Running for the border, in reverse

It’s the height of foolishness to get excited about a new Fox series, but can you really blame me this time?  Christopher McQuarrie — best known for writing The usual suspects — has co-created Persons unknown, and is currently executive producing a 13-episode run, which I expect to begin airing this fall. Truth be told, McQuarrie’s involvement alone would have been enough to get me to watch: if he can manage to give Ryan Philippe a certain dirty, macho appeal, I’m willing to give any McQuarrie project a fair shot, even if it’s going to be relegated to the network with the worst track history in TubaTV’s collective memory.

Sweetening the deal, though, is the curious fact that Persons unknown has been filming less than an hour away from TubaTV’s Latin American office, in the Ajusco Mountain region south of Mexico City.  I’m not thrilled that the show is being co-produced with Televisa — the Mexican analog of Fox, only ickier, if you can imagine — but in all honesty the partnership can only help the otherwise desolate Mexican airwaves.  [I recently spoke with the main stylist on Mexico’s other notable (read:failed) attempt at moving beyond the telenovela format, and she confirmed my suspicions: the second season of Capadocia is going to be much, much shoddier than the first.  Apparently — and understandably — the series’s budget has been slashed, and to make matters worse, its writers have abandoned the entire groundwork they laid in the first season, offering us instead a weak, watery prequel: the life and times of Bambi, prior to her incarceration.  Do they not realize that by the end of the first season, the show’s appeal was resting entirely on Dolores Paradis’s impressive underage décolletage?]

So, viva NAFTA?

In related news, burnout Fox alum Paul Sheuring might be competing with McQuarrie on the big screen, as both appear to be working on remakes of the German film Das experiment.  Personally, I’d favor a McQuarrie effort by a mile, since Sheuring spent a good two and a half seasons beating his own Prison break horse after it had expired.

— J.C. Freñán

TV pet peeve #3: Overthickening the plot

One could be pardoned for forgetting that once upon a time, Prison break was actually pretty entertaining.  The original premise — loosing the bonds of incarceration via the bonds of fraternal love — strikes a weird chord with me, and if we can forgive the predictable Fox-isms, that first season did fulfill its narrative promise rather satisfactorily.  Insofar as the first part of the second season attempted to deal with the consequences of the first, it wasn’t too far off the mark, either (although the Theodore “T-Bag” Bagwell character did wear out his welcome well before that).

I think everyone can agree that the unapologetically racist third season — Prison break: Pandemonium in Panamá! — was an unmitigated failure.  (Not even the finale’s ill-advised inclusion of Rebekah del Rio’s Vini Reilly-less version of “Crying” could do much to redeem it.)  It’s been downhill for the brothers Scofield and their merry band of felons ever since, and there’s a very simple reason why: the conspiracy’s just too goddamn thick.  I’m not complaining about the show’s lack of verisimilitude so much as its writers’ total disregard for compulsively recurring to the same improbable emplotments: living relatives keep finding themselves held as collateral, while estranged and/or presumed dead relatives keep coming back to life; enemies keep becoming grudging allies, and steadfast allies either defect from the cause or become embittered enemies.  Whenever the flip-flopping gets too confusing to follow, the writers just add a greater, previously unimagined threat to the mix.  After season one, the antagonist function is tossed lazily around like a lukewarm, unappetizing potato: Brad Bellick, Alex Mahone, Paul Kellerman, Gretchen Morgan, General Krantz, Donald Self… Who cares, really?  By now we know to expect each villain’s badassery to be trumped as we move up (or laterally across) the conspiratorial ladder of The Company.

Things didn’t have to turn out this way — narratively, I mean.  Granted, the fugitive angle was inevitably going to get tedious, but there are always going to be metaphorical prisons these characters would have had to confront, right?  But because Prison break is on Fox, such musings are pretty worthless.  (Wentworth-less, even!)  Instead we’re left with a sticky mess of half-baked characters and their competing interests.  Not even the tepid Scofield-Tancredi romance manages to sweeten the pot (impassioned fan art notwithstanding).

