December 2, 2005

"'Sleeper Cell' is better than '24.'"

Alessandra Stanley gives us a strong heads-up about a new TV show (on Showtime):
"Sleeper Cell" is a spy thriller for the new phase in post-Sept. 11 television drama. Until now, most series about counterterrorism clung to cartoon ideations of can-do agents and fiendishly efficient terrorists - reflecting, perhaps, an almost childlike hunger for American indomitability at a time when news reports are less reassuring. Even Jack Bauer on Fox's "24" has a comic-book supercompetence to match that of his enemies, brilliant terrorist masterminds intent on bringing the United States to its knees. (If terrorists can be sloppy or lazy, then there really is no excuse for not catching them.)

In this series, the F.B.I. is a vast bureaucracy riddled with complacent midlevel agents who carelessly screw up surveillance work and bosses who are as concerned with diverting blame as they are with deterring attacks. Even the terrorist fanatics are killing machines with a human face. Some of them make foolish mistakes, from bragging about a secret operation on the telephone to a relative in the Middle East to panicking when they think they are being followed. Others secretly miss their wives and make weepy phone calls home in the middle of the night.
So the cartoonish characters and plots on network TV dramas about counterterrorism are attributable to the viewers' "childlike hunger for American indomitability"? What's the explanation for the cartoonish characters and plots on all the other network TV dramas?

15 comments:

HaloJonesFan said...

>Even the terrorist fanatics are
>killing machines with a human
>face.

Oh god, machines with human faces! And those bastard terrorists are killing them! Won't someone think about the machines?

Er, wait, that's not how you're supposed to parse that sentence.

Anyway: 24 was bad. Perhaps it could be called "entertainingly bad", but I only found the first season was interesting, and that only because the writers literally wrote each episode the day before it was filmed, without any kind of overall concept or plot guidance. The unpredictability meant that you really couldn't guess what was going to happen, and arguing over how it could/couldn't have happened was fun. Once 24 got into set plots and predefined story arcs, it lost the spontaniety that made it so much fun.

I only made it halfway through this last season. I gave up on it when the terrorist leader used yet another mole inside CTU and yet another secret army of operatives to escape from Jack Bauer again...for the fourth time. (or was it the fifth?)

At least this new show has correctly identified the hook. The "real time" gimmick didn't work all that well in the first season, and it was totally abandoned in this last one. It got to be that everything took fifteen minutes. "I'm going to drive downtown." (fifteen minutes) "I'm going to drive from CTU to Headquarters." (fifteen minutes) "I'm going to fly to Monterey." (fifteen minutes) "I'm going to walk across the room." (fifteen minutes)

FXKLM said...

Has anyone else heard about that script for a splapstick sitcom based on a terrorist sleeper cell in America? Supposedly it's really funny, but no network has the courage to produce it. Showtime should have that instead.

Ann Althouse said...

Yes, I've seen articles about that. It is exactly what the premium cable channels should take a chance on.

Halo: Yeah, I tried to watch "24" when it came out originally to great reviews. I got bored in the first episode. (Same for "Lost," too, btw.)

PatCA said...

Well, if it's negative about the US, it fits the worldview of Miss A and her cohorts at the Times.

I think 24 is kind of boring. My favorite terror thriller (gosh, that sounds shallow, doesn't it?) is the mini-series The Grid produced by the Brits who produced the original Traffic.

And I love Lost! I really think that's why Martha is not getting the ratings on Wednesday night. I always catch her on rerun. The table/car display was worth the wait!

erp said...

We didn't see "24" years one and two, but got hooked on year three until the abrupt change in story line which tossed out the developing characters of the Moslem family and their conflicting loyalties, the son between his family and his adopted country and the mother between her husband and her son. We thought in the end, the boy would save the day and the terrorists be shown as the lunatic fringe they are helping to bring the Islamic community into the American family.

We kept watching, certain they would tie everything together, but they didn't. Instead they kowtowed to pressure from Islamic groups and basically dumped their original script. The first and second halves look like they were taken from two different programs.

Joan said...

With shows like "Lost" and "24", you have to be willing to accept a certain level of silliness to enjoy them. They're very different programs, but both have had strong characters and some interesting plotlines. I think the original article's view of "24" is wrong, though: a lot of the plot twists on "24" hinge on such small things as the clingy girlfriend, and people make mistakes all the time. The only one who's really a superhero is Jack Bauer, and at this point, it has become iconic, almost to the point of being able to say "You killed Jack, you bastard!" at least once a season.

At any rate, thanks for the head's up about "Sleeper Cell." I'll set the TiVO to look for it.

Pooh said...

You got bored with Lost? That's it, I'm outta here...

In all seriousness, I don't think that American audiences need "indomintable superheros". We need simplicity. We need characters with affectations that act as "Hi My Name is Undercover Cop".

Certainty. That's the word I'm looking for. Absolute good guys and absolute baddies. Hence the appeal of CSI, etc. (BTW, after a weekend plus spent home sick, I feel qualified to say the CSI:NY is the best of the three. Not that that is saying much. I still watch though.)


authentication word: Vatny. Wasn't that the villain in the first season of 24?

XWL said...

I haven't read the article, but keep in mind whose name is on the byline, we are talking Allesandra Stanley here.

Ann Althouse said...

Pooh: Network dramas usually bore me. Something about the look, the unnatural acting, the pacing. I just don't watch ANY network dramas. I don't think I've followed a single one since "Hill Street Blues"! I don't watch the lawyer shows, don't watch "West Wing," don't watch any of that stuff. Oh, I just thought of one that I did watch: "Joan of Arcadia." Don't know why that appealed to me so much. By contrast, I've seen ever episode of "The Sopranos" and "Six Feet Under."

Pooh said...

Well, that's ok then. You are probably better off not getting sucked in, anyway.

I do have to say that it's a little odd that you find those shows boring, yet are enthralled by "The Apprentice". You want to talk about 'unnatural'. A good friend of mine has been on multiple 'reality' shows, and he talks about how the producers 'encourage' certain behavior.

But different strokes and all that.

FXKLM said...

For me the problem with network dramas is the lack of profanity. It's distractingly unrealistic especially crime shows. There's nothing dramtatic about drug dealers and thugs who use clean language. It's just silly.

Ann Althouse said...

But, Pooh, I'm not "entralled" by "The Apprentice" (or "American Idol"). I just find it fun to watch and to talk and blog about. It's a different kind of experience. A drama demands close attention -- if it's worth watching. When we watch "The Apprentice," we talk and joke around. It's a much freer experience, which I like a lot.

Pooh said...

Yikes, I wasn't meaning to imply that you need to Get A Grip of your fixation with the Apprentice. My bad.

The worst part about watching such shows is when you are sitting with people who DO take them super seriously, and constantly "Shush!" your jokes.

FXKLM said...

Ann: You say you haven't watched any network dramas since Hill Street Blues. Have you tried Freaks and Geeks? A lot of people don't like it because it's often hard to watch. The characters are put through such honest and unflinching humiliation. In that sense, it's a lot like The Comeback, which I know you love. I don't know of any other shows out there with that style of humor.

PatCA said...

"There's nothing dramtatic about drug dealers and thugs who use clean language. It's just silly."

Hmm, how do you know about their use of language?

You would like Training Day. Every other word out of Denzel's mouth is motherf****r as in "pass the m-f***ing bread, please."