Friday, January 19, 2007

The Best Show on TV, Part 6

The Best Show on TV

"The Office" (NBC) -- 2/9/2006 - 4/2/2006
"Huff" (Showtime) -- 4/2/06 - 8/26/2006
"Big Brother" (CBS) -- 8/26/06 - 10/4/2006
"South Park" (Comedy Central) -- 10/4/2006 - 11/30/2006
"The Office" (NBC) -- 11/30/2006 - 1/14/2007
"24" (FOX) -- 1/14/2007 - present


Isn't it funny how it works. "The Office" regains the title with an episode that isn't necessarily one of their strongest, and loses it mere days after one of the best they ever did.

As great as "The Office" has been -- and it has been great -- "24" is back on and I finally get to watch a season as it unfolds, and I couldn't be more excited (note: that's a complete and total lie. I could certainly be more excited. But still; I'm pretty excited). Ever since my wife and I knocked out Season 1 of "24" in a weekend about a year ago, we've been breathlessly awaiting a time when we can watch TV, read magazines and surf the internet without diving for cover anytime anybody brings up the show. Like, I already knew from reading an "Entertainment Weekly" article from before I ever started watching "24" that this one guy was going to die in Season 5 (note: not a spoiler! Plenty of people die in every season of "24") (also not a spoiler!).

Simply put, "24" kicks enormous amounts of ass. Like, Sid Fernandez-sized amounts of ass. I don't know how they do it, but they do it; the "it" being the fact that the show keeps you on pins and needles, constantly worrying that something catastrophic is going to happen and America will be destroyed, when you know damn well that a) Jack Bauer isn't going to die (not a spoiler! Kiefer is still on all the posters and commercials and stuff, so even if you don't watch "24" you know he's alive), and b) America isn't going to be destroyed. Still, enough has happened over the course of the show that you know as a viewer that whatever particular dilemma Kiefer and company are facing in any particular episode might end well... or really, really badly.

Season 6 finds Jack and CTU (Counter Terrorist Unit) in Los Angeles battling some terrorists who... well, I said no spoilers, so I'll stop here, but, really, I could have begun this sentence with "Season 1 finds Jack and CTU..." through "Season 5 finds Jack and CTU..." so don't sweat it. Anyway, four episodes in, and some crazy stuff has already happened. Apparently you can get the four-hour season premiere on DVD, though (I know, it's weird), so you can catch up on what you missed.

Yes, occasionally some liberties are taken with the show's real-time premise ("hey, they couldn't have had sex and put their clothes back on in two-and-a-half minutes! Not at their age!"), but to be bothered by these stretches you'd either have to be looking to pick them out or have tried to get from one place in Southern California to any other place in Southern California in less than an hour.

And, lately, there's the torture issue; I don't think it's particularly spoilerish to reveal that Jack Bauer (and others) spend a decent chunk of the series torturing the crap out of people. Now, I'm not an expert, but, common sense will tell you that not only is torture bad, but it's also relatively unreliable; if I was innocent and someone was torturing me badly enough (that is to say "effectively enough," not "with insufficient torturing skill") I'd probably say absolutely anything as long as I thought it might get them to stop. And I guess I could concede that it's odd how infrequently the threat of imminent torture fails to get people to cough up information on "24."

Nevertheless -- and I've said this elsewhere -- the vast majority of the torture on "24" is done specific "ticking-clock" scenarios under which I think the vast majority of Americans would agree that torture is regrettable but necessary, i.e., "a nuclear bomb is going to go off somewhere in Manhattan in four hours, and we have a guy who knows where it is." You can (and should) have as many rules against torture as you want, but, that isn't going to stop anybody from torturing in that situation. Such a "ticking-clock" scenario is almost inconceivable in real life but is justified in the "24" universe; anyone in danger of getting their panties bunched by all the torture on the show need only look at the actual ticking clock that appears on the screen several times per episode.

Point is: the "24" is great (it is The Best Show on TV, after all). Don't be like me; don't be a lover of good TV and yet go years without watching "24."

(but: stay tuned right here for when "The Shield" comes back. This championship could change hands twice a week. We'll see)

Also, I would be remiss if I didn't mention NBC's "30 Rock;" had they delivered a knockout episode back on the 11th, and had "The Office" not been so great, "30 Rock" would have boasted a brief, Bob Backlund-esque title reign, but a title reign nonetheless. For instance, last night's "The Head and the Hair," coupled with an "Office" like, say, "Initiation,", would have been enough to give "30 Rock" a brief stint at the top.

But even if it's not The Best Show on TV (and it's not not The Best Show On TV by much), there's no excuse not to be watching "30 Rock," which has proven itself to be the heir to the late, lamented "Arrested Development"'s throne of stupid-clever, smart but not self-consciously and self-righteously smart (Sorkin), audience-rewarding and, let's not forget, just plain hilarious TV comedy. Hopefully we'll get more "30 Rock" than we got "Arrested Development." The ratings aren't stellar (last night the "Scrubs"/"30 Rock" hour finished way behind "Grey's Anatomy" and, as long as I'm bringing it up, the consistently delightful "My Name is Earl" and the still-great "The Office" finished way behind "Ugly Betty." Of course, all that proves is that women and gay guys watch more TV than other types of people), but NBC's two-hour Thursday comedy block is bound to attract the kind of people who went to college and love their TV, so maybe there's a chance. Of course, these days that type of person has TiVo and is unlikely ever to see a commercial, but, that type of person also has a computer, so maybe eyeballs on TV sets isn't going to be the only way shows are measured anymore.

Anyway, I can't say enough about "30 Rock," so I won't say any more except to say that "24" had best watch its back.

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