Not exactly llorando, is he?
I preferred his ink sleeves.

And because we’re talking about Obama-era Fox here, we’ve also got to contend with the suddenly formidable figure of Michael and Lincoln’s mother, of all people.  Not unlike Renee Walker on 24, I’ll venture that her being a very well-produced Woman With Boobs is meant to defer criticism of the show’s politics.  Not that I can make out a coherent political message from Prison break, other than maybe a vague, delusional libertarian anti-government posture.

Since I’m growing increasingly skeptical of Miami-based series, I’ll go ahead and point out that we can now add Prison break to the tally.  Maybe Dexter can help Michael and Linc get Scylla?

– J.C. Freñán

Boobs for Bauer

As the two-hour special prior to this season of 24 made totally clear, Day 7 is all about Bauer’s “Redemption.”  How, exactly, is Bauer to be redeemed, you ask?  By standing trial and serving jail time for violating the Geneva Convention on a daily basis?  By admitting his mistakes and dedicating his life to the peaceful resolution of international conflict?  By embarking on the twelve steps to recovery from violence addiction, confronting his countless victims or their families, and asking for their forgiveness?  Or maybe he’ll redeem himself by becoming even more intransigent and recruiting even more of the simple-minded to his one-dimensional vision of the world?

This season’s dupe is very obviously Renee Walker.  Was anyone fooled by her presence?  Is it not patently obvious that Renee’s femininity (which has been on prominent display ever since she changed into that translucent, V-neck sweater) is meant as an apology for or vindication of Bauer’s politics?  Just because a womanly woman serves as Bauer’s “hard won” ally-slash-mouthpiece, is his extremist patriotism now suddenly something other than the fulfillment of a conservative’s wet dream?  (Chloe O’Brian’s unconditional trust in Bauer was a lot harder won, but her femininity is, shall we say, less than convincing.)

Am I the only who thinks she bears a striking resemblance to Skeletor?
That's a standard issue FBI push-up bra, obvs.

The season’s other strategy for redemption is of course Bauer’s martyrdom: he has now been tragically infected by an experimental bio-weapon in the line of duty.  The problem with this particular plot twist, however, lies in the fact that we’ve known since January that we can expect yet another season of 24 next year.  So unless the show’s producers have the guts to write Day 8 as the immediate, “real-time” continuation of Day 7 (during which we might finally see Bauer get in a well-deserved cat nap or two), we already know that Bauer’s gonna be just fine at the end of this season.  No dice, then, Bauer: TubaTV, at least, will not be granting your redemption any time soon.

For the lulz, here’s some more priceless dialog from this season:

Jack: I think I found us a new way in.  Look: these are Senator Mayer’s files.  This is Douglas Knowles.  He’s the chairman of Starkwood.  He was actually helping the senator with the investigation.  He’s the one who brokered the deal to open the company’s books.

Renee: What, another insider?  Didn’t we just get burned?

Two minutes later, we cover the exact same ground when Jack relays the budding plan to Larry and Tony.

Jack: Tony, you’re gonna need to find a way to stay behind.  We’re gonna get your vectors over to a man we contacted inside Starkwood.  His name is Douglas Knowles, he believes he knows where the weapons are.

Larry: Isn’t that how we got into this mess?  Almeida and some supposedly friendly contact?

Renee: Knowles is chairman of the Starkwood board, but he was cooperating with Senator Mayer’s investigation of the company.  Larry, he’s all that we’ve got.

[24‘s writers just LOVE the Only Option scenario, by the way.  In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that the Only Option structure is what organizes the development of all seven seasons of the show.  There should be a 24 drinking game that requires a shot for every time the writers resort to the Only Option logic, every time someone (usually Jack) says something along the lines of “We don’t have a choice” or its kindred invocation, “You’re just gonna have to trust me.”]

– J.C. Freñán