Sunday, March 02, 2014

The Ultimate TV Pilot Checklist: 24

Hard-ass Jack Bauer works for CTU, the Counter-Terrorism Unit, while trying to control his rebellious daughter Kim. His co-workers include his ex-mistress Nina and surly Tony. They’re dealing with a threat to the life of presidential candidate David Palmer, who is in LA for the California primary with his wife, son, daughter, and campaign manager. Meanwhile, a photographer and a girl named Mandy flirt on a plane, then Mandy blows it up and sky-dives out.
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?
Does the concept satisfy the urges that get people to love and recommend this type of series?
 The concept does, but not quite the pilot, which is low on spy action.
Does the series establish its own unique point of view on its setting?
 Very much so: the real-time device.
Is there a central relationship we haven’t seen in a series before?
 Yes: federal agent and his ex-mistress / co-worker.
Does the ongoing concept of the series contain a fundamental (and possibly fun) ironic contradiction?
 Yes, the high-minded world of politics will be contrasted every week with the down and dirty world of anti-terrorism.
Does the concept meet the content expectations of one particular intended network, venue, or audience?
 Yes, rebellious partying teens and a republican hero were both Fox staples.
Even if the setting is unpleasant, is there something about this premise that is inherently appealing? (Something that will make the audience say, “Yes, I will be able to root for some aspect of this situation to recur episode after episode.”)
 Yes, we stand up and cheer for Jack several times.
Series Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong ongoing series?
Is there one character (or sometimes two, in separate storylines) that the audience will choose to be their primary hero (although these heroes should probably be surrounded by an ensemble that can more than hold their own)?
 Yes, two, Jack and Palmer.
If this is a TV series, is the hero role strong enough to get an actor to abandon a movie career, come to work in TV for the first time, and sign a five-year contract before shooting the pilot? (And even if not for TV, is the hero role still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)
 Yes for both: this was Keifer Sutherland’s first TV after a long movie career.  Dennis Haysbert had a much more modest movie career, but this was also his first TV.
Is the show set in an unsafe space?
 Yes, Jack is betrayed both at home and at the office right away
Is this a setting that will bring (or has brought) different economic classes together?
 Yes, we have elite euro-assassins and dopey high-school dropouts brought together in the same conspiracy.
Will trouble walk in the door on a regular basis?
 Very much so: they get the call whenever anything goes wrong anywhere on the west coast!
Will the heroes be forced to engage in both physical and cerebral activity on a regular basis?
Are there big stakes that will persist episode after episode?
 Oh my yes.
Will the ongoing situation produce goals or mini-goals that can be satisfactorily resolved on a regular basis?
 No to goals, a provisional yes to mini-goals.
The Pilot: Will this pilot episode be marketable and generate word of mouth?
Does the pilot contain all of the entertainment value inherent in the premise (rather than just setting everything up and promising that the fun will start next week)?
 Not really!  Shockingly, this is a very mild pilot compared to the show in general.  Partially because of the real-time set-up, they just can’t get Jack doing much yet.  He’s still stuck in the office reacting when the episode ends!  No mission!  No killings!  It’s shocking.
Does the pilot feature an image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the show)?
 Yes, the digital clock, the plane exploding, (although they had to cut because of 9/11 on original airing).
Is there something bold, weird, and never-before-seen about this concept and/or pilot? 
 Very much so.  It was totally unlike anything that came before it.
Is there a “HOLY CRAP!” scene somewhere along the way in the pilot (to create word of mouth)?
 Yes, blowing up the plane, Jack shooting his co-worker.
Does the pilot build up potential energy that will power future episodes (secrets that will come out, potential romances, etc.)?
 Yes, lots, it’s almost all potential energy.
Even if this is episodic, is there a major twist or escalation at the end (though sometimes this twist will only be new to, or only revealed to, the audience) that will kick future episodes up a notch?
 Tons of them: Who is Mandy?  Where are the guys taking the girls?  Etc.
Believe: Do we recognize the hero (or co-heroes) as human?
Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)
 It’s an odd choice for an opening scene: Jack is muted, unfunny, untough, and not very interesting in his first scene.  It’s not really until he calls Kim’s ex and snarls “That’s real comforting, knowing I’ve got your ‘word’,” that we get a glimpse of the real Jack.  I suspect that this is why they moved up the Palmer intro first, (even though he has little to do in this episode, and having that scene there meant that Jack had to drive to work in exactly 90 seconds!)  Palmer has a much stronger intro, joking with his subordinates that “historic occasion” sounds like a brunch.
Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
 Yes: Jack the badass, Palmer the winner.
Does that ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
 Yes: Jack feels weak and wounded as a father, Palmer seems to sense an abyss opening up beneath him.
Does the hero have three rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
 Jack: Speak truth to power, Be in control, Kick ass, Palmer: Be forthright, Do it yourself, be human.
Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
 Jack: Military: “I don’t care how it’s interpreted on the outside, I just gave you an order and I’d like you to follow it.”
