24: Live Another Day is Almost Upon Us

2013_Upfronts_24Mock me if you must, but I love 24. Always have, always will. It’s the perfect blend of cheese, suspense, soap, action and intrigue… With constant plot twists and character deaths, 24’s real-time format was a groundbreaking success and one of the best shows of the pre-Mad Men/Breaking Bad era.

See not that long ago, in a country just like this one, there was this shady little hobbit named George… powell-cheney-w-condi-card-tenet-rummyAnd George got himself, mostly through the political connections of his ex-president/CIA chief daddy, elected President of the United States. However, George wasn’t really the president. He was just the talking head for an administration that was unlike any other in recent history- a group effort… See George, well he’s not the brightest bulb in the donut shop, but he did have some very, very smart friends… And those friends also happened to be devious evil dickwads who controlled the government, media, and the people of the United States for almost 8 whole years of terrifying hell. With 9/11 and anthrax and 2 wars in the middle east… The country was stretched to the breaking point.

It was a perfect time for a different kind of hero. A secret agent who did what he had to do, no matter what, to protect the country that continuously kicked him in the balls over and over again… That man was Jack Bauer, of the fictional Counter Terrorist Unit… CTU. He saved Los Angeles, America, even the world over a period of 8 increasingly terrible seasons. He shot more terrorists than anyone ever knew existed, hell he even shot a few of his fellow agents now and again (RIP Ryan Chappelle). 24_Split_ScreenHe tortured suspects for information to a ridiculous degree (propagating the myth that torture is remotely good for getting information), but he did it because he had to… Because in the world of 24, there was always the one thing that made it such a brilliant show: A ticking clock.

The constant threat.

It reflected our society as a whole… All our fears, all our reactions, all our prejudices, and oh all our ignorance. At the same time, it was just a kick-ass show. Goofy but suspenseful, soapy yet still had some truly TV-history making plot twists. 24 was a mirror of the post-9/11 society, but with awesome lines like, “I’m gonna need a hacksaw” or “You’re going to tell me what I want to know it’s just a matter of how much you want it to hurt.” Then there was my favorite pastime the 24 drinking games. Every time Jack Bauer says “DAMNIT!” you take a shot.

Kim-Bauer-CougarAt the same time, television itself was a different machine than it is now. Supposedly we’re in the Golden Age of television right now. A Renaissance, of sorts, for long-form visual story telling. To an extent, I agree, but only because I look back and I remember what it was just 10 years ago. When seasons were 23-25 episodes long and were stretched out over the whole year with RE-RUNS in the middle. When there weren’t as many serial-form shows, and it was mostly the X-Files and Law and Order.

Then 24 came along, re-inventing the wheel with a real-time format. A whole season that played out one hour at a time over the course of a day in the life of special agent Jack Bauer. It was brilliant. While it suffered from the bloated and lengthy season format, often throwing in the lamest of the lame plot lines to fill up space (I’m looking right at you Kim Bauer, daughter of Jack and dodger of Mountain Lions), it told a story that no other show had, in a way that no one had tried before… And it worked. It was extremely popular and won a ton of awards before it faded into obscurity after 8 loooooong seasons.

Jack-Bauer-24-Season-9Who knew that watching the same guy do the same stuff over and over could get old?

Now days we have better TV in the sense that it’s smarter. Shorter seasons, better writing, better stories, and a seriousness that demands respect that keeps some people at arms length watch NCIS and Law and Order: CSI clones. HBO started this thing almost twenty years ago with OZ, The Sopranos and The Wire, but only until the last few years have basic cable channels like AMC and FX been able to produce shows that could compete on a level above all the popular clone shows and reality TV. The Networks are still struggling to recapture the fire of Lost, throwing anything out there that will get a bite.

jack-bauer-24And that’s why 24 is coming back to Live Another Day. A 12-episode arc that will continue the show’s real-time format, but will break it up so the hours are scattered. Thank god, with London traffic I don’t think Jack could get anywhere to save anything if he had to account for every minute of every hour. For example, we’ll get 8:00 am-11:00 am and then 2:00 pm-5:00 pm, that kind of thing.

Wait, since it’s overseas will the clock be 24-hours now? That’d be cool.

21408KiplingTonyCubbieJack Bauer returns May 5th on FOX, and I can’t wait. Super agent on-the-run Jack Bauer is transplanted to London this time, where he’s hunted by the chick from Chuck, and pitted against his old friend and ally Chloe O’Brien, Super Hacker (played by Mary Lynn Rajskub). Jack’s ex-love Audrey is back, and her father James Heller is the president now (should make for some great “Jaaaaack”‘s). We also might see the return of Tony Almeda… a return for Jack’s one-time friend and colleague turned terrorist was hinted by the show’s executive producer David Fury who said he’d just had dinner with Carlos Bernard and that we could “read into that” what we will. Sounds like he’ll be coming back if you ask me.

Hopefully it won’t suck. There I said it. It’s still FOX, and it’s still network television… so it easily could. Especially if they stray from what makes the show work so well: Jack Bauer doing what Jack Bauer does so well. Too many side-plots and somebody’s junkie brother are not necessary this time, especially given the shorter format.

mary-lynn-rajskub-24-live-another-dayWe will see on May 5th.

