Monday, 24 May 2010

In Search of Lost Real Time

I just watched the 24 series finale. And I feel odd.

I feel sad, wistful, old, regretful, youthful, and invigorated. Which is probably a bit too many emotions to feel over the end of a pulpy television show with a one-torture-per-three-episodes requirement.

One night, a few years ago, I met up with an ex in a pub in London. We had been broken up for a year and the breakup was anything but amicable. A venom-filled root canal may be a more apt description. We talked, we drank, we reflected, we caught up, and we parted ways. A brief spark of what had once been there definitely showed, but it had to shine past the very evident ways we had grown apart and indeed always were not all that much on the same side. I noticed the bad haircut and the big teeth, the annoying jokes and the stupid opinions more than I ever did in our time together. Nostalgia and comfort lost to age and wisdom.

As I watched the recap of the season, with its bombastic DRAMA!, stilted acting, and exposition-heavy dialogue, I thought this memory was an apt comparison. Relationships end for a reason. 24 may have its fun moments, but I stopped watching it very voluntarily (I literally had Fox on and turned it off). Season 6 was painfully bad and indicative of how you can only up the stakes so many times before you are up in LalaLand. I knew at one time this stuff made me all hot and bothered, but now I was above this schlock. I watched Sopranos and Mad Men and appreciated the slow burn.

Then Jack Bauer held a CTU officer at gunpoint and threatened to go to town on his body if he did not comply.

I have also slept with an ex. This might be more apt of a comparison.

By the end of the experience, I was jumping, screaming, panting, and red in the face. I was thrilled like I had not been in a long time. And after it all, I let myself lie placidly in the afterglow of the move that 24 was such an expert in. One that I had forgotten about, dulled down in my memory, unappreciated when I got it every week (and maybe not meant for every week every year), but one that still hit me in the right spot the exact same way it did when I was 14. (Okay, so maybe I lost my Bauer-virginity years before my other one.)

In truth, I do think I enjoyed this finale in a way more because I had not had to labor through the past two seasons of 24. I have not heard good things and keeping up a thrill consistently is nigh-impossible. Furthermore, upon reflection, the finale was really just a jumble of the ends of seasons 4 and 5. They had run out of original ideas, but at least I had not had to see 22 other episodes of recycling…and at least they were borrowing from the best (or 2 of the 3 best, since season 1's finale still gives me shivers).

This end was the one I wanted. One that gave me everything I had loved about 24 without giving me too much to lament its death or my abandonment of it. One that showed my beloved had not changed in our time apart, a good and a bad thing. A lovely final fling with a show with which I had a meaningful relationship.

And this break provided one more benefit. I was not watching the last episode of a series or a season; I was revisiting an old friend. And so often, the oldest memories come first. I was in freshmen year of high school, reading recaps on TWOP in computer applications class with Nick because we finished the assignments before everyone else. Or I was eating baked ziti during a horrible heatwave in the second to last week of April, watching the scene where Jack jumps over a fence and Mason just walks around it. I was in sophomore year, trying to get my mom to stop asking questions so I could hear Jack’s heartfelt conversation with Kim as he faced what he assumed to be his coming death. I still had my old phone with speed dials and would call Nick on commercials. I was desperately trying to watch that damn four-hour premiere for season four in January of a hectic senior year. I had to keep track of those damn VHSes. I was back in my living room after a year of college, jumping up and down as Jack finally took down Logan and exposed his crimes.

I blocked out most sophomore year memories. Date #3 with the pub ex actually was an early episode of season 6 (not Curtis Jack! HOW COULD YOU?!), but who wants to remember the bad times? By the end of that year, I was conducting an affair with Heroes (which also has met the TV reaper). Those two hours on my couch (and floor) acted like a Proustian madeleine, though you are spared a 2,000 page blog entry.

With the end of 24, I feel some tie to the past gone. When I stopped watching Alias or Smallville or Lost (granted, that was after 12 episodes) or 24, still seeing them advertised was a type of reassurance. It let me know that TV has not changed too much since my high school years. Eventually, it began to mean since my college years. I may not have watched Lost or Heroes or 24 this year, but them on the air assured me that not too much time had passed since Luke, Justin, a bunch of other people and I gathered in Bush Hall’s lobby to watch 24 or Jim, Justin, and I engaged in a fierce Heroes/Lost debate. Now that’s not the case.

Stop here if such a maudlin outpouring over a Fox show has already proved too much for you.

If you’re still reading, join me in a toast. To a show as much a zeitgeist of the 2000s (which truly began in September 2001) as any gangster movie was of the 30s or bad, paranoid sci-fi was of the 50s. I might dare argue that 24 is, if not the most important show of the decade, perhaps the most emblematic. To a show that truly made us worry for the safety of its characters and probably had a bigger cast-axe rate than Survivor (the only show that may rival 24 for Show of the 2000s). To one of the shows that began what is now seemingly a dramatic standard of non-episodic episodes. And to Jack Bauer, one of the strangest, most confounding guys to ever threaten to stick a towel down a man’s throat.

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