26 August 2014

24: Live Another Day

 24: Live Another Day

12-episode miniseries, FOX, 2014

Reviews are a comprehensive analysis of the entire aired season. Therefore, if
you haven't watched the entirety of 24: Live Another Day, read no further. 

Four years ago, I wrote extensively about the great, the terrible, and the bad of 24's eighth and then final season. 24 was a series I wholeheartedly loved from Senator David Palmer to President Allison Taylor, from Nina Meyers' betrayal to Jack Bauer's rampage of revenge and near assassination of an ex-President. It was with a heavy heart that I said goodbye to the series, but with such a whirlwind of a generally bad season in Day 8, that miraculously - and thankfully - concluded on one hell of a stellar high note, it seemed there was no better time to call quits, and what better way to end it. 

And then 24: Live Another Day was announced. With a killer premise - Jack Bauer in London! - and the promise of everyone's favorite non-superhero superhuman who isn't Batman returning from exile, man, I was stoked. A 12-episode miniseries, touted out as a "event" in every bit of press around . . . excitement was building! The potential awesomeness of this compact season could be. No filler, no loose ends going nowhere, no ridiculous melodrama, and best of all, the writers would be rejuvenated with creative ideas and renewed enthusiasm!

Ultimately, what 24: Live Another Day became was more or less the same of what we've seen before.

Typically, that's not a bad thing, but with all the pre-launch press, the sameness can't help but be a bit underwhelming. There is plenty of pleasure to be taken from that, to be sure - Jack Bauer's new rogue status allows him room to do things that he otherwise wouldn't necessarily be able to under government control, and that becomes highly, highly riveting drama. But the hope was that whatever was planned for these 12 episodes would justify the return, and, in a way, spoil the spectacularly appropriate and fulfilling ending Day 8 concluded on.

Things get off with a rocky start as the opening chapter, "11:00AM - 12:00PM", fails to really capture tension. Jack is back, indeed, badass-ly maneuvering a prison escape for himself and Chloe O'Brien that is thrilling, but the build-up, not so much. Aided by a Bad Guy in the form of Margot al-Harazi who has a vendetta against President Heller (last seen in the closing minutes of Day 6 in a brutal verbal sparring exchange with Jack) and commandeers U.S. military drones to exact her revenge against him and the UK. And there's this super awesome kickass agent Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski) who's on Jack's trail, but soon becomes an ally. With Strahovski, who already has street cred as the spectacularly brutal Sarah Walker in NBC's late and great comedy series Chuck, it was a sure bet that her presence would add another layer of awesome to the proceedings. Overall, sounds pretty cool, right?

Unfortunately, those pesky subplots that was hopefully to be eliminated rear their ugly head. A mole inside CTU that propels the second subplot in a new direction! A President with a problem they're trying to keep hidden! A cool character with a sad history that's mentioned at least once per episode! The President's aid scheming behind his back! The bad guy is batshit crazy, and acts batshit crazy to their subordinates! Coupled together, these are all grievances that detract from making Live Another Day a solid installment in the series' overall pretty damn great history.  These are annoying problems that could easily have been avoided, or, at least, handled with a more delicate care.

What does work is Jack and when he's allowed to be Jack. With such a short time span to deal with, Jack's status as fugitive of the United States is dealt with a rather welcome speed, and soon becomes President Heller's only real line of defense against Margot. Making Heller President seemed like a contrivance at the beginning - and for the most part, the whole idea rather is a contrivance - but the benefits reaped by having this character in a position of power, especially one with a civilian history with Jack, is more than worth it. The early scenes between these characters as they become reacquainted are deeply rich, nuanced and compelling (as are Jack's interactions with Audrey, which is bursting with electricity and restraint). As the day progresses and a genuine feeling of trust - dare one mention it, friendship - is fostered, that's when the series really shines. Particularly "6:00PM - 7:00PM", where Heller makes a decision regarding Al-Harazi that he entrusts only Jack in executing. It's a brilliant hour of television, and portrays the Jack/Heller dynamic beautifully. 

And best of all, it results in one of the series' best lines, spoken by Heller to the CTU head, regarding Jack needing Kate Morgan's assistance in a mission:

"Jack wants her, Jack needs her, Jack gets her."