Palmer: preacher “Thank you angel”
Does the hero have a default personality trait?
 Jack: brusque (he’s trying to change that but he can’t), Palmer: tough-but-gentle.
Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
 Yes, Jack asks nicely, then applies the thumb-screws, wants to have the info in advance, then nail you with it.  Palmer: appeals to your higher nature.
Care: Do we feel for the hero (or co-heroes)?
Does the hero have a great flaw that is the flip side of his or her great strength?
 Jack: Reckless, distant from family, Palmer: hints of anger, insists on shouldering burdens alone.
Does the hero feel that this flaw cannot be resolved until it’s time to abandon the world of the show?
 Very much so.
Does the flaw resonate with the theme and/or setting of the show?
 Yes, their flaws show the schism at the heart of America’s foreign policy.
Invest: Can we trust the hero (or co-heroes) to tackle this challenge?
Does the hero have a great strength that is the flip side of his or her great flaw?
 Jack: honesty, toughness, Palmer: humility, gravity, forthrightness.
Is the hero good at his or her job (or family role, if that’s his or her primary role)?
 Yes for both.  We admire Palmer’s speechwriting advice.
Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
 Yes: Jack: everybody else is more focused on covering their ass than doing the job, Palmer, everybody else is trying to build him up, but he’s trying to stay humble.
Is the hero curious?
 Yes, Jack and Palmer are both micro-managers, peeking under rocks.
Is the hero generally resourceful?
 Yes, very much so.
Does the hero use unique skills to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody else on the show would do)?
 Yes, Jack has special knowledge of Mason, and of Kim’s ex-boyfriends, Palmer knows how to shut down the press.
Powerful: Is each member of the ensemble able to hold his or her own?
If this is a network TV series, are there at least two more roles that are strong enough to get TV veterans to sign their own five-year contracts? (And even if not for TV, are the characters still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)
 No.  The rest of the cast were all unknowns and weren’t very strong. (Xander Berekely is an exception in both cases, but he was supposed to be a guest.  They smartly brought him back often.)
Are all of the other regular roles strong enough on the page in this first episode to attract great actors? (ditto)
 No, not yet.  The caliber of actors got better as the season progressed, adding TV vet Zvelko Ivanek and movie vets Lou Diamond Philips and Dennis Hopper.
Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct and defensible point of view?
 No.  Bauer and Palmer don’t meet much resistance yet.
Is each character defined primarily by actions and attitudes, not by his or her backstory?
 Yes, Jack’s complicated past with Terri and Nina is in the background, and not how either is defined.
Do all of the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others? (Good characters don’t serve good, evil characters don’t serve evil.)
 No, but Jack and Palmer both try to serve good for good’s sake, but each is so obsessive about doing it in the way that he wants to do it, even if it infuriates everybody else, that it’s almost more of a fetish for each rather than true selflessness.  The villains have believable motivations, as we’ll find out later.
Do most of the main characters have some form of decision-making power? (And is the characters’ boss or bosses also part of the cast, so that major decisions will not be made by non-regulars?)
 Very much so, Jack is the onsite boss at CTU, and he’s told by a visiting supervisor that he should be judgmental of his other superiors!  Palmer is very much the decider as well.
Balanced: Do the members of the ensemble balance each other out?
Whether this is a premise or episodic pilot, is there one point-of-view who needs this world explained (who may or may not be the hero)?
 No.  We just jump right in.  Onscreen titles give us a lot of information we need, and overlapping video, in which one character describes another situation, and we get overlapping video as we cut to that situation, which is a neat trick, since it means that we don’t have to have people in the same location describe each other, which would make less sense.
Does it take some effort for the POV character to extract other characters’ backstories?
 NA: There’s no POV character.
Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut (or various forms of 2-way or 4-way polarization)?
 Bauer and Palmer are two-way polarized into reckless brutal efficiency and thoughtful high-minded caution.
Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct metaphor family (different from the hero’s, even if they’re in the same profession)?
 Not really.  A lot of the dialogue not spoken by the main heroes is functional and/or generic.  Underwritten CTU employees would be a problem until Chloe was introduced in the third season.
Does each member of the ensemble have a different default personality trait?
 Nina: dedicated, Tony: surly, Kim: rebellious, Teri: resentful.
Does each member of the ensemble have a different default argument tactic? 
 Tony: Demands info in quid pro quo,
Kim: lies, divide and conquer with parents,
Sherry: exaggerated affection hiding shrewd calculating.
Is there at least one prickly character who creates sparks whenever he or she appears?
 Not yet.  Chloe will be introduced in season three, and she’ll be a huge gust of fresh (and nasty) air.
PART 4: IS THE PILOT EPISODE A STRONG STAND-ALONE STORY AND GOOD TEMPLATE FOR THE ONGOING SERIES? (20/22)                                                                
Template: Does this match and/or establish the standard format of this type of series
Does the pilot have (or establish) the average length for its format?
 Yes. It’s just 42 minutes.

