Wednesday, May 17, 2006

And they're off, one way or another...

For the past few months Prison Break has easily eclipsed the increasingly annoying 24 in our house.

24 seems to have but one idea when the plot begins to flag - have CTU/Homeland Security arrest and lock-up/torture a major cast member on some flimsy pretext or other, regardless of the obvious fact that it's going to bugger up the ongoing and urgent investigation. It was effective in the second season when Roger Stanton was tortured on orders of the President - whether I agree with torture or not, there was (as with the season four episode of the British spy show Spooks) a degree of seriousness placed on the decision to torture, an in-story discussion of the morality and consequences of going down that path and a (somewhat) achievable goal in mind. The physical act of torture itself was also treated with a decent level of gravitas (if that's the word I want) - bare feet in bowls of water then adding electricity is as brutal and graphic a scene as you could conceive of in prime time US television. Nowadays though, Audrey is threatened with media-friendly torture by injection on the vague say so of one person - and that person a known terrorist at that, whilst there's barely a cast member who hasn't been placed under arrest, temporarily sacked or killed off, all in the name of either keeping up the level of suspense or padding out the full twenty-four hours, depending on how charitable you feel towards the writers. I tell you, if they torture Aaron the Secret Service man I'm not watching 24 next year.

Prison Break, on the other hand, has been a revelation. It's got some implausible ideas, certainly, not least the central conceit that Michael (the hero who has himself jailed alongside his Death Row brother in order to engineer his escape) has tattooed detailed plans to the prison on his body and added pretty daft aide memoires for good measure. But the characters act consistently, the plot twists (and there are many) do appear to come organically from within the drama and the whole thing is packed with little 'show not tell' moments which 24 is conspicuously lacking. Favourite of these in the last episode of the season is the unremarked and seemingly minor fact that having escaped from the prison Michael sits behind his brother in the escape van, highlighting the fact that once outside and away from his masterplan, Michael now needs Lincoln to lead him to safety (although the homage by Haywire to James Coburn in The Great Escape is lovely).

I've no intention of giving away the ending, suffice to say that little or nothing goes as planned or expected and matters are left sufficiently open for a second season (and if there isn't one, it has exactly the level of resolution designed to both baffle and delight in equal measure).
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8 Comments:

Blogger TimeWarden said...

As fantasy television drama is stronger when 'edge-of-the-seat', and without 'silliness', I thought it possible that season four of "Spooks" might've won the BAFTA best series award over you know "Who"!

"Doctor Who" should've won a BAFTA years ago!!

6:36 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

For some reason I'd always confused Spooks with BUGS and, as a result, avoided it like the plague. Until last year, that is, when J's mother got me the first season on dvd - and from there, I was hooked.

It's a bit naff that they so obviously telegraph that an actor is leaving by introducing a new but indentical character in the preceeding episode, but other than that it's great stuff and feels real in a way that the likes of '24' don't.

12:58 pm  
Blogger SAF said...

Been watching a bit of "Commander-In-Chief" lately - it strikes me as somewhat soapier than "West Wing", not gripping, but generally watchable so far. Anyway, they did touch on the uncomfortable subject of torture, without ever once showing us any of it. I think they wanted President Geena Davis to come off clean, but ultimately she has to shoulder the responsibility because of some ambiguous language she uses. It wasn't the usual visceral approach to these things, but it was effective in demonstrating how far removed a state figurehead is from these things and yet how the responsibility still lies with them.

10:55 am  
Blogger Stewart M. said...

I have indeed been watching Doctor Who...

You may or may not have noticed a thread over at the Outpost in which I'm subjected to no end of abuse for proposing that the emphasis on Rose's family of late is a bit screwy.

9:05 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Stewart M: "You may or may not have noticed a thread over at the Outpost"

Ah, I tend to avoid OG like the plague afte rone run in too many with the thought police who patrol the Big Finish sections (plus having discovered the exitence of the 'Show us your chest' thread in the Leisure Hive today, I don't think my stomach is up to it anymore :)

9:23 pm  
Blogger Steven Douglas said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:51 am  
Blogger Steven Douglas said...

Actually, I'm kinda glad you're not going to give away the end of PB...we're up to the stage now where Dad has just arrived and Lincoln's transport was taken out by the semi-.

Haven't seen a whole lot of it lately, as Steph's been wanting to see the end of American Idol on the same night. Now that that's over, PB will be back to its usual timeslot...looking forward to the rest of the series.

I don't know the ending, but I would assume that the storyline shouldn't allow for a sequel (brothers set free, Dad killed - probably, not-dead-VP's-brother found alive, VP indicted, etc etc). do you think there will be a follw-on season?

9:52 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

They've already announced (and started filming I think) a second season - I won't tell you what it's likely to involve though :)

6:06 pm  

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