A new season of 24 is underway and I’m already addicted. I’ve watched this show from day one and am awed every year by its uncanny ability to reinvent itself as more exciting and relevant. I’m also amazed that it has so many haters. This is, after all, one of the most innovative shows in the history of television.
24 – along with series like The Sopranos, Lost, The Office and The Wire – has completely rewritten the rules of what TV can and should do. TV used to be dumb, cheap entertainment that kept you glued for the commercials. And while there are still plenty of According To Jims out there, the best series use the medium to go places film could never go.
That’s not to say that the show doesn’t have its problems. Plot threads are left all over the place and seemingly important characters are inexplicably abandoned. Most of the criticism, though, stems from the show’s tricky politics.
The left and the right have come down hard on its depictions of torture and widespread political corruption, but it takes a special kind of show to make its neoconservative president into an out-and-out terrorist and still have Rush Limbaugh as its biggest public cheerleader.
In the end, 24’s politics are incidental. It’s a thriller first and foremost, and few would argue that it doesn’t deliver on that end. There’s no way anyone can tell where it’s going at any given time, because the writers themselves don’t even know (they famously write the show only a few episodes ahead, deciding who the villains are halfway through the season).
And last season’s reboot plunged the show into even more adventurous territory, shifting the focus from saving millions of faceless people to saving the handful of characters we’ve connected with over the years.
The characters have always been the show’s secret weapon. A tight 90-minute action movie can coast by with one-dimensional cardboard cutouts. 24 is an annual marathon that only works if we’re dealing with interesting people.
I’m not even sure if the people behind the show realized that until recently (why did they keep bringing back stupid Kim?), but judging by this season’s fantastic two-night premiere they certainly do now. The acting’s gotten so good that the producers are turning away movie stars like Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston, instead hiring serious thespians Alexander Siddig and Harry Lennix.
Siddig is playing one of the show’s most intriguing creations yet, a terrorist-turned-aspiring-diplomat named Hamri Al-Assad (spoilers ahead!) whose potential importance to world peace forced seemingly godlike secret agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland, the thinking man’s Bruce Willis) to kill one of his only friends. A few seconds later, right when you’re thinking things couldn’t get any worse, a damn mushroom cloud erupts over Los Angeles!
I don’t know about you, but that’s what I call TV. If there’s anyone who can sustain that operatic intensity over the remaining 20 hours, it’s the writing staff of 24.
Speaking of the apocalypse as entertainment, if you get a chance to see Children of Men – Alfonso Cuarón’s visionary epic about the human race 50 years away from its extinction – you need to. It’s the best movie I’ve seen in many years, and that’s not an exaggeration.
I remember discovering the great filmmakers as a teenager, watching Kubrick and Bergman and Kurosawa and Scorsese wishing I could’ve been alive when their masterpieces first came out so I could experience them as they were happening. Finally, after 25 years, I felt that way about a contemporary film.
It’s a tough movie to talk about in the way we’re accustomed to talking about movies, because a synopsis makes it seem silly (witness the awful trailer, after which I had no interest in seeing it), but from the very first scene you know that you’re witnessing something extraordinary. Unlike most films that pack a visceral punch, though, Children of Men’s allure doesn’t fade when you walk out of the theater.
I saw it two weeks ago and it’s still going through my head. And the more I think about it the more perfect it seems: the way it’s acted, the way it’s directed, the way it touches on current events without coming across as heavy-handed, even the very structure of the film is ingenious.
Have I convinced you? Good. Now forget everything you just read. Go in free of expectations and just let it unfold in front of you. This is too good and important of a movie.