Friday, April 2, 2010

Preserving Jack Bauer

On our most recent podcast, we touched upon the not-so-shocking news of 24’s imminent end.  Fox’s real-time espionage/action serial’s been gunning for its cultural nadir after its popularity peaked around seasons Four and Five.  Recycled tropes stand out more after nearly a decade of repetition.  The Guy Who Breaks The Rules But Gets Results archetype plays in individual, two-hour cinematic doses, but becomes ridiculously worn after eight seasons of Jack going his own way. 

Never mind the implausibility of military conflicts or chains of events taking exactly 24 hours to wrap up nicely.

So what could 24 have done to mix things up had it been renewed?  Make Jack fight Russo-Chinese Muslims out to destroy the American Heartland with their magical tornado gun?  I’m afraid that’s what we’d receive if producers don’t start thinking outside of the box.

  So, Kiefer and the rest of the producers, here are my ideas to keep 24 alive in the coming years.

At Home At The Zoo

Remember the first episode of Season Eight?  Jack lounges on the couch, recuperating after a long day of babysitting his granddaughter Teri.  He and his daughter’s adorable offspring bicker playfully over what to watch on TV (cartoons or depressing cable news) and reminisce about their choice of afternoon snack: ice cream.  What preceded this slack-eyed lactose coma?  A trip to the zoo.  I would love to see that.

It doesn’t have to be a crazy zoo adventure.  I don’t need to see Jack bond with the zoo’s panther, setting in motion a slew of shape-shifting shenanigans.  I don’t want him to stumble upon Tony on a park bench and unleash an epic monologue about killing a dog.  I want a feel-good day of Grandpa Jack.

I think 24 is missing a golden opportunity to connect emotionally with its audience: droopy-eyed Kiefer evokes incredible amounts of pathos.  If you’ve ever heard his voice work on the Bank of America commercials (since pulled from YouTube, sorry no links), you know what it’s like to hear him even slightly happy.  It breaks my heart.  After seeing him kill dudes, lose loves, and fight nonsensical drug addiction for almost ten years, hearing Jack (Kiefer) happy almost makes me tear up.  Watching him traipse carefree through a zoo with his granddaughter could actually be too much joy to bear.  Doesn’t stop me from wanting it.

Don’t Stop Believin’

Season Seven concluded with Tony acknowledging his role as Worst Bad Guy with Questionable-But-I-Guess-Good Reasons.  “They killed my wife,” he whisper-yelled at Jack before he was taken away, presumably to be locked behind bars.  But that doesn’t have to be the end of Tony “Cub’s Mug” Almeida.

Were showrunners to decide that Jack was no longer an option (be it due to character death, Kiefer imprisonment, or something equally unavoidable) for show continuance, they could always create an Oz-meets-Prison Break show staring Tony.  In real-time, he’d have to play different factions of bigots off one another whilst simultaneously decoding the map of the prison he had tattooed on his back.  Perhaps someone would recognize him from his time undercover or whatever.  Awkwardness in the lunch line (or shower stall) would ensue.

I realize this premise is decidedly less solid than some of the other options on the table.  Does anybody really want to watch Tony Almeida for twenty-four hours?  That said, I don’t think such a program is below Fox’s standards.  If it flops, they can always use another Tony as inspiration for the ending.

Streaming Sutherland

Jack Bauer never sleeps – at least, we never see him sleep.  I seem to recall an early episode of the show that actually showed him nearly falling asleep in a trailer but being awakened by the demands of his terrible situation.  Excepting that instance (and that time he was in a coma), the dude never gets shut-eye on camera.  Fox could rectify that, and for the fraction of the cost of a normal season of 24: make an entire season of Jack sleeping.

I’m thinking of the scene in one of my favorite movies, The Truman Show, where everyone in the world watches Truman sleep at night or leaves it on while they sleep because it’s comforting.  Watching Jack rest could be just as serene.  Set it the day after Season Eight, when he’s in desperate need of sleep after a long day at the zoo (see above) followed by a long night of nonsensical bullshit.  He’ll just stay in bed all day with the shades drawn shut – maybe keep the television on because he likes the background noise.  Assuming he doesn’t have any migraine inducing run-ins with the supernatural, I’m totally down for this.

And Fox could save so much money, too.  They’d only need to pay Kiefer for the close-ups; any aging 80s youngblood could curl up in the sheets, pretending to be him.  Hell, no need to buy airtime.  They could just throw the thing up on Ustream.  And if it’s a success…I smell crossover!

If we don’t end up with Happy Times Jack, Prison Times Tony, or a Bauer At All Hours Stream, we must resign ourselves to the possibility of a two-hour feature film, which will assuredly mishandle 24’s unique real-time premise.  I, of course, will take what I can get.  The plots may be labyrinthine, the seasonal cast additions increasingly underwhelming, and the technobabble exponentially more confusing with each passing moment.  But I love me some Jack Bauer.  Don’t take him away from me.