First of all, writers, do you HAVE to show us the poor little boy in the plane every ten minutes? We know the implications of a civilian jet crash; we don’t need the melodrama. A small complaint, but it did bother me. Another issue I had is one I have had for a long time in regards to 24; it takes less than ten minutes for everyone to get anywhere. Look, I understand that some real time sacrifices have to be made in order to keep the show from being a snoozefest with Jack and Renee driving 40 minutes from the Senate committee to the FBI headquarters. But Season 1 pulled it off well; they made what should have been hour long drives into 35 minute ones, as opposed to a much less believable 15 (sometimes even less than that). These are acceptable, bus nevertheless distracting. The only other complaints I have are simply that the premiere was not amongst the best of 24, which I cannot fault it for. It still has plenty of time to impress me.

To summarize:

The Good
– Improved writing of story and characters
– Better grounding
– Higher potential
– Successfully handled potentially difficult areas in storytelling
– No serious issues with new cast of characters
– Excellent guest cast (John Billingsley of Enterprise fame and Frank John Hughes from Band of Brothers are two of my favorite mid-guage TV actors)

The Bad
– Tended towards the melodramatic in a couple cases
– Some pacing concerns in the way certain plots been set up
– Made no attempt to get rid of small problems that have been with the show for several seasons (though the bigger problems from Season 6 were obviously a priority, some minor cliches remained, such as the infamous “system delete” on any computer the good guys need access to)
– Didn’t “wow” me

So, essentially, this is an acceptable but somewhat bland introduction to the season, that while tipid, is still a big step in the right direction for the series.

What I hope to see happen in the rest of the season:
– Keep the show grounded
– Let the characters grow
– Keep Tony’s return from being ridiculous, so far so good with that
– Don’t hold back on the story, but do hold back on the cliches
– Give me my dream of seeing a Season of 24 with good dramatic potential again