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24 is Back…. and It Hasn’t Learned a Thing

Kiefer-Sutherland-Filming-24

After 9/11, 24 became a left winger’s idea of what a right winger might want to watch. Picture Michael Moore trying to make a show for Oliver North. Then throw in a lot of ADD.

And that hasn’t changed.

It’s 2014 and 24 is still the same show it was. Its producers, picking up some wind from Homeland’s popularity, have shoveled in Wikileaks, the white widow, drone strikes and moved the setting to London and yet it’s still exactly the same show.

Jack Bauer is a rogue. Jack Bauer is on the run. Jack Bauer is the only one who knows the next attack is coming. And no one believes Jack Bauer even though he’s been right a dozen times. And he once piloted in a nuke. And no one even recognizes him.

There’s another substitute CTU war room with its soap operas, another West Wing drama and it’s all the same stuff all over.

24 still has its moments. Only by its last season did it become so hopelessly miserable as to be completely unwatchable. But it’s thin stuff.

While shows like The Following and Blacklist are playing with the 24 formula, it has stayed the same. Why? If 24 had to come back, why not go back to what made its first season work. Jack as a human being, frantic and with something at stake. Or pick up more interesting villains.

It’s 2014. Does anyone really want forced dramatic debates about drone warfare? Or the least plausible Al Qaeda terrorists ever?

Why even bother moving the series to London if you’re going to act exactly like it’s Los Angeles? Why pretend that little drone friendly fire will outrage the Brits when you have a battalion of CIA people running around waving guns around London?

Why not, and here’s an absolutely ridiculous idea, have Jack deal with a British version of CTU? Because that would be playing with the 24 formula. And that golden formula is on its 9th season and ridiculously predictable.

Soon Jack will be believed. He’ll lead a team. Then he’ll go rogue again. Margot Al-Hazari will turn out to be the pawn of some secretive group that wants to discredit drones or that infected President Heller with a senility virus so they can take over everything. And they’ll turn out to be the pawns of someone else.

We’ve done this before. Why do we have to do it again?

You can’t blame the cast. Kiefer Sutherland gives every scene 110%. Yvonne Strahovski is unexpectedly good and working overtime in a generic role. Even William Devane is trying to take bland material to a West Wing level, even if his parliamentary speech is so bland and cliched that no one would even bother booing it.

24 Live Another Day could have worked. It could have justified its existence. All it needed to do was shake the formula up enough to make the show watchable. Stop clinging to old characters. Stop acting as if it had something important to say about drone warfare. Stop being a Bush soap and deal with life in a new decade.

And it doesn’t even try.

Why not dump Jack into London as a stranger without Chloe, the CIA, President Heller or any of the trimmings? Stuff him into an alien world and watch him try to navigate it with no support.

It wouldn’t have given fans nostalgia hits, but it might have been a show worth watching.

Repo Man and the Code

There are movies that move you and movies that just confuse you, Repo Man is somewhere in between. When I first saw snippets of it on television, particularly the surreal ending as the televangelist approaches the glowing car only to have his bible burst into flames, it seemed like about the coolest thing there was. Watching Repo Man again is a little like watching a collaboration between John Carpenter and a New Age textbook, but in a good way. From the decay at the edges of suburbia, the satirical jabs at consumerism and trendiness to the scientosupernatural plot, Repo Man gets everything right that Donnie Darko got wrong. And worst of all for Donnie Darko, Repo Man makes a crazy kind of sense where Donnie Darko never does.

From the way the characters are expertly rendered from each of the Repo men to even the broom pushing lady, Repo Man creates a world grounded in the grit and grime of reality, even as it unveils bizarre coincidence after coincidence, turning time into a wheel and life into a strange and mystical pattern. Repo Man does this without any of the Donnie Darko crutches like silly music or monsters in the mirror, it just hits you with expertly framed shot after expertly framed shot, from the position of the cactus in the opening to the triangle formed by the two CIA men reading the Dianetics parody in the end, merging surrealism and the isolation felt in the throes of America’s recession and gritty and hilarious character sketches into one of the most fantastic movies ever made.

Remember the Repo Man code.

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