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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.

To Shakespeare or Not to Shakespeare

Some of Britain’s most distinguished Shakespearean actors have reopened the debate over whether William Shakespeare, a 16th century commoner raised in an illiterate household in Stratford-upon-Avon, wrote the plays that bear his name.

Acclaimed actor Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance, the former artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London, unveiled a “Declaration of Reasonable Doubt” on the authorship of Shakespeare’s work Saturday, following the final matinee of “I am Shakespeare,” a play investigating the bard’s identity, in Chichester, southern England.

“I subscribe to the group theory. I don’t think anybody could do it on their own,” Jacobi said. “I think the leading light was probably de Vere, as I agree that an author writes about his own experiences, his own life and personalities.”

No offense to any actors out there but it would really take an actor to make a statement that phenomenally stupid. If a writer, writes about his own life and personalities, then no writer today could ever produce a book about international politics, the civil war or being a person or another gender. That same kind of ludricious stupidity is motivating the attacks on Shakespeare’s authorship. Why argue that Marlowe could write the plays he did while Shakespeare could not? Volume is certainly not the issue. Nor quality. If Shakespeare’s plays must have been written by more than one author because of their quality and extraordinary talent, then isn’t that an argument for Shakespeare rather than against him?

It also points to his detailed will, in which Shakespeare famously left his wife “my second best bed with the furniture,” as containing no clearly Shakespearean turn of phrase and mentioning no books, plays or poems.

For goodness sake, was Shakespeare’s will really supposed to contain “turns of phrase” and does it really need to mention his works, which in any case he had no rights to as copyright did not yet exist? If Stephen King’s will doesn’t contain any monsters eating someone’s faces or long digressive reminisces of life in new england, does it clearly mean that he is not the author of his own novels?

Children of Hurin and Tolkien’s Writing

Children of Hurin, the so-called new JRR Tolkien novel is going on sale now. While I tremendously loved Lord of the Rings, I haven’t felt anything nearly as strong for the rest of the saga of Tolkien’s world in The Simmarillion or Unfinished Tales. What sets Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit apart from the mythic sagas of the rest of Tolkien’s work are the characters, Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Gandalf. Nothing of that warmth and humanity is present in the rest of his tales, epic as they may be. They are merely myth and legend, sparse and cold. I have yet to read or obtain Children of Hurin, I of course did not stand around all night and day in a London bookshop waiting to get a copy. In time I will see if The Children of Hurin holds the kind of characters who can bring the novel alive, or if it is merely an expanded myth populated by alternately rendered stiff characters plodding off to their doom like a modernized version of Beowulf.

What is obvious to most readers is that Tolkien’s strength never lay in depicting noble humans or elves. His human and elven characters like Aragorn or Elrond, Eowyn and Legolas make for bland reading and bland personalities. One of the grave mistakes of the movies lay in their focus on these, the weakest of Tolkien’s characters.

Tolkien’s writing only truly lives when writing about the seemingly plain and ordinary characters like Frodo and Sam, the lives of the Hobbits, which he truly loved and those characters who were part of larger mystic forces, Gandalf and Saruman and Tom Bombadil. And even the fallen characters like Gollum and Grima Wormtongue. I love the Allen illustrations for Children of Hurin, but I have my doubts that the book, an early work of Tolkien and reworked and likely created by his son Christopher Tolkien can live up to that.

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