Fans of the Fox smash “24” should have known something was up when uber-liberal actress Janeane Garofalo got added to the cast for season seven.
In reality, change was afoot before the first episode of new season aired. Joel Surnow, one of the key players behind the series and, that rarity in Hollywood, an admitted conservative, announced he was leaving the show.
Would "24," embraced by the right for its unflinching assault on terrorism and lack of moral hand wringing, lose its edge?
The answer took a while, but the last few episodes revealed the likely answer.
The villain of the day for season seven isn’t a Middle Eastern terrorist or even a rogue president. It’s a Blackwater-style military outfit called Starkwood.
The Fox thriller endeared itself to conservatives by tackling terrorism head on and making few, if any apologies, for the steps hero Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) took to protect American lives.
In an age when Hollywood would rather cast a CEO, or a redneck, as a villain instead of an Islamic radical, “24” told stories based on today’s headlines — not the ones liberals prefer to read.
But now, with Surnow gone and the show’s creative energy flickering, the series had to fall back on a reliable villain by industry standards.
It took awhile before the news trickled into the show itself. Surnow worked on the first batch of episodes, and the current Starkwood plotline wasn’t ready to be sprung quite yet. It’s common for the show to hide its cards until the day in question is close to an end.
Now, we can see the hand “24” dealt its loyal audience.
Starkwood flunkies have secured a bio-weapon and appear ready to use it. The group wants to show the country that terrorism is alive and well and threatening civilization. Plus, the group’s leaders are still miffed that their government contracts have dried up
The Blackwater-style group is led by Jonas Hodges, played by Oscar-winner and openly conservative Jon Voight.
Et tu, Midnight Cowboy?
The plotline seems to suit actor Michael Rodrick, who plays Hodges’ henchman, Stokes, on the series. Rodrick shared his thoughts about the season’s villains with TV Guide.com.
“I think that this corporate entity he represents will frighten people to the bone,” he said.
“24” isn’t the first episodic show to use a Blackwater stand in for nefarious purposes. The
CBS drama “Jericho,” which struggled through two seasons, used a paramilitary company dubbed Ravenwood as the core of one of its shadier subplots.
And Hollywood has another sucker punch planned for Blackwater.
The new Russell Crowe thriller State of Play, hitting theaters April 17, features a military contractor group similar to Blackwater as one of its key villains. The film is an adaptation of a British miniseries, so squeezing Blackwater into the narrative took some doing.
But in Hollywood, a script is always just a tweak or two away from a liberal talking point.
That tweak sure pleased the reporter at The New York Times, who shared the plot information:
“One of the villains in the British piece, a shadow oil company, became a Blackwater-like military contractor, which is even better.”
“24’s” longtime fans could have seen other signs indicating their favorite show was shifting its mission both on screen and off.
This season, “24” became the first carbon neutral television program, according to Fox, a possible mea culpa to viewers offended by the film’s insistence on casting Arab characters as the occasional terrorist.
But the show was only getting started.
Day seven opened with Jack Bauer, an agent who never met a suspect he wasn’t itching to torture, getting hauled before a Senate committee on human rights violations. He had to testify concerning CTU, the agency which helped stop countless terrorist attacks during the show’s run.
But Jack has been more or less Jack this season, and the show’s white-hot intensity still occasionally flares as hot as it did during the first few seasons.
“24” can still be tricky, even if the show’s best days are behind it. Sometimes, the person or group who appears to be a villain is nothing of the kind. But it’s late in the day, or season, and there’s precious little time for Starkwood to become a red herring.
Few shows can maintain the kind of intensity “24” displayed during its first five seasons. Season six was a creative disaster, according to critics and fans alike.
But it seems a bit late to recast the show for left leaning audiences. After all, terrorism is still the subject du jour, and that remains redder meat for right-minded viewers than those on the left.