If this is intended for a form of commercial media, does the pilot have the right number of commercial breaks for its intended venue?
 Yes, at the time, three.  (Alas, it would be five or six today)
If this is intended for commercial TV, does every act end on a cliffhanger or escalation, especially the middle one (and, if not intended for commercial TV, does it still have escalations happening in roughly the same places, simply for narrative purposes)?
 Yes.  1st: we see the assassin.  Midpoint: Jack shoots his boss (not for the last time on this show!) 3rd: Palmer gets seemingly-catastrophic phone call.
Does the pilot establish the general time frame for most upcoming episodes of this series?
 Yes: exactly one hour each week.
Do all of the pilot’s storylines intercut believably within that time frame?
 Yes, they all take a turn for the worse almost simultaneously at the end (nothing climaxes yet, of course.)
If this is a premise pilot, is the basic premise established by the midpoint, leaving time for a foreshortened typical episode story in the second half?
Pilot Story Fundamentals: Does the pilot episode have a strong story?
Does the pilot provide at least one satisfactory stand-alone story (even if that story is just the accomplishment of a mini-goal)?
 Yes, “24” usually did a good job at this, (better than, say, “Hostages”): In this episode, Jack gets the source from Mason, which was his mini-goal for the episode.
Is this episode’s plot simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
 Not really.  A ton of plot to get through here.
Is the pilot’s challenge something that is not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
 Yes, Jack really wants to be out searching for his daughter tonight.
First Half: Is the problem established in a way that reflects human nature?
Does the hero start out with a short-term goal for this episode?
 Yes, deal with his daughter.
Does a troubling situation (episodic pilot) or major change in the status quo (premise pilot) develop near the beginning of the episode?
 Two, first she disappears, then he gets called in for a crisis at work.
Does the hero eventually commit to dealing with this situation personally?
 Yes, he hands off the first so that he can commit to the second, but keep working on the other one too.
Do the hero’s efforts quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?
 Yes, he’s outfoxed on the home front by his daughter, and finds out some of his bosses at work don’t want the assassination stopped.
Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
 Yes, he trusts Terri to find Kim, confronts Mason directly.
Does this culminate in a major midpoint setback or escalation of the problem (whether or not there’s a commercial break)?
 Yes, he can’t get what he wants from Mason and shoots him.  Kim situation doesn’t get worse, but he does look at her picture right at the act break.
Second Half: Is the mini-goal resolved as the ongoing trouble escalates?
Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?
 Yes, he blackmails his boss, has his colleague crack Kim’s password.
By halfway through, are character decisions driving the plot, rather than external plot complications?
 No.  Tons of plot keeps arriving.
Are the stakes increased as the pace increases and the motivation escalates?
 Yes, Mason could wake up any second.
Does a further setback force the hero to adopt a wider view of the problem?
 Yes, first for Palmer with the phone call, then for Jack when the plane blows up.
After that setback, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal?
 Yes, Jack gives up on looking for Kim and focuses on the bigger crisis.
Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has the hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
 Yes for Jack, not yet for Palmer, but the story continues into next episode.
After the climax, does either the hero, the point of view character or a guest star have a personal revelation and/or life change, possibly revealed through reversible behavior?
 Jack is about to go look for Kim when the plane blows up and he fully commits to the work situation.
PART 5: IS EACH SCENE THE BEST IT CAN BE? (19/23) Jack has to get a keycard from one of his superiors, Mason, so he shoots him with a tranquilizer dart.
The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?
Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?
 Yes, Jack was warned that if Mason wouldn’t give up the source then he must be dirty.
Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
 No, this show loves to cross-cut, but this scene plays straight through.
Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?
 Yes, the office has glass walls and everybody is looking in.  There are also guns, as we find out.
Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?
 Mason doesn’t really want to be there, tries to hurry through and not say much.
Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
