This Wall Street Journal article explains the moral angst that the writers of 24 have developed, particularly about Jack’s willingness to use torture at the drop of a hat. The ratings have also dropped — and that’s blamed on the unpopular war in Iraq. That seems like a dubious connection: from what I’ve heard of the last season, it simply wasn’t worth watching.
The whole article is worth reading, if you’re a fan of 24. However, this description of first major idea for “reinventing the show” that the writers developed very nicely encapsulates the way in which their moral angst will destroy the show:
Come spring, the show’s writers and their Fox bosses began having informal telephone conversations about how to recover for next season. By the May 21 season finale, the audience had dropped to just over 11 million. Fox gave the writers carte blanche to “reimagine” the show. One of the team’s chief considerations was how to address the controversy surrounding Jack’s use of torture. Should Jack be feeling the guilt the media would have him feel?
On May 31, the show’s head writers went in for a meeting at the studio to present their first big idea: sending Jack to Africa. In various incarnations, Jack would begin the season digging ditches, building houses, tending to orphans, providing security for an embassy or escorting around a visiting dignitary. “One of the themes we discussed was penance, that Africa was a place Jack had gone to seek some kind of penance. Some sanctuary too, but also penance for things he’s done in his life,” Mr. Gordon says.
Ms. Walden and Gary Newman, chairmen of 20th Century Fox Television, were receptive but believed it was too much of a departure. “It felt like we were throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” says Ms. Walden. The Africa plot also had several glaring problems, the first of which was that at some point Jack would have to fly back to the U.S. The writers proposed that for the first time ever, “24″ would break from its real-time conceit; the show would skip the period when Jack was on his 14-hour flight.
The 14-hour flight would have been great television compared to watching Jack build orphanages in Africa!
While I’ve really enjoyed some seasons of 24, I’ve found that it’s quite boring to watch a season again. In contrast, I’ve very much enjoyed rewatching old episodes of Alias, The Unit, and MI-5, even though the plots of those shows are driven substantially by action. In retrospect, I’d say that 24 isn’t particularly good television. The writers rarely have an overarching plan for the season, so they depend too much on plot twists and surprise — rather than character development, plot integration, or theme. On second viewing, when you remember the basic line of the story, those weaknesses become far more apparent. In other words, the show has no depth to plumb on a second viewing: it’s all surface. It can be fun on a first watching though — so long as Jack plays Jack, rather than some soul tortured by his own willingness to do (within the context of the show) what was necessary to safeguard innocent lives.