Monday, January 16, 2006

But During the Commercials Time Seemed to Stand Still

Just out of curiosity and since it's a holiday weekend and meant for laziness, intellectual and otherwise, I watched the first installment of the current season of '24,' which must be a success; otherwise, it wouldn't be having a current season.

I have read in the comments of many critics -- or many times in the criticism of the Chronicle's Tim Goodman -- that the artificiality of the "real time" gimmick is irritating. Apparently, Goodman often, or many other critics at least once, find their enjoyment spoiled because if you pull out your stop watch and your yellow legal pad and draw on your Bayesian sense of the nature of reality, then you just can't keep from thinking how the time frame falls short of verisimilitude: Too many events stuffed into an unelastic 60 minutes and how, as a result, we fret.

Pretty stupid criticism -- though an easy one and god knows anyone who writes for newspapers is dry-mouthed and thus in danger of losing focus as the minutes drag on before that first martini -- because in a universe where violent and hectic events of the kind apparently featured in '24' go on, my disbelief better already be dangling a hundred feet up and hoisting it up another six inches to encompass the time frame is no effort at all.

Also, you know, this approach to narrative has a pedigree. I do not recall this of all detective novels I have read, or even most, but I certainly do recall of some detective novels that moving the detective from clue to hectic clue over a space of 24 to 36 hours is part of the charm. The detective only lies down to rest if he's beaten up.

If I were to go out to our storage shed and pull down all those water-stained Ross McDonald novels that gave me so much pleasure 30 years ago, I could find an example or two of the "momentum moment" where the detective starts running after the solution, sometimes showing up just in time to find a warm body, which discovery sends him on on on with a growing sense of urgency to more places and more clues.

I don't recall a novel in which that characterizes the entire novel, but why not? In those episodes where the story gets moving I don't recall ever pulling out a LA street map and trying to calculate if you can get from Tarzana to Pasadena that quickly. I am not thinking that I will continue with '24' because I have work to do and I need to save my TV time for the NFL and NCAA basketball, but if I had the time in my own 24 hours, accepting the happy fiction of so much happening in so little time is a worthwhile sacrifice if it enables us to get on with the story.

Goodman says it worries him that he never sees Jack Bauer urinate. The show''s POV is not confined to Jack. So I assume he has a strong bladder and/or an innate modesty. That's backstory, right? in a show that, I concede, might need some.

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