 Nope, we’re all plot here.
Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?
 Yes, once he shoots Mason with a tranq, they have a half-hour or less before he wakes up.
The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?
Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character?
 Yes, it’s where the plot turns and we find out a lot more about Jack.
Are one or more characters in the scene emotionally affected by this interaction or action as the scene progresses?
 Not really.  Amazingly, shooting his boss seems to be just another day at the office for Jack (and indeed it will be.)
Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
 Yes, we want Jack to find out if Mason’s dirty, and we want Jack to get the source.
Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
 Yes, Jack wants the source, Mason doesn’t want to give it up.
Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
 Yes: Surface: I can’t give you the source because it’s classified, Suppressed: I’m not going to help because I want Palmer to get shot.
Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?
 Yes, each pretends to give in to the other’s demands.  They’re very faux-chummy until Jack shoots Mason.
Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
 Yes, Jack asks Mason to call his boss, then listens in on another phone to discover that Mason is calling time and temperature.
Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?
 Yes, lots. It start with a handshakes, ends with Jack grabbing him to muffle his scream and wrestling him to the couch.
Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?
 Yes, Jack accepts Mason’s access card, offers Mason his phone, shoots him with a tranq.
If this is a big scene, is it broken down into a series of mini-goals?
 Yes, get the source, check up on Mason, get the gun, shoot Mason, get Nina on board.
The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?
As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
 Yes, Jack shoots Mason.
Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?
 Yes, Jack shoots a guy to stop a shooting.
Are previously-asked questions answered?
 Yes, is Mason dirty?  Will he give up the source?
Are new questions posed that will be left unanswered for now?
 Yes, can they get the proof about Mason before he wakes up?
Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)
 Yes, we’re both afraid for and afraid of Jack at this point.
Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?
 No, it goes to the end.
Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
 Generally, this is an empathy-light show, but the writers know how use it as needed: we like Kim’s evil date at first because he has a likable monologue about how he could never be a surfer because, among other things, “you have to get up early…you have to call everybody dude...”
Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
 The two heroes each see what the other doesn’t see, tactically and morally.
Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?
 Jack is trying to be more open and honest, but it’s a struggle.  Palmer plays it close to the chest.
Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say?
 Yes. Palmer doesn’t tell anyone about the threat.
Do the characters listen poorly?
 Not really, our heroes are both excellent listeners.
Do the characters interrupt each other more often than not?
 Not really, they’re all very professional.
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?
Does the dialogue capture the culturally-specific syntax of the characters (without necessarily attempting to replicate non-standard pronunciation)?
 Yes, the teen talk is authentic-sounding.
Does the dialogue capture the jargon of the profession and/or setting?
 Very much so. “Forget the Middle East, they’re not doing loan-outs anymore.  Focus on Europe.  I requested an open channel with the Bureau.” Etc.
Does the dialogue capture the tradecraft of the profession being portrayed?
 Not as much as later, but we do get some tricks of the trade.
Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
Is there a minimum of commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?
Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?
 Yes, when Jack and Nina discuss his recklessness and honesty.
Genre and Mood: Does the series tap into pre-established expectations?
Does the series fit within one genre (or compatible sub-genres)?
Are unrealistic genre-specific elements a big metaphor for a more common experience (not how life really is, but how life really feels)?
 Yes, this is all a metaphor for 9/11…even though it was shot pre 9/11!  They smelled it coming.  (As did many other TV shows, movies, comics, and album covers, all coming out in September of that year, showing 9/11-like events.  It was truly creepy.)
Separate from the genre, does the pilot establish an overall mood for the series?
 Yes, each storyline has high-tension ominousness.
