Monday, March 03, 2014

Straying From the Party Line: No POV Character in 24

“24” was obviously groundbreaking TV in many ways, but let’s look at two less-obvious ways that it broke with tradition…
  • Deviation #1: There’s no POV character in either setting.
  • The Problem: In shows such as these, there’s almost always someone who’s just starting his or her first day on the job, allowing us to get the know the staff and their mission.
  • Does the Show Get Away With It? Yes, and it’s very clever. Each of the two settings provides a brief POV of the other: We see the people at CTU discuss the Palmer campaign, who everybody is and what it means, then we see the Palmer campaign discuss the role of CTU. The split-frame technique also helps here, because they allow the people in one location to talk about the people in another location while showing both locations at the same time, which makes everything much clearer.  This is a neat trick and spares us the burden of the bumbling rookie, who wouldn’t be much use to either story after serving as our POV.  (The show also makes use of onscreen titles telling us where we are and even who some people are, which is an old-fashioned device that still works just fine.)
But wait, that still leaves...
  • Deviation #2: The pilot script couldn’t attract strong actors except the leads.
  • The Problem: The co-heroes of “24” were both played by excellent underused movie stars…so that’s great, right? Well, the problem is that a script has to not only attract a strong hero or co-heroes, it also has to have supporting roles that are strong enough to attract great talent…and this script lacks that. Tony and Nina, for instance, are weak roles on the page, and so they attracted weak actors, who would each hold the show back for years (even after Nina abruptly turned evil, they kept bringing her back.)
  • Does the Show Get Away With It? No. This was another reason there always had to be a mole in CTU: Jack had to get out of there because the storylines there were never lively enough. This wouldn’t change until the third season, with the introduction of Chloe, the abrasive computer tech played by Mary Lynn Rajskub, one of a long line of TV guest stars who stuck around and gradually rose to co-starring status, as well she should.
We’ll talk more about her role tomorrow, and why every show needs one…


j.s. said...

Do you think 24 gets away with having such a weak bench of players because it's so actiony? That it really is more like one massive drawn-out action film per season with a lone hero than it is like a more traditional television thriller, which would be built around some kind of "family"?

Or is all of this at least partially the fault of the show's worldview of extremist individualism, which leaves little choice but to make the other characters cardboard cartoons.

On to the importance of tech-nerds, who will explain stuff to the audience in the guise of explaining it to the tech-impaired hero.

Matt Bird said...

> Do you think 24 gets away with having such a weak bench of players because it's so actiony?

Yes, but that's no excuse. HOMELAND has a lot of thrilling action with much stronger characters.