Pop Culture Gadabout
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
      ( 1/16/2007 09:19:00 AM ) Bill S.  

NOW WE KNOW WHERE LARRY FLEINHARDT REALLY WENT – So does 24 still have the capacity to surprise us? After watching the four-hour season premiere, I'm not sure: there were a lotta familiar story elements in this opener (the terrorist living in a peaceful suburban neighborhood, f'rinstance), delivered more quickly perhaps (took no time at all before our hero was subjected to torture by the bad guys), but it still seemed rather redundant. This is the second time in the series we've seen a nuclear weapon go off, only where the first was diverted to the middle of nowhere (look out campers!), this time it blasted a half mile radius of factories and warehouses on the edge of L.A. Okay, so maybe we weren't expecting that . . .

Perhaps the bigger unanswered question is how the writers are gonna play with the real political issues they've brought to the table. If the show's self-described "conservative" producers have their own takes on the War on Terror, they've historically (and smartly) seen fit to subordinate 'em to the demands of story twistiness. The U.S. of 24 (how many years in the future now? I've lost count, but we're told that two years have elapsed since the last day-long crisis) is at a much more heightened terror level – thanks, no doubt, in part to those sinister shadow government types we saw at the end of the previous season – with big cities experiencing a steady onslaught of suicide bombings.

We get a lotta arguments about the benefits and risks of curtailing civil liberties – both within the office of brotherly president Wayne Palmer (DB Woodside, who appears to've lost the periods on his initials somewhere) and out on the streets of L.A., where Palmer's sister Sandra (Regina King) conveniently works as the attorney for an Islamic-American Alliance. Through her eyes and those of her boss Walid (Harry Lenix), we get to see how scary sudden detention can be. (The F.B.I. agents who pick them both up are made to look particularly soulless and menacing.) But this being 24, that act of ethnic profiling turns out to have an unexpected benefit when Walid hears some telling info from two actual terrorists who were also picked up in the sweep. When Walid brings this to his lawyer, her first response is to discount the info since it was obtained illegally. Stop being such a lawyer, is the guy's telling response.

But perhaps the biggest political conundrum is reserved for a character that we know from previous seasons: CTU spear-carrier Curtis (Roger L. Cross). Unhappy about working with a terrorist who now has Arafat-styled aspirations (Alexander Siddig, formerly of Deep Space Nine), stressed-out Curtis freaks out in the fourth hour and threatens to kill the man, forcing our hero Jack to instead shoot Curtis in the neck, thus fulfilling the 24 rule of killing an established character early in the day, just to establish how serious the stakes are. (What? Nuking L.A. isn't sufficient?) But will Jack's act prove to be the right thing – or will his new apparent ally ultimately show still-extant terrrorist inclinations? A lot can happen in the next twenty hours . . .
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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