If there are multiple storylines, do they establish the spectrum of moods available within that overall mood?
 Sort of:. Palmer’s is political drama, Jack’s is action. The teen story seems fun, but ultimately turns out to be just as sinister as the others
Is there a moment early on that establishes the type and level of jeopardy?
 Yes.  In the script, we start with domestic stuff for the whole first act, which is really weird, but in the on-air version, they’re added a first scene in Kuala Lampur (although this makes no sense when we find out the ultimate plot) of a spy getting the info and calling it in to a spy-boss.
Framing: Does the pilot set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
Are there framing devices (flashforwards, framing sequences and/or first person narration) to set the mood, pose a dramatic question, and/or pose ongoing questions?
 The clock and the split screens literally frame the action, showing that there’s always menace somewhere.  Often we just get a glimpse of something in the corner of the screen then it goes away, creating tons of dramatic questions.
Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the pilot? 
 By midway we arrive at the big questions of the episode: Will Mason give up the source, and will Mandy get hurt?
Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?
 Very much so.  For instance, there’s not mention of Palmer’s competitors, and he’s already writing his acceptance speech, taking the question of him losing off the table.
Are set-up and pay-off used to dazzle the audience, distracting attention from plot contrivances?
 Yes, the cross-cutting distracts us from the fact that it takes Jack 90 seconds to drive to work!
Is the dramatic question of the pilot episode’s plot answered near the end of the story?
 Yes: Mason does give up the name, and no, Mandy is most definitely not in trouble.
Pervasive: Is the theme interwoven into many aspects of the show?
Does the ensemble as a whole have a unique philosophy about how to fill their role (and competition from an allied force with a different philosophy)?
 Yes, they take a wider view, and they have little respect for either the CIA above them or the cops below them.
Does the pilot have a statement of philosophy and/or theme, usually either at the beginning or ¾ of the way in. (Sometimes this will be the ensemble’s statement of philosophy, sometimes this merely be the implied theme of the series itself.)
 ¾ of the way in: “You can look the other way once, and it’s no big deal, but soon all you’re doing is compromising because you think that’s the way things are done.  You know those guys I blew the whistle on?  You think there were bad guys?  You’re wrong, they weren’t, they were no different from you and me, except they compromised… ‘once’”.
Can the show’s overall ongoing theme be stated in the form of a classic good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?
 Yes: security vs. constitutional guarantees.
Throughout the pilot, do the characters have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?
 Yes, Jack must shoot his superior in order to accomplish his goals.  Palmer must shut down the press to become a man of the people.
Are the storylines in the pilot thematically linked (preferably in an indirect, subtle way)?
 Yes, Jack and Palmer are both caught between morals and ethics.
Are small details throughout the pilot tied into the theme?
 Yes, his daughter pretends he’s dead as people are trying to kill him, etc.
Will the heroes grapple with new moral gray areas in each episode?
 Very much so.
Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
Does the series’ set-up reflect the way the world works?
 Yes, this isn’t one of those shows where a plane goes down in one storyline and nobody notices in another storylines.  This also isn’t the sort of show like “The West Wing” where politicians make stirring speeches when they’re not on camera.
Does the series have authentic things to say about this type of setting?
 Yes.  It’s quickly acknowledged that FBI and CIA might not want there to be a black president.
Does the ongoing concept include twinges of real life national pain?
 Very much so.  It predicts 9/11 and everything that was coming.
Are these issues presented in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
 Yes, for now, but later it’ll run into trouble.
Do all of the actions in the pilot have real consequences?
 No.  Some will, but Jack will show a remarkable ability to get away with stuff like shooting his boss.
Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?
Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the pilot episode’s story, forcing the audience to do that?
 Yes, although it was often hard to synthesize the meaning of this show, which was constantly flip-flopping as the story developed.
Does the end of the pilot leave the thematic dilemma wide open and irresolvable?
 Very much so.
Total Score: 116/132