That also leads to the following hour, "7:00PM - 8:00PM", where that Rogue Jack status really gets to shine. Throughout the season, Jack's patience level has evaporated entirely, smarting off against anyone in his way, and refusing to take gruff from anyone he doesn't have to (namely, the President). It's also allowed him certain liberties, like dealing with problems any way he sees fit, as he does with Margot in one hell of a cold and amazing sequence involving large heights. The season finale, "10:00PM - 11:00AM" also features such a moment between Jack and Cheng Zei, who makes a wonderful return to the 24 after the largely misguided Day 6, to tie up another series-long storyline. The ultimate resolution between these characters didn't entirely reach the epoch of emotional intensity as it should have, given everything that's transpired between the two men, but regardless, having these two scarred characters face off again was a delight.

Chloe O'Brien's arc was less than interesting, as she removed herself from government employ and turned cyberhacker against her country, exploiting government secrets and working with a underground UK cyber operation. Her return works both as a emotional thread for Jack to hold onto, but also helps for plot purposes, as she helps solve Jack's problems all easy peasy and helps move the last subplots into place in the final episodes. Overall, however, it was probably one of the better uses of Chloe in the last handful of years, but like many things this season, failed to really resonate.

There are lots of pros and cons with this miniseries event, with more or the same, less of the new being a problem, but there were also amazing moments, like Jack's confrontations with Margot and Cheng, or Morgan's handcuffed murder of her torturer in episode 6, or the Jack-drone attack in the streets of London. Ultimately, it was an average season of 24.

In the end, the question becomes: what's the point? 24: Live Another Day didn't push as many boundaries as it should have, nor did it offer anything really fresh or exciting to really make the adventure worth it. Yes, it was beyond gratifying to have Jack Bauer back onscreen again doing his thing, but the way he came back - despite a real riveting episode or reveal here or there - just didn't reach the levels of excellence it should have.

The note the series ends on has is a frustrating one. Day 8 ended on such a poignant, beautiful note, so perfect for the character of Jack Bauer, that this new potential series ender just doesn't quite ring the same tone. Jack sacrificing his freedom for his only true friend is completely within the character of Jack Bauer, and in that sense, it's an appropriate ending, sure, but subjectively, Day 8 concluded with more resonance and power.

Screencaps from Screencapped.net.

24 August 2014

Doctor Who 801. Deep Breath

Doctor Who 
801. Deep Breath

Written by Steven Moffat

It's been a long eight months since the Eleventh Doctor took a last stand on Trenzalore and untethered his bow tie in the TARDIS for the climatic and ridiculously dramatic "The Time of the Doctor." And now here we are again, ushering in a new Doctor (the fourth in the modern 2005 onwards era), and it's kinda nerve-wreaking. Time and time again, the creative team behind Doctor Who has proven themselves with their decisions, with David Tennant being a star-studded successor to Christopher Eccelston, and the super young Matt Smith owning the role of The Doctor in mere moments of screentime, easily making his way into being many a fan's favorite Doctor (it's always a battle between Tennant, Smith, and Tom Baker, it seems). A year ago, on a live television event, venerable actor Peter Capaldi was announced as the Twelfth Doctor, and now, today, his tenure as The Doctor began . . .

"Deep Breath" is the least arresting debut for a Doctor since the series' resurrection. It lacks the clarity of voice of "The Eleventh Hour", the Doctor-ishness of "Rose", and the energy and skill of "The Christmas Invasion." It's a bit of a mess, really, with few highlights and Jenna Coleman's Clara Oswald stealing the spotlight from the ever-befuddled Doctor. 

Victorian London is, once again, the backdrop for this story (frankly, I could go a whole series without Victorian London used again, and, for that matter, the Paternoster gang) as The Doctor and Clara crash land out a time traveled dinosaur. A confused and brain addled Doctor tries to sort through his post-regeneration haze and forming identity while investigating a series of murders. Big Bad's are revealed, ongoing mysteries are reopened, a new arc is hinted, and the Paternoster gang continue to pander as comic foil and play philosophy of the Doctor games. 