The Americans – Why it’s the Best New Thriller on TV

The-Americans-FX-showImagine it’s the early 1980s. Ronald Regan is newly-elected President, cassette tapes, Phil Collins, and Return of the Jedi are all the rage… And everyone’s wearing those puffy coats they used to wear that made them look like they just jumped ship.

Back to the Future jokes aside, it’s a scary time. Kids these days don’t remember the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but I remember the constant threat of the “Russians.” They were always the bad guys in every action movie, and they were always on the news with scary parades of giant missiles, not like these North Korea guys…30americans-span-articleLarge The Russians were actually scary.

There aren’t any cell phones, or internet, or laptops or iPads… But there are color TVs and microwaves, and these new things called personal computers… Oh, and the constant threat of thermonuclear annihilation.

Now imagine you’re a regular guy, with a wife, a house, two kids, a travel agency to run. You go to PTA meetings, you mingle with neighbors, you go to the movies and follow Carson… The American dream, right?

ta20130104-357-jpg_204929Then you get a phone call, and there’s a code, and you’re off to meet your handler in the middle of the night… Why? Because you, and your wife, are actually deep-cover KGB agents. You have been since you were 17. Recruited to become super-spies, to lose the accent, to blend completely. You met your wife for the first time just a few weeks before you left Moscow. You are a KGB cell, and you are here to spy, to kill, and to destabilize if necessary. Oh, and honey? Can you pick up some .45 caliber slugs, some C4, and some butter on your way home?

This is the premise of FX’s hit thriller The Americans, which airs Wednesday night at 10, and this is my vote for best new show. Starring Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell as the Jennings, the normal couple next door that just happens to be KGB.

jYQdyGu9tl75VCreated by ex-CIA agent Joe Weisberg, the series has been a hit for Fox’s cable channel, FX, following a string of successful shows like Archer and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia… Shows that have redefined television as far as I’m concerned. Cable’s after-10pm time slot is the coveted “We can show and say almost anything” spot thanks to South Park, and in the last few years channels like FX and AMC have used they leeway to push the envelope. This is FX’s first high-concept action show, and it sometimes strays into fantastic-land, but Fox knows what they’re doing. No one brings action to TV like Fox, anyone remember Jack Bauer? Thankfully The Americans doesn’t stray into over-the-top cliche suspense, it relies on something much more intricate.

What makes The Americans work so well? The characters. Rhys and Russel are amazing as Nadezhda and Mischa, aka Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings. At the heart of the show is the marriage between the two agents. FX-TheAmericans-2_Keri-Hallway_1009_CMYK_FThey’ve been pretending to be married for over 15 years, they take the kids to school, they make the dinners, check the homework, do the dance, all the things we do everyday… But the brilliance is the fact that they walk the line between truly just “going through the motions” and real human connections. They’ve been pretending to be happily married for so long, how do their own personal feelings fit in there? The rest of the cast, thankfully, isn’t just window dressing either, this is an extremely talented team. Co-star Noah Emmerich, one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, is compulsively watchable as the emotionally scarred FBI agent that moves in next door. It provides opportunities for so many layers of suspense as the season progresses, especially after an incident with Emmerich’s partner.

We find out early on that both husband and wife use sex as a tool in their espionage belt, and the show is at its best when both of them return home at the end of the day, going to bed like the Cleavers at night. It’s a better version of Mr. & Mrs. Smith. These people have to wear so many masks, they’ve lost their real identities in the process. One of my personal favorite characters in the show is Phillip’s alter-ego Clark, a character he plays in order to get information from the FBI office. When they’re alone and the mission is over and the kids are in bed, who are they? rhyamericans1Do they love each other? Can they turn a fake marriage into a real one? After 15 years of living with someone, fighting with someone, spying with someone, wouldn’t a natural emotional connection emerge? Can that survive in the harsh world of cold-war espionage? Phillip is more Americanized, Elizabeth is slightly unstable, and someone is always watching… Can you take the kids to school this morning? I was stabbed in the leg during a mission last night.

Plus the build up to these two having a knock-down, drag-out, ass-kicking fight is just killing me. I know it’s going to happen, you know it’s going to happen, they know it’s going to happen. Oh man I can’t wait to see it.

the-americans-fx-1It’s also refreshing that there is something decent to watch during the week. Usually all of the good TV is on Sunday nights, while the rest of the week is spend waiting for Sunday night. We need more of these mid-week thrillers to keep break up the monotony of the prime-time landscape. There’s no shaky-camera, no over-the-top action… The dialogue is sharp, the plot multi-layered, the characters are believable, and best of all- it leaves you wanting more. If the credits roll and I’m holding my breath for next week’s trailer, I know its a good show.

If you haven’t seen The Americans, you need to. If it looks cheesy and pulpy, then your expectations are the problem, not this show. This show isn’t perfect, but it’s as good as it gets for mid-week escapism. In a post-Lost world where TV executives have to go head-to-head with adult-drama behemoths like Mad Men, Game of Thrones, it’s hard to find a good show that isn’t a weekend-ender. The Americans has my vote for best new show this year. Suck it Revolution.