When I first started this blog, 24 was starting its sixth season, and I started posts comparing the show with freshman sensation Heroes. How funny is it, then, that here a year and a half later I really have no emotional attachment to either show, not even really blinking an eye at the most recent news that production on the 7th season of 24 has shut down due to unforeseen creative difficulties.
To start with, for the seventh season itself this isn’t exactly bad news: they’re not going to get behind (considering that they already have 18 episodes filmed and aren’t starting until January), and perhaps the break might improve the end stretch, something that was probably necessary last season with the least memorable 24 conclusion yet. But I think that, like any announcement about 24 these days, it raises to the surface the big question: why is this now two productions stoppages in two years, and what exactly is wrong with this series that is quickly fading from the pop cultural radar?
The answer can be found in one thing: expectation.
Fans expect Jack Bauer to kick ass. Fans expect an opening 2-4 hours which are full of action and espionage which will blow you away. Fans expect the show to be something very specific: from action setpiece to action setpiece, to follow us from villain to villain, and to raise suspicion of double agents, corrupt authority, and presidential politics. A show that was once known for breaking out of traditional narrative formulas has all too quickly fell into its own bad habits, and breaking out of them is going to be tougher than you’d expect.
Now, producers have tried in the past to course correct from these types of mistakes – after the fourth season was generally considered a bit of a failure thanks to its predictable and highly unbelievable villain, the fifth season was hailed as a critical rebound, a fascinating character study that elevated the drama to a level that hadn’t been matched since probably season one.
The problem with this? That the fifth season wasn’t a change in structure but in acting ability – Gregory Itzin and Jean Smart picked up Emmy nominations for that season because they took two characters that could have been hamfisted and made them into something that was extremely compelling to watch. The actual storylines of the season weren’t any different, the same ridiculously excessive opening, the same setpieces, there were just better people playing within those scenarios. It was the best season since the beginning not because of a change in formula, but because everything just clicked.
So when heading into season six, there wasn’t a need to change around the formula: the show was a huge success, critics were back on board, so they went ahead with business as usual and made an almost insufferable season. There was just something about Season Six that felt derivative, that felt like a show that was trying to make things more person for Jack (See Elder Bauer, Brother Bauer) but just failed miserably at making a show that clicked. It still wasn’t downright terrible television, but there were segments (including the entire conclusion, Audrey’s hokey return, etc.) which struck to the core of 24’s issues: the show has changed too little in six seasons to continue at its current pace.
So here we have Season Seven: we’re getting a prequel in the fall, Tony’s being brought back from the dead, the show is actually going to attempt to moralize Jack’s use of torture (That’ll get trite in a hurry), and now we have them, six episodes out from the conclusion, stopping and rewriting two scripts in order to course correct. Maybe it’s just me, but this doesn’t seem like enough to keep me from being skeptical. Even worse, though, I think it might be enough for me to just shrug it off, to simply stop caring altogether. I can’t imagine how, in just a year and a half, that could happen with a show I’ve followed since the beginning, but something has happened to this show.
And while there’s still some hope left in my heart for the show, I have to say that this news is more non-event than event.