The main prerogative of these New Doctor stories is setting up the new actor and new incarnation, and to that extent, "Deep Breath" didn't work quite that well, both from a scripting and acting standpoint. The script seems too stuck in the Matt Smith era of blurting out words and loosely forming them into what could be considered sentences of thought, not allowing this Doctor to have any real standout features until well into the second act. That dark, cold and calculating Doctor that's been mentioned in interviews finally cracks the surface ever so slightly, with his seemingly abandonment of Clara to the machine villains and potential dispatching via impalement of the main bad guy. But there's not enough, not enough to really sell the viewer - at least this one - into really being compelled by this Doctor's journey, not yet. The closing minutes, however, where the Doctor is closer to his new persona than before, hint just well enough at what's to come that I'm quite intrigued.

Capaldi, ultimately, is the least successful sell of the episode. His movements and delivery are stiff, neither invoking characterization or drama into his role or lines. Perhaps this was the first episode filmed and Capaldi was still grappling with how to handle the character, but even in a regeneration haze, Capaldi seems incapable of handling it well. The first thirty minutes - the worst part of an episode you want to not work - are the most difficult, as Capaldi's line delivery fails to land repeatedly. The rest of "Deep Breath" works mostly because Coleman sells the Doctor so completely with her fears, doubts and, in one instance, faith in this man she's grown to know. It's still only episode one, and there's eleven more that have the potential to really solidify Peter Capaldi as The Doctor, but for now, Capaldi is just Capaldi being paid to be The Doctor. It hasn't clicked yet.

The real star is Jenna Coleman. Clara is magnificent in this episode. Her verbal joust with Madame Vastra about judgement, her lunch scene with The Doctor, her 'don't breath' scene in the villain's lair, and the 'do it, then' face off with the Half-Face Man - all extremely, extremely excellent material and performance. In Series 7B, Coleman's Clara barely had the chance to define herself outside her mystery as the Impossible Girl, and now, since "The Name of the Doctor", she has proven time and time again to be the most resourceful and intelligent Companion who can pack as much bark into her bite as The Doctor. Really, really impressive work from Coleman in this episode, and hopefully this is indicative to a strong Clara-centric season. 

All this to say, it was a so-so season opener that had some strong points and several weak points. Capaldi's debut as The Doctor didn't hit it out of the park as I was hoping, and, to me, at least, he hasn't solidified himself as The Doctor as Tennant and Smith so quickly did. Still, the notion of an older and darker Doctor is exciting, and hopefully everything will start to click into place quickly. Until next time, "Into the Dalek" . . .

Notes & Thoughts

  • Awesome quote from Clara: "I'm not sure who you think you're talking to right now, Madame Vastra, but I have never had the slightest interest in pretty young men. And for the record, if there was anybody who could flirt with a mountain range, she 's probably standing in front of you right now! Just because my pretty face has turned your head, do not assume that I am so easily distracted."
  • Perhaps I'm alone in thinking this, but director Ben Wheatly's work wasn't particularly engaging. It reminded me of Game of Thrones' Alan Taylor, a guy who doesn't really bring any flare or substance to his work, just more or less the same average shots.  
  • The new arc of the season - Paradise/Heaven. Could be a very interesting idea to explore, where do the monsters go when they die? However, the woman the Half-Face Man meets in Paradise doesn't quite get me as excited. Her "boyfriend", she says, in reference to The Doctor. Oh boy . . .
  • The Woman in the Shop mystery from "The Bells of St. John" resurfaces (much to my delight, believing it a dropped mystery), and The Doctor's belief in seeing his new face before (as Capaldi has twice appeared in the Whoverse) both seem to be subplots that will continue to anchor the season. And it's all right by me. Seems potentially very interesting. It'd be way too obvious for the Woman in the Shop to be River.
  • Oh, that cameo at the end. Heard a rumor about it, but didn't believe it. When she got the phone call, I couldn't help but scream "Yes!" Awesome, awesome moment that worked quite well. But didn't help in making me grow for Capaldi, just made me yearn for Matt more . . .
  • The Vastra/Jenny posing/painting/crime spread beat was excellent. 
  • The new title sequence. Yeah, I like the idea, but execution, and music . . . erm, not sure if it works. 
  • Also, seriously, why couldn't Strax, Vastra, Jenny and Clara (with a sonic) destroy all the machine bad guys in the underground alien craft? Could have that situation resolved in forty fairly effortless seconds.