j.s. said...

For me Jack Bauer's a good example of a character who's ultra-competence is purchased at the contrasting extreme and frankly almost cartoonishly unbelievable incompetence of nearly everyone else in that fictional world.

One example that sticks in my mind from a later season but that strikes me as exemplifying what I'm talking about: a SWAT raid on a suspect's house.

Beforehand, Jack is at pains to tell the team, NYPD SWAT -- no slouches up against any raiding party in the world -- that the suspect needs to be taken alive because he's got vital intel. So they breach the door, rush in and subdue everyone in seconds... Except the guy they've come for, who manages to smash a framed photo on the wall and extract a shiv of glass... To which the fully armed and armored SWAT team responds by shooting him dead. As if they couldn't have just knocked it out of his hand with, I don't know, anything -- a stun gun, pepper spray a baton, the butt of their rifles....

Is Jack the only one in this world who can even follow simple directions?

That's the thing that strikes me as even more ludicrously right-wing about this show than any faith in torture per se -- it's the utter lack of faith in government agencies and institutions and the absurd trust in lone individuals bucking the entire system.

I've read plenty of books about the real life counterterrorism agents in the years after 9/11 and what's especially galling is that it wouldn't be that difficult to tell an utterly riveting -- yet more procedurally and tonally accurate -- story about what's actually been done to keep us safe. But you'd have to start by turning the show's pitch dial down from 11.

Matt Bird said...

Yeah, there were plenty of examples of portraying the people Jack had to work with as bumbling fools to make him look better...but as a New Yorker, I know that there are no shortage of examples of the NYPD killing people rashly for anything short of instant compliance. We have an very cowardly police force.

(Of course, as someone whose politics are trending more and more towards left-libertarian, I don't necessarily see lack of faith in government agencies as right-wing. I found THE WEST WING to be impossible to stomach because of its faith in said agencies, for instance.)

What do/did you think of HOMELAND, which was/is more realistic in some ways and less in others?

And hey, did you ever watch THE SANDBAGGGERS?

Clearly, you should write a more realistic counterterrorism show! There's definitely a market an American version of SPOOKS (MI5)/ SANDBAGGERS/ COUNTERSTIKE.

j.s. said...

"We have an very cowardly police force." I might have agreed with that criticism a few decades ago. And there have been several high-profile incidents lately of beat cops discharging their weapons indiscreetly on crowded Manhattan streets. Along with equally serious accounts out here of the LAPD panic-shooting several innocents in the hunt for a killer deliberately stalking uniformed officers.

But the standards of NYPD's ESU elites are pretty rigorous. These are guys that spend their days practicing close quarters combat and making instantaneous shoot/don't shoot decisions, with real consequences for their standing on the teams.

In the episode in question, it's never unclear what the suspect has, that it's a piece of glass and not a gun or even a knife. The worst that could happen to the first guy who grapples with him would mean a few stitches. And the suspect himself looks like the proverbial 98-pound weakling.

To all readers here who would aspire to write shows about characters who shoot guns: please go try it once or twice yourself. At the very least you'll come back with a profound respect for the power and danger of the weapons and the difficulties involved in shooting straight, even when the stakes are low and you and your target aren't moving.

I could call myself a liberal-tarian too, when it comes to many issues. Though at a certain point, a lack of faith in government agencies doesn't just become a lack of faith in government policies or bureaucracy, it becomes a lack of faith in cooperative problem solving. And then you'd might as well become a Doomsday Prepper.

I haven't seen THE SANDBAGGERS yet. I've got the first season on my to-watch pile on your recommendation and am hoping to get to it soon, maybe after TRUE DETECTIVE is over.

I will say that COUNTERSTRIKE was a bit too actiony for me, cartoony in a different direction. And that MI-5 was good, but, like the very underrated THE UNIT seemed like it had to bend over backwards to pretend that their complete focus in those years would not have been on Islamic radicalism. One episode I recall had an American anti-abortion terrorist coming to Ireland to stir up trouble! Didn't realize we had so few clinics left in the states worth terrorizing.

j.s. said...

Looks like I was confusing STRIKE BACK with COUNTERSTRIKE. I haven't seen that show.

I do enjoy HOMELAND more for the reasons you've cited on your blog, how the show's metaphor of paranoia plays out, the way it connects to 70s cinema in that respect. But I'm also not caught up, since I've only seen the first season. And I will say that Carrie's dilemma is better constructed than Brody's. Manchurian Candidate-ism doesn't feel like the right metaphor to graft on to PTSD. What war does to fighting men who return home does feel like a terrible secret, just not one with the psychological dynamics that the show's plot necessitates.

Matt Bird said...

No, wait, I got confused too, I did mean STRIKE BACK. I just found the same show you found, some Canadian show with Christopher Plummer? Nope, never heard of it.

I'm not one of these "the cops should just shoot the gun out of their hands" types. I know that most shots miss and there's no point in firing anything other than core shots in a lethal threat situation, but the NYPD's cowardice isn't just about their trigger-happiness. See, for instance, this video of 24 cops showing up to arrest a turnstile-jumper:


or the infamous West Side Highway motorcycle gang beatdown footage, where it later turned out that the gang had not one but two undercover cops in it, who did nothing because they "wanted to protect their cover."


This is an oversized, over-staffed, overfunded department with a ultra-paranoid siege mentality that is greatly decreasing quality of life for everybody. It sucks.