Ending the TV Season

June 10, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

Jet-lag is an annoyance, and my recent penchant for taking evening naps cuts into my writing time. I saw two 7:30 movies this week, and, without coffee, never would have stayed awake through either. That's the explanation for this week's slowdown in ReelThoughts. It's a situation that shouldn't persist. Now, on to today's topic - one that a number of people have asked me about via e-mail.

The last full week in May saw the two-hour season finales of the two TV series that I regularly watch: "24" and "Lost." One satisifed; the other disappointed. No points for guessing which is which. As regular readers know, I have grown annoyed with "Lost" over the course of its last 10 episodes (and the constant rerun breaks didn't help - it became a chore to recall when a new episode was going to be on), and the season's final episode cemented my decision to give up on this series. I will not be watching "Lost" with any regularity when it returns to screens in September, and I suspect I won't be the only one.

I didn't expect everything to be resolved, but the show offered nothing except a peek into a hole in the ground and hints that the island's Jolly Green Giant might be a machine. The final three hours, instead of providing a few answers, built exclusively to a ho-hum cliffhanger. The idea is, of course, to get viewers to return in September for more of this silliness. But, in terms of generating suspense, this isn't "Who shot J.R.?"

It didn't take me long to go from a "Lost" supporter to a "Lost" detractor, and that's because the series, which got off to a promising start, began spinning its wheels. The flashbacks became monotonous, killing the pace of the island segments without offering a lot in the way of character development, and the stories in the "present" didn't go anywhere. Maybe the problem is too many characters. Maybe it's that the writers have only a vague idea of where they're going. I know one thing: I probably won't be checking out any J.J. Abrams TV series in the near future. He seems to be a classic tease: tantalize but never offer release.

"24" is another kettle of fish. I will be back to watch Jack Bauer when he starts his fifth season next January, but this series got stupid towards the end. And I don't mean "slightly stupid"; I mean "monumentally stupid." Still, because the writers understand the concepts of suspense and momentum, even the obviously dumb plot contrivances didn't derail "24" on its lightning-fast excursion that turned Mr. Bauer into a modern-day version of Dr. David Banner, walking along that lonely road.

Unlike "Lost," "24" managed to keep us interested in next season without leaving unsatisfying dangling plot threads. The terrorist threat was resolved (albeit a little too easily) and the Chinese government got their pound of flesh (sort of). Tony and Michelle received their happily ever after ending, and it was great to see David Palmer again, even if the circumstances of his return were suspect.

On the down side, "24" has shown an increasing reliance to cheat on its formula. Apparently, every location in L.A. is within five minutes of every other location, except when the cavalry is supposed to arrive. They're usually about 20 minutes too late. And this season's villain, Habib Marwan, contrived a few escapes too many. His ultimate end was impressive, but the guy had more lives than a cat.

In an earlier post, I mistakenly called "24" an "intelligently written" series. It isn't - it's well-written (a different designation), but not especially smart. It keeps its viewers involved, but is best placed in the "guilty pleasure" category. The suspension of disbelief quotient is high. The fourth season didn't approach the first or third in terms of overall writing or tension, but it still had plenty of moments. And I ended the season feeling as positive about "24" as I was negative about "Lost."

It's probably also worth noting that, after losing "NYPD Blue" to retirement, I picked up another Tuesday show to replace it. That would be "House" - probably because I have an affinity for misanthropic characters with few redeeming qualities. And I have liked Hugh Laurie since the early days of "A Bit of Fry and Laurie." Amazing how many people don't recognize that this guy is British. One hopes the writers resist the obvious temptation to soften the character next season - that would be a mistake.

So that's where I stand on television. Now it's time for me to take a break until "Battlestar Galactica" returns during the middle of next month. That's why reruns don't bother me - they give me a time to do other things, like catch up on the stack of unwatched DVDs that has been piling up.