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January 9, 2009


Exactly how many people did you mutilate, electrocute, or dismember, Mr. Sutherland?

Kiefer before the Senate on 24

The new season of 24 starts on Sunday. The producers have already been apologizing all over the place for how cruddy season 6 was and promising to do better this time. They seem to feel so bad, in fact, that the season starts with Kiefer being called before a Senate committee to answer questions about his exuberant approach to torture while he was at CTU.

I figure that with somewhere around 8-10 people being graphically tortured on-screen for each of the previous seasons, we've seen over 50 people get cattle prods in their face, fingers clipped off, thighs stabbed, electrodes to their temples, or that clinical but horrible-looking pain serum that silent beefy dudes in suits administer. It's a lot of torture. Maybe I should go play some Tetris now.

Are the producers of 24 trying to justify the entire premise of their show, and indirectly, the Bush administration's approach to the war on terror? I'm not sure how the Senate hearing scenes will play out, but it seems like a chance for this show, a few days before Bush will be gone forever, to half-heartedly admit that its tactics were maybe at times questionable, but ultimately, in cases of national security, claim that the ends justify the means.

The Times has put out two stories in two days about 24. The first one covers Kiefer going before the Senate, and the stern talking-to that actual US military leaders gave to the show's producers in 2006 about how showing people getting tortured all over the place on the show was screwing up their actual war operations in Iraq. They quote a Senate hearing scene in which Kiefer says, "We've done so many secret things over the years in the name of protecting this country, we've created two worlds — ours and the people we promise to protect. They deserve to know the truth. Then they can decide how far they want to let us go."

When the show started in the fall of 2001, the public probably had less of a problem with law enforcement using violent interrogation for the purpose of protecting our safety. Plus it makes for really good television. Now that we've all read first-hand accounts of waterboarding, we're maybe not so psyched about torture anymore.

But when watching a show like 24, we still want Kiefer to do whatever it takes, which is pretty much the only reason it's still a good show. As Alessandra Stanley writes in today's 24 article, "At the start of the two-hour premiere on Fox this Sunday, pantywaist politicians who don't understand what it takes to protect the nation from its enemies are persecuting the very man who saved the country from disaster."

She's kidding, sort of, but if you're a fan of the show (or a former fan, anyway--last season was really bad) this is exactly how we all feel when bureaucrats start questioning Kiefer's methods. The main reason that this kind of hand-wringing is so tedious is that 24's strengths do not lie in dialogue and moral harangues. It's pretty much only good during the action sequences and the tense, bedroom-whisper exchanges between Kiefer and his enemies. This is the sneaky way that 24 has gotten big lefties to like the show and its otherwise questionable premise: action is better than talking; don't question Kiefer, because Kiefer is always right.

There was a good interview with Kiefer on NPR this morning (yeah, they're going for the public radio crowd this year.) He talks about his character's doubts about his own actions and the "blind ideology" that drove him in earlier seasons, but says he still likes the ambiguity of the show and Jack Bauer's struggle to do the right thing in ethically muddy situations. Then he quotes Chekhov. It's great.

categories: TV
posted by amy at 1:43 PM | #

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