For what they’re worth, some of my thoughts about this hit television series.
I don’t watch much television. Frankly, I have better things to do with my time. And the commercials absolutely drive me bonkers.
We have a DVR — that’s Dish Network’s version of a Tivo. You set it up with the television shows you want to watch and it records them. You can then watch them any time you like. This is one of only two ways I’ll watch television these days because it enables me to fast-forward through all the commercials.
The shows I watch regularly include Boston Legal (which a friend told us about) and Monk (which I discovered on my own). Boston Legal is hysterically funny, but each episode gives you something serious to think about. Monk is pretty stupid, but I like the Monk character’s idiosyncrasies. We used to watch Stargate SG-1, but it appears to have gone off the air. I watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, although Mike doesn’t seem as interested in their brands of comedy as I am. I also occasionally watch Modern Marvels, Nova, Scientific American Frontiers, and various other shows on the History, Discovery, and PBS channels.
The other way I watch television is on DVD. We’ll discover a show — like Boston Legal — decide we like it, then start renting previous season episodes from Netflix. When the disc comes, we’ll watch two or four episodes in a single night — a kind of television marathon. It isn’t bad, since each hour-long episode is only 40 minutes with the commercials stripped out. That’s 2 hours and 40 minutes of tube time if you watch all four episodes on a disc in the same night. We’ll do that until we’re caught up with the current season, then let the DVR take over.
24 was a bit different for us. I heard about it a bunch of places, but not having a water cooler in my office, I didn’t get much information about it. Then I heard an interview with Bill Clinton and he mentioned that he likes the show. Say what you want about that particular former president, but one thing that’s indisputable is his level of intelligence. He’s a smart guy and he likes the show. Maybe there was something to that. I decided to give it a try.
Of course, we didn’t want to start watching it mid-season. I knew enough about the show to know that it was a season-long story and coming in in the middle of it wasn’t the best way to get the whole thing. And I worried about the DVR screwing up recording and skipping an episode here or there — which it sometimes does, if you don’t monitor the timers. So we went straight to DVD.
The first season’s first four episodes arrived right before our trip to Howard Mesa for Christmas. Howard Mesa doesn’t have a television. It doesn’t have much of anything in the way of after-dark entertainment. So we brought along my MacBook Pro and, in the evening after dinner, set it up on a folding table in front of the sofa. And that was how I watched the first four episodes.
I could see the appeal. Lots of action and drama. A mystery to draw you in. Uncertainty about the motivations of many characters — who could you — or should I say, Jack Bauer — trust? And that damn ticking clock.
After the first four episodes, we were hooked.
But we weren’t hooked in a good way. Each episode’s cliffhanger made us want to watch the next episode, but on discussion of what we were watching, we agreed that it wasn’t all that good. There was a lot of secondary plot stuff that was obviously in there for fill. (This is truer about the second season than the first.) And the characters — especially Jack Bauer’s wife and daughter — did dumb things that got them into trouble. Really dumb things. Big trouble. It was hard to have empathy with them because they were such big screw-ups. In fact, more than a few times, I wished they’d just go away. (So the end of the first season didn’t upset me in the least.)
And let’s not even get into how implausible many of the plot points were. The idea that so many characters could do so much in a 24-hour period without dropping from exhaustion is very difficult to believe. Adrenaline only goes so far. I remember the last time I pulled an all-nighter and how I felt at Hour 20. The first season started at midnight, so you have to assume the characters were up since at least 8 AM the previous morning. So midnight is already at least Hour 16 for them. And what is it with CTU? Don’t those poor people ever get to go home?
I don’t want to go into plot details since I don’t want to spoil the show for people who haven’t seen it. Implausibility aside, the plots aren’t bad. Lots of twists — perhaps too many? — that lure you into trusting people who turn out to be bad guys (or gals). That in itself is very distracting. Once you get the rhythm of the trusted-character-is-really-bad discovery cycle, you start wondering which one will be next on the block.
Of course, all this might have to do with the way we watch 24 — four episodes in a single night, sometimes a week or more between viewings. No commercials, so the plot and action is packed right in. That’s definitely one way to catch errors in continuity — like lost cell phones that suddenly re-materialize (How is it that they can always reach Jack Bauer by phone in Season 2 when his daughter needs to speak to him?) and injuries that are serious in one episode but barely noticeable four hours later? And how about Season 2’s violence in Georgia that’s a big deal in one or two episodes and never discussed again?
And then there’s the character of Jack Bauer himself. A counter-terrorist superman who is a bit too human at the wrong times. Sure, he doesn’t have any trouble blowing away a character and cutting off his head, but when his daughter is on the phone, his brain shifts into neutral while he melts into his daddy role. It’s hard to believe that a man so toughened by his past can have such a soft side. And when did he get that tough past? He’s not that old and his daughter is in her late teens in that first season. Doing counter-terrorism missions for the government isn’t like going to a sales conference in St. Louis. It takes training and time. Can they really expect viewers to believe that a man like Jack Bauer could have a solid family relationship?
Last night we finished Season 2. Now we are debating whether we want to dive into another season. I was very surprised to learn that the show is already up to Season 6 (I think). I didn’t know it had been on television that long. (I really don’t keep up with these things.) It’s obviously a big hit. And it is entertaining. But I don’t like the idea of feeling that I need to watch every single episode of a television show.
I’ll let Mike decide.
In the meantime, I moved The Good Shepherd up to the top of my Netflix queue. We’ll take a nice, long break from the world of Jack Bauer. I don’t think we’ll miss him.