Tuesday, January 13, 2009

'24' is Pulp Fiction

I watched the four-hour, two-night premiere of the seventh season of ‘24’ with two minds. One mind was the pure fan. It was good to see Jack Bauer again, even if he was answering questions from a senator about tactics used in the field. And, like the man we’ve all come to admire (or loathe), Jack fessed up and told it like a man. Then, of course, the world needed Jack--or, at least, the FBI; Mulder not around? They pulled rank and Jack was escorted out of the building. Beep-BEEP, Beep-BEEP, we’re off.

The other part of me was the writer mind. In the last year, as I’ve read lots of crime fiction, I can appreciate how well the writers of ‘24’ start off a season (and, each episode). Daddy and daughter driving in the car, bickering about cell phones when, Holy Cow, is that a car headed toward them. Dad, please get off the phone before you... And then a second vehicle hits the dad’s car. And then men storm from a van and abduct Dad, all the while daughter is crying the backseat. Okay, writers, you have my attention.

And that’s the point. When you get right down to it, ‘24’ is serial pulp fiction in the grand tradition. Each episode grabs you by your lapels and demands you watch. Each episode leaves you with a cliffhanger. If Hard Case Crime did tie-ins, they’d do ‘24.’ All through these four hours, good storytelling techniques come into play. In dialogue, we get recaps of Jack’s whereabouts these past months, as well as a few other returning characters. Sure, there were a couple of moments when you have to roll your eyes (Chloe! Grow up. This is the big time...as if the previous seasons weren’t) but it’s all in good pulp fun. I had to chuckle as some dialogue for episode 4 brought viewers up-to-speed...even though we’ve been watching for three hours already. Guess they’re looking toward the future and syndication.

I’m not going to do a total recap here (Entertainment Weekly, at EW.com, does a good job at that) but I just wanted to jot down a few thoughts from a writer’s point of view. ‘24’ really is a good example of how to keep the plot moving. Watch it for pure escapism. But, if you’re a writer struggling with how to maintain suspense and pay it off on a regular basis, you could learn a thing or two from ‘24.’


sandra seamans said...

I hadn't thought of 24 as being pulpy but you're right. And the writers certainly do know how to rachet up the suspense. I watched the first two seasons in reruns on A&E a couple of years back. By the third season I was fed up with Jack and wondering why he was the only one who could save the world. Maybe I'll have to revisit.

Scott D. Parker said...


What you have to watch is season 5, the creme de la creme of the entire series. It's a blender approach (throw everything in, mix until blended) but it was incredible.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I'm with Sandra. Once he shot the wife of an interogee in the leg, I was out of there.

Scott D. Parker said...


There was a second section of this blog I wrote in my journal that I didn't include here. '24' is of its time: post-9/11, you're with us or against us. '24' captured that zeitgeist perfectly. The ends justified the means. I just didn't want to make this blog entry political and decided to keep it about fiction.

My wife and I, too, were shocked when Jack shot the wife. But, hey, he gets results so....

That's one of the visceral joys of watching '24': the constant questioning of will he or won't he.

sandra seamans said...

The violence of 24 didn't bother me so much as Jack was becoming unbelievable for me. When you put it in terms of being Pulp, then all the "Jack's the only one who can save the world" makes perfect sense.

I haven't read the Doc Savage series but from comments I've read in several places, maybe Jack's modeled after Doc?

Scott D. Parker said...

Sandra, I've been mulling the '24'/Doc comparisons as I watched the episodes and read the first Doc book. I don't know if Jack was modeled on Doc but the similarities are there. Tune in Friday.