Sunday, April 08, 2007

5 Ways to Make 24 (Season 7) Better

I've been running this site for almost two years now, and critiquing 24 for even longer. Complaining and ridiculing is an easy thing to do, but often isn't helpful -- not that Fox, or the writing staff, is paying attention. From what I've learned in the past, anyone can complain. Anyone can bitch. But it's so much more helpful to come up with a solution for a perceived problem. This Easter morning, I began to explore what could resurrect 24 from, what I see, becoming a failing franchise.

Something that's resonated with me lately is the new upcoming Die Hard movie. Does anyone else see the resemblance between Jack Bauer and John McClane like I do? They're both law enforcement. They both take on terrorists of all walks. Their families are estranged. And they're both solitary heroes -- they have help, but it's usually all them.

See the resemblances? I sure do and I think the creators of 24 may have based some of Jack on McClane -- it's not a big stretch. But why not go farther? I think that by copying a page from the Die Hard book, we can start our list of how 24 can be fixed.

1. Happenstance
In the Die Hard films, McClane has never been the person to seek out the baddies -- he just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think 24 needs to do the same. To borrow an idea from a reader, what if Jack (being a full-time citizen now) decides to retire from his job and find peace with himself. He moves to a small town in Montana, or Alaska -- a place where no one knows who he is, or cares -- and starts his life over. A place where nothing happens, life just exists. Think the town and mountains in Misery. Think of the setting in First Blood.

As Jack is in town getting some supplies for his cabin, he comes across some people that don't belong in town. It's nobody he knows from his CTU days, but these guys aren't wearing the right clothes, or driving the right kind of car. His instincts want to kick in, but Jack dismisses them and tries to go about his business.

During his fickleness, Jack forgets something at the store. When he gets back into town, something has gone wrong which tells Jack his instincts were right.

2. Little, to no, help from anyone in power
In this scenario, Jack is "off the grid," completely. Seriously. He's somewhere in the mountains where cell phones only work 10% of the time -- and that's on clear days. But it's cold and winter now, almost blizzard-like conditions. He can't get through to CTU, and even if he did, it would take them far too long to get any help there. Plus, there's no one at CTU that knows him anymore, Jack is the stuff of legends that disappeared.

Additionally, there are no Palmers in power. There's no one in the government that cares about Jack Bauer -- he was seen as a rogue agent that played by his own rules. Rules that not only produced results, but rules that got people killed. Again, even if there was someone who could help, Jack has no way of getting a hold of them. No favors can be called in.

The only help Jack has is from the local authorities -- police that have never had to fire their gun and are more used to writing parking tickets than tracking killers. Remember, no one knows about Jack's history, it's not likely they'll believe his crazy story or trust him.

3. No gadgets
With Jack no longer being employed by CTU, and his strong desire to get lost in the world, he has no need for his gadgets or technology. He has no PDA. No special cell phone to contact the outside world. No huge cache of weapons to choose from. And like I mentioned before, the weather conditions are bleak, so even the baddies can't use a lot of technology -- they're using walkie talkies to stay in touch and everything they need is pre-programmed (be it a missile or what-not).

Jack has nothing but maybe some basics -- knife, rifle, 4-wheel drive vehicle. Imagine him a beefed up and killer MacGuyver. To upgrade his stuff, he has to take it from the baddies, or enlist the trust of the police.

4. Time is unimportant
For way too long, the writers have been dependent on telling the viewers what's going to happen at what time. Whether it does, or not, we know that something important will happen in EACH episode. There's really no need for that -- especially in a small mountain town that is seemingly unimportant to the United States. Baddies won't tell each other that they plan on doing something in 45 minutes, because it won't matter. Jack won't drive from one end to LA to the other in 10 minutes, because it won't matter. This isn't a Die Another Day version of 24, it's a Casino Royale version. Things happen and people respond.

5. Cast of few
When comparing the cast photo of season one (minus Mandy) to that of season six, it's no wonder we're thrown so many useless and worthless sub plots. Seriously, it's always better to have fewer, more developed characters to deal with. Viewers can associate with them more.

