The Fox series "24" has reached the stage that plagues many successful entertainment franchises: As the show's directors keep trying to top what it did last year or in the last episode, the series is becoming so hyped that it is downright ridiculous.
I know -- it also is ridiculous to expect any realism from a series about a thrill-seeking intelligence agent who keeps cheating death, beating the bad guys and saving the world in 24 hours.
The premise of "24" is that the show happens in real time. I've been able to suspend disbelief when the show's star Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) agent Jack Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland, dies and is brought back to life -- which has happened at least once. But don't expect me to believe that there are no traffic jams in Los Angeles. Even after a nuclear bomb toasted nearby Valencia.
In the year's first season, navigating through Los Angeles gridlock was a challenge for Bauer. Now, characters zip across the southland in record time, day or night. I've been in traffic jams on Los Angeles freeways at 10 p.m. on a Saturday. But this season, after a nuclear blast, bad guys have been able to scoot about town like it's Sunday morning.
This season started with Bauer being released after serving 18 months in a Chinese hellhole in which he uttered not one word -- not even, "Where's the bomb?" Nonetheless, after having his ribs broken at the Russian consulate, Bauer has no trouble staying on his feet. Even the computer geeks can work after they've been wounded. Milo was shot in the arm. Terrorists used an electric drill on Morris. And they're still at their desks.
Where's the beef? Where's the food? CTU chief Bill Buchanan doesn't even have pizza delivered to fuel the troops. In such a pressure cooker, there should be candy bar wrappers and Coke cans everywhere. Apparently, working for CTU means you don't eat.
Then again, maybe that's why Jack never goes to the bathroom. Since its first season, "24's" need for plot twists has required that characters take stupid pills to keep the story moving. Bauer's daughter Kim was the stupid pill queen. One improvement this year: Dim Kim has yet to grace the show. Alas, that means that other cast members are stand-in stupid.
So when Bauer -- who speaks fluent Russian, and has an intimate knowledge of weaponry and geopolitics -- finds out where terrorists are launching a nuclear-armed drone, what does he do? Naturally, he leaves the room in the Russian consulate from which he could give CTU the launch location -- so that he can make the call after entering a hall filled with hostile armed guards. Makes "intelligence operative" seem like an oxymoron.
Then, when the bad guys catch Bauer, the one good bad guy does the same dumb thing. He's dead. And while real danger abounds -- read, that little nuclear bomb that went off in Valencia that threatens to poison Angelenos who survived the original blast -- the aftermath apparently leaves the show's writers bored. So with a couple of nuclear bombs still in the hands of terrorists, Bauer decides to investigate his old girlfriend Audrey's mysterious death in China. The stupid pill again.
One reason the show has been a hit: Bauer may use torture with limited effect, even on people he allegedly loves, but it's often the information technology guys (and ladies) who save the day. Yes, the IT folks bicker, but when they're at their CTU stations, "24" becomes "The Office" -- with national security at stake. Brains trump brawn and tech geeks rule.
Much has been made of creator Joel Surnow's conservative politics. He's a buddy of Rush Limbaugh. I am most impressed with the show's ability to buck political correctness by showing dangerous Muslims -- including a family that whined about discrimination -- as well as the cruel folly of treating American Muslims as if they all are dangerous.
Despite my grousing, I am still hooked. But I'd be happier with less action and more of Bauer and company dealing with the same irritating obstacles that everyday Angelenos face. Let "24" be real-time "24" again.
Just as James Bond movies became too slick, with too many gadgets and too few reasons to fear for Bond's safety -- that is, before the return-to-basics "Casino Royale" -- "24" has so much excitement, it's hard to get excited.
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