I’ve found recently that Mondays are getting crowded where my TV schedule is concerned. Used to be I’d check whether Castle and How I Met Your Mother were repeats, then either in-between or instead of them catch up with other shows on tape. Now that 24 and Chuck are back on the schedule, plus the new Life Unexpected, the night is more likely to feed the backlog than help clear it out.
Castle, which airs 10-11 p.m. on ABC, is basically the same show I reviewed back in August. Fine by me.
We did get a big reveal only last week when a new case dovetailed with the unsolved murder of Det. Beckett’s mother. It left very little room for further exploitation, a surprising development so early in a series that by design has no real “mythology” to address beyond what made its lead cop become a cop; I just hope this doesn’t mean that any stunts or season-ending cliffhangers deemed necessary will revolve exclusively around pushing together or pulling apart the Beckett/Castle duo, who are pretty much right where they should be until we’re rewarded with their inevitable romance at the end.
The show has also involved Castle’s personal sphere colliding more often with his now open-ended ride-along stint in Beckett’s NYPD Homicide team — both intentionally when, say, Castle’s daughter interns at the precinct or goes to Beckett for girl talk, and otherwise, such as when foul play strikes the high-society set, including the bridal party of Castle’s old flame. For the most part, however, the domestic scenes are grace notes to the flirtatious banter between Nathan Fillion as Castle and Stana Katic as Beckett, the irreverent morgue humor among the supporting cast on the street or at the station, and the perhaps grisly but usually gripping enough murder-mystery of the week. Castle is quite satisfying television.
Having kicked off its new season last week with the now traditional four hours over two consecutive nights, 24 settles into its weekly Monday slot tonight at 9 p.m. on Fox.
I’ve toyed with ditching the show on occasion, and for a couple of seasons in there I wish I had, but in a way both its trademark immediacy and its unevenness 24 work contrary to most serial fiction. A lot of purposefully complex or just plain long-running TV and comic-book series build on loads of previous characters and story points — if you haven’t seen or read those older tales, you’d better either be familiar with their details anyway or be prepared to do some research to re-enter the Star Trek, X-Men, or General Hospital universe. Where those franchises are all about churning out new material, not only mining but often cannibalizing what has gone before as part of a never-ending saga, 24 by its definition each year has resolutions set up as goalposts from the start yet invariably relies on subplots and misdirections that are often made up as the season takes shape; you don’t really have to know much of what goes on in the middle episodes, but except for laughers like the infamous Season 2 cougar sighting the urgency of those split-screen scenes and that ticking clock sure make them exciting in the moment.
So with CTU disbanded, all but about three of its perennial characters having bit the dust, I would have been fine with last season being 24’s actual last season. While the show broke ground in both style and content, I’ve probably seen the best of what it has to offer; surely, the longer it goes on the more unbelievable it is that Jack Bauer and our nation’s psyche can endure any further bombshells, figurative or literal, without the narrative better reflecting their impact: Over the past nine years — which, granted, I think have corresponded to at least a dozen years in-story, based on references to time elapsed between seasons —
• a nuclear device has been detonated in the heartland;
• the President has been incapacitated when Air Force One was taken down;
• the Secretary of Defense has been kidnapped by terrorists;
• a former President, the first black man elected to the position, has been assassinated;
• the Cabinet has voted to temporarily remove another President from power;
• internment camps for Muslims were temporarily enacted;
• still another President has been in cahoots with an extra-governmental cabal, then left office permanently only to be stabbed by his ex-wife when the worst punishment he got was house arrest;
• the air-traffic control grid has been seized by terrorists, who caused planes to crash into one another over Washington in an attempt to deter the country’s first woman elected President from intervening in a situation overseas;
• and the White House has been somewhat ridiculously invaded by the leader of that coup with the President held at gunpoint on live television.
Yeah. And that’s just from mulling it over without doing the Google, not to mention without tacking on the real-world terrorist attacks of Sept. 11th, 2001, which occurred after the first season of 24 began production but fallout from which has been referenced on the show. We saw Bauer break down privately under the weight of what his job has cost him in an achingly powerful performance from Kiefer Sutherland at the end of Season 3, but the world at large is reset to more-or-less business as usual each year to a greater extent, it feels to me, than even humanity’s tendencies towards compartmentalization and self-absorption would allow.
The reconstituted CTU in Season 8 finally has tech that’s visually on par with CSI, although it’s good to see Jack Bauer sticking with his shoulder bag. While I can’t imagine many folks are trying 24 for the first time now, I should explain that CTU stands for Counter-Terrorist Unit and is 24’s fictional domestic branch of the CIA; Jack once worked out of the extremely active LA division and has repeatedly gone undercover, gone apparently rogue, or gone on to greener pastures, but his middle initial must be O because he’s now in NYC — with plans to join his daughter’s family on a flight back to LA this very night — right as an old informant turns up with news of an imminent assassination attempt that will scuttle negotiations between the US and the leader of Fakenamistan over deposits of unobtainium in...
No, I shouldn’t joke about even make-believe “peace in the Middle East”. From the way that phrase is thrown around, however, you’d think the talks were more directly about the conflict amongst Israel, the Palestinians, and neighboring Arab or Muslim states instead of a treaty with a stand-in for Iran to provide aid in exchange for a cessation of nuclear ambitions. And I’ll continue the 24 talk later because I don’t want the now-flickering Internet connection to drop out before I can post a recommendation for the night’s new critical darling.
Life Unexpected, which airs 9-10 p.m. on The CW opposite 24, premiered last week after months of hype from the network and excited TV-beat writers.
My CW diet right now consists exclusively of the delicious Supernatural. Its predecessors, UPN and The WB, had bigger cultural ramifications but for me likewise mattered largely due to what trade mags dismissively refer to as “genre” offerings — even if one such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer is far more than merely their fantastic premises; I didn’t follow any of the teen-centered family or surrogate-family series beyond Gilmore Girls and Buffy unless you count Veronica Mars in that category as well.
Although it may not live up to the direct comparisons to Gilmore on which it’s being sold, Life is lucky to have at its center Britt Robertson — the strongest of the kids on the one-and-done Swingtown. Its pilot introduces Robertson as Lux, whose pinball existence in the foster care system with families who simply want her for the check explains her sass and independence if not her quirky-chic wardrobe. She aims to track down her biological parents for their signatures so that she can become emancipated on her 16th birthday, only it turns out that Mom and Dad were no older than Lux is now when she was born, haven’t seen one another since high school, and in fact still haven’t entirely grown up. Dad lives above the bar he owns, Mom is a radio talk jockey who’s been speaking to her daughter every morning without realizing it and who just got engaged to her co-host in a potentially misplaced bid at moving on in life.
You’re welcome to ponder the show’s tightrope act in offering the very lifestyles that make Cate and Baze, Lux’s folks, cool and relatable to their kid and, presumably, most of the target demographic as evidence of their arrested development and lack of fitness for child-rearing, but one hopes that surprising emotional maturity will be coaxed out of all corners of the motley crew that assembles for Lux’s birthday party at the premiere’s conclusion. I hear that tonight’s episode moves on nicely from the established premise and look forward to giving Unexpected a chance.
How about you?
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