In this scenario, there doesn't need to be many on cast. Jack, Baddie Boss, Baddie #2, Police Person, Concerned Citizen A and B. We can have sprinkles of others here and there (Milo, season one), but we don't concentrate on anyone with an alcohol-addiction for two episodes and then onto something else. We don't need 5-7 different bad guys as we move up the chain. Keep the cast smaller, make them all interesting.

I honestly see these suggestions as some that could really help 24 get back to the style of show that we love. Things have become way too big in 24-land. It's time to step back and see what made the show work. It wasn't CTU. It wasn't conspiracy theories. It was Jack vs. the world in a way that seems viable and true. We can't race around the world in 24 hours, but we can traverse a small town and stop an evil plot to destroy a valuable something that no one knows about.

Take it or leave it, Fox. Happy Easter.


Mike Wilkerson said...

A grand article and one that's got a lot of merit! Thanks for sending me a note about it!

I would also add in there REAL, TRUE TO LIFE cliffhangers. This last episode provided us with what was the first in a VERY LONG TIME.

There is something about a real, serial cliffhanger that will continue to drive people back and if you have any doubts of that, watch any 4 episodes of HEROES and tell me what would have happened to any of those episodes had they not had a good, solid and definitive cliffhanger.

Great work~!

bryan h. said...

I'm in favor of all your suggestions, and (since things have gotten so bad) I'm sure the discussion could go on and on. I think a key point that you made was that things have gotten too big on 24.

I haven't tested this theory, but my memory is that things started going downhill in the fourth season (though I do like a lot of season 4) and then went totally off the rails in 5 and 6 (though I do like parts of season 5).

There are probably a lot of factors at play, but I think the decline coincides with their increased budget. In seasons 1-3 (and 4, to an extent) they actually spent time at locations, sometimes characters would be at the the same warehouse/hotel room/hotel/etc for several straight episodes. I presume this was because they couldn't necessarily afford to use 147 different locations in a season.

Nowadays, they rush the characters, and the story, from location to location. I think a lot of the tension in the earlier years resulted from that contrast of pace, from having to write the story within some constraints.

That's just a theory I have.


Jonk said...

I like some of your ideas in theory, especially happenstance and cast of few. Those are crucial aspects no matter what they decide to do for season 7.

However, one specific part of your idea I don't think is logistically possible -- filming a 24-hour story set in wintry conditions. I had an idea several years back (season 2ish) about a "24" spin-off set at another CTU location, somewhere in the midwest -- probably Chicago -- and having the events take place during a winter snowstorm. It's a neat idea, but there's no way they could film more than a handful of episodes of cold wintry conditions, let alone an entire season's worth.

Put Jack in a small, non-blizzardized town, I'd be all for that. But, powers that be, please not one "just outside of L.A."

Ivan said...

24 is awful these days. I couldn't agree with you more. But what you have come up with would be pretty ridiculous. 24 meets First Blood, The Hunted, Deliverance, and Simple Life? No way would that ever happen. It would be realy ridiculous to see Jack in a forrest and then the digital clock ticking. They would have to replace that for a grandfather clock. Also, Jack in a forrest minding his own bussiness, how would that be done advertised? I can almost see the previews on Fox: Last season, he saved Los Angeles, now he is chopping wood.

Your post is a nice idea for a movie, or for a different show, but not for 24.

Seth Gunderson said...

Thanks for the feedback, Ivan. It's fine, it wouldn't HAVE to be in the setting that I'm talking about, but something has to change. The show can't continue getting bigger every year -- that's obviously causing more problems than not.

I think my 5 ways are a good starting point aside from the setting. But I think it's time to move on from CTU and LA.

Marcus said...

A few friends and I tossed around the idea of next season is spent around Jack's trip to China to rescue Audrey. You know, a whole 24 hours showning Jack arriving at LAX, having to make a connection through Japan, a layover, and a couple of runway delays.

You know, toss in a couple of episodes of Jack tearing through a crossword book or a couple of soduku puzzles. One with the inflight meal, another of him just looking out the window. Maybe one where he takes a nap.

It can't be much worse than this year, I assure you.

Seth Gunderson said...

LOVE the idea, Marcus. Good one.

bryan h. said...

I think something else 24 needs to get back to is the notion of Jack being a sad or conflicted hero.

