Tuesday, January 11, 2005

A Guilty Pleasure

I do not watch much TV. Sure, I don’t miss many Red Sox or Patriots games on the tube, but beyond that, I find that there are too many other more interesting things to do with my time that to sit in front of the screen at home. I would much prefer to curl up with Michael Crichton’s latest book, State of Fear than to be bludgeoned by another episode of “Fear Factor,” or even to watch Crichton’s own creation, “ER” as the once-riveting series, now long in the tooth, winds down in its final season into broadcast bradycardia. I prefer reading Six Degrees, Prof. Duncan Watts’ volume on networks, than watching what the TV networks have to offer during prime time.

So, it was uncharacteristic of me last evening to be sneaking a peek at my watch during a dinner meeting with one of my candidates and his wife. The young couple with whom I was dining is a pair of wonderful, fascinating and delightful individuals, so the issue was not one of boredom. I was enjoying our conversation. It was just that the minute hand on my watch kept creeping closer to 8:00 PM EST – the hour when the Fox series “24” airs in Boston.

This past Sunday evening’s double episode marked the beginning of the fourth season for this breakthrough series. I did not become ensnared by the show’s gravitational pull until near the end of the first season. Co-workers in my office began to talk about the series over lunch, so I finally caved in to watch Jack Bauer do his thing, and I was hooked.

During my dinner meeting last evening, as I observed my mounting level of discomfort over the prospect of missing part of Monday night’s episode, I stepped back to ask myself the question: “What is it about this show that is so compelling?” I am not sure that I have yet arrived at a satisfactory answer to that question, but I’ll share my preliminary and inchoate thoughts as they begin to take form.

Good writing – I have an appreciation for a well-constructed story line and tightly written dialogue. I am not aware of many other shows currently available on TV that match “24” in these areas. “West Wing” often comes close in its writing and story line, and I have been told that the new series “Lost” has its moments, but good writing is all too rare in the world of broadcast entertainment.

It does not insult my intelligence – As I watch, I find myself thinking – either trying to follow the plot twist, trying to anticipate what may happen, or trying to understand what is motivating a character to act or speak in a certain way.

The characters are nicely nuanced and three-dimensional human beings - Jack Bauer, the protagonist and serial pursuer of domestic terrorists, is a tragically flawed hero. He is no Billy Budd-like Christ figure, but a recovering drug addict who is not above using terror tactics to fight the bad guys.

Villains that we love to hate - Last season’s ex-First Lady was a classic villain, constantly twisting reality and truth in new ways to advance her nefarious schemes. This season’s new head of CTU is not above using national security assets to intervene to prevent the LAPD from arresting her schizophrenic daughter.

The ever-escalating tension - With each barely audible tick of the clock in the background, the tension mounts like a tourniquet being slowly tightened. Each episode ratchets up towards a jaw-dropping climax – and usually does so without becoming formulaic.

Fascinating plot twists - Just when I think I have figured out what is coming next, a new development or character emerges from the shadows to move the narrative in an unanticipated direction.

Production values – I can’t help myself; I love the split screen that allows/forces us to watch up to four plot elements evolving simultaneously.

Timeliness - We all think about the threat of terror on our doorsteps, and the show shamelessly manipulates those fears to draw us into the story.

"In your face" attitude – The writers and producers of this series are not afraid to be “politically incorrect” and actually depict a Muslim family living in LA as sleeper terrorists. There have been protests, but the show goes on.

Something tells me I should feel guilty about enjoying a TV show quite this much – especially one that is aired on the much-maligned Fox network!

I’ll continue to think about these things, and would even be willing to discuss them with you. Write a comment here, send me an e-mail, or call me on my phone. Just don’t try calling on Monday at 8:00. I’ll be busy – watching “24”!


Anonymous said...

I agree with you Al!

I got hooked on "24" after the first season ended, also as a result of "buzzing" at the office. I purchased a copy of the DVD's and couldn't stop watching! One time I had to take a business trip to Manhattan, so I hopped on the Acela with my laptop, headphones, and my "24" DVD's. I watched 4 episodes back-to-back-to-back on the train ride down there. I was so pumped with adrenaline, I was certain everyone in NYC was a terrorist about to attack!

I have refused to watch seasons 2-4 because I got too emotionally involved with the first one and I can't take it!!!

You're a stronger and braver man than I for submitting yourself to it again.

Mark S.

Anonymous said...

Yes! Finally a show I'll watch and enjoy. I resisted for 3 years, as I do with most new shows as they usually disappoint. Not so with Jack Baur and his friends and/or enemies. It's a 21st Century Action Thriller, sure to keep me watching. I can hardly wait for Monday night and I don't even miss Madden & Michaels!

GDA145 said...

i am also official, definetly without a doubt HOOKED!
i walked in on my parents watching one night during season one sat down and ive hardly missed an episode since! You're completly right Mr. Chase, it seems so real, and allthough i have nothing to compare it to, they really DON'T treat you like you're viewing a kids show. I don't know about this year's cast...it seems as though EVERYONE is gone! Tony, Michelle, Kim, I don't yet know who to trust! i like the big guy Edgar though! Can't wat to see what this year has in store for Mr. Jack Bauer!


jsavard said...