That theme came and went through season 5, and season 6 started with the notion that Jack was too fucked up to be any good anymore. I loved how Palmer and Bill wouldn't let him quit when he wanted to. It looked, for a few minutes, like the writers might have found a new and interesting way for Jack to suffer. And then he shot Curtis, and all was forgotten.

Maybe in a new season, Jack should accidentally kill a few civilians, maybe on more than one occasion. Maybe then the increasingly intense feelings of failure and guilt he feels over it would make him all the more ruthless in his pursuit of the villain. He could be hoping to absolve himself of innocent deaths by giving them some kind of meaning, but things get harder, not easier, as the season progresses...

I don't know. But I've been spending a lot of time imagining how 24 could be good again, too. This season did not need to be.

Bryan H.

Ivan said...

Seth, I agree that the show cannot get bigger each season. Especially because instead of getting bigger, it gets more ridiculous each year.

A simpler plot, with some personal conflict (like in Season 1) would be great. A return to the subtle beginnings, with not much happening, but leaving a much bigger impact.

If you compare the pace of episodes in season 1 and 6, I think that what happened in 12 episodes of s1 would fit into two eps this year. That's pretty awful, considered what little impact the new episodes leave. At the end of each season 6 episode, I always realise that while a lot was going on, nothing interesting happened.

I didn't mean to mock your ideas about improving 24. It's just that I could not imagine how it would look set in Montana... But I agree that the creators HAVE TO move the action away from LA, because it's stupid that everything always happens there. And it's also stupid that everything is always up to Jack. And it's also stupid that CTU always has ONLY ONE WAY TO PREVENT AN ATTACK every week. What happened to multiple leads and clever writting?

Anonymous said...

I really don't know what or how you could use season 1 or 2 as an example in good subplots? The Kim and Terri subplots were damn right stupid, especially Terri forgetting who she was! Let us not forget the useless wast of time Kim was in Season 2! I would agree that the subplots have gotten larger, but they serve a point. I mean Bill and Karen have more of a storyline, as does Chloe and Miles. Though there was some similarities this season as before it did have a lot of great things happening and though not the best season it was better than season 3 and 1 for that matter. For me, I really didn't care much for the terrorist threat but the Jack and Audrey storyline. I'm really impressed with what the writers did for Jack's character this season. Though I do hope that season 7 continues to bring out more of Jacks character I also hope that there is a little more creativeness in how a "threat" is established.

Anonymous said...

Just watched Season 6, in fact I'm writing as the last hour unfolds. What a pile of bull, it's so stupid it's offensive. I will say this only once: THERE IS NO WAY TO FIX 24, IT'S GONE. MOVE ON.

Oz said...

Some ideas with some potential floating around. However I wouldn't want to see him in a snowy mountain town. I would expect Steven Seagall or Jean Claude van Damme to pull a cameo. Happenstance...great, little to no help from person in power...good, less gadgets...good, time is unimportant...good, cast of few...brilliant. I would love to see them focusing on the characters as opposed to ridiculous twists and plot lines. They should start by blowing CTU up...just to make a point. An agency can only be infiltrated, attacked, hacked so many times. Take CTU out of the series even if it is only the physical building. I would love to see the darker side of Jack, where the lines aren't as clear anymore. The deteriation of Jack. You see it in all of the series but they don't focus on it but for a mere split second (other than the drug bit). His mind, body and soul has been broken so much, they just need to focus on it. A nice example was the comparison of James Bond. Not the die another day James Bond but the Casino Royale James Bond.

At the end of the day it doesn't matter what the next season is abou...because it isn't the explosions, the thousand twists, the multiple main bad guys, the gadgets, the 147 locations that impress me, it would be the how the writers treat us as an audience. KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid. I as too many people who watch this show am not stupid and I don't want to be treated as such. Make Jack a mercenary fighting another man's war in Africa, or in the Middle East or South America for all I care. Look at shows like The Wire, The Shield, The Sopranos. All of these series are character driven...and the guys at Fox have this amazing character called Jack Bauer that they have moulded into an extremely scarred man. They could make so much of him.

I am just ranting and raving right now because I just ifnished watching The Sopranos, and The Shield, and am just disappointed with 24 Season 6.

I will think up of some scenarios for season 7 in the meantime. I am glad that I a not the only one who thinks 24 is slowly taking the piss.