As you might expect, it takes a certain degree of confidence and fortitude to do my job. Some days, when I’m doing the difficult but very important work of watching “America’s Next Top Model” or “My Big Fat Obnoxious Ingrown Toenail,” the only thing that keeps me sallying forth is my firm conviction that I’m the only person on the planet whose gray matter can process the complicated tangle of pop cultural signals flashing across the screen. After all, who else has the powers of perception necessary to look at Tyra Banks and say, “Gah, she’s lost, like, a lot of weight since last season”? Who else could watch five minutes of “The Practice,” change the channel because James Spader is nowhere to be found, and scribble on a notepad: “‘Practice’ sucks without Spader!”?
Yes, the challenges of the TV critic are without number, but I stand firm in my conviction that I’m providing a crucial service to a sprawling mass of lunatics and halfwits out there by translating a universe of complex televised entertainment into simple terms that they can understand. And the little buggers gobble it up, they really do! I can almost see all of you out there, hunched in front of your little computers, your spittle-covered lips quivering in anticipation of every word, your Cro-Magnon brows straining to take in the complex human themes I explore, your empty eyes bulging with gratitude.
Naturally, then, when I asked for suggestions on how to fix “24,” I expected a handful of juvenile ideas and a few crude love letters littered with multiple misspellings. Imagine my shock when, instead, a flood of clever and wildly creative suggestions flowed into my mailbox! Seems like some of you have been taking time out from playing “ant hospital” to structure story lines riddled with conflict and suspense, or at least to dream up unforeseen twists and sudden, unexpected deaths. After reading so many worthy entries, I’ve narrowed the pool down to those fixes that were the most impressive, funny, or flatly demented. Picking one winner among these is nearly impossible, so I want you all to vote for your favorite one. Now that I recognize that you’re not imbeciles, I trust the democratic process a little more.
Entry No. 1
One of the reasons “24″ has seemed so slack this year is because the threat has been located outside the United States for the last three episodes. I know it sounds selfish, but if the virus is located in South America or Greenland, it might as well be on a space shuttle for all we care.
So bottom line: Get the virus in the hands of the enemy and back on U.S. soil as soon as possible. The virus is as viable a plotline as any of the others they’ve tried, but it doesn’t hit home because it’s too far away.
Next, the president’s reelection campaign is not spicy enough. The stakes need some serious raising here. President Palmer should have to deal with more critical problems immediately. The solution: Leak news that the virus is back in Los Angeles and Palmer is continuing to struggle with his health. Then — and here’s the kicker — he suffers a relapse during a television address. Palmer hits the ground and his aides must scramble to control the damage.
Lastly, Jack’s daughter must get out of the office more. Since the CTU plotline is falling flat, have her try to intercept the virus as it comes back into the country. Of course, she gets captured by the South American baddies. Cue lots of running sequences, near escapes, near rescues, etc. Maybe even drop her off in South America.
Violà! A season of “24″ everyone can enjoy!
— Shawn Proctor
You’re right about the virus, Shawn. The threat isn’t immediate enough. Remember when Kyle’s mom poured the supposedly virus-infected coke into the toilet? That was a genuinely heart-stopping, campily suspenseful moment. So why did they back up from that moment and make the threat so distant and vague? Even after people start getting sick, there are more thrills and spills to be had. Think of the big fun that went down after the nuclear bomb hit last season. The stakes just aren’t high enough, and unleashing the virus while making Palmer fall ill sounds like a good way to ratchet things up a little.
Entry No. 2
Remember that techno-geek from last season, the one who was in cahoots with evil Mrs. Palmer? I forget what he was doing, but he was in deep shit and he died on a roof while the helicopter flew away, right? Well, he has a brother who is even more evil, and he wants to get revenge on Jack and the whole Impossible Missions Force via the most elaborate machinations possible. We know that he knows this is how it’s done because he has a very beat-up tape of “Die Hard 3,” which is playing as he loads several stacks of new 20s, a big spooky silver canister and a box of Animal Crackers into a duffel bag, kisses his grandma in the kitchen, walks down the middle of Main Street, points a custom-designed remote control over his left shoulder, says, “Please be kind, rewind,” and then pushes the red button, blowing grandma’s house to smithereens.
Eviler Brother meets up with the Drug Lords and gives them the canister. It fits neatly into a special slot in the BioHazard 3000 Multi Mixer. They put on Dr. No suits and test the brew by spraying a peasant. The peasant sneezes and apologizes for voting for Vicente Fox, which seemed like a good idea at the time. He stands there in a daze, sneezing. Two episodes later, his brain melts and runs out his ears.
Meanwhile, Kim gets her nipples pierced and Tony Almeida works on a really hard Jumble.
Something happens, and something else happens, and a fleet of black Lincoln Navigators drive across greater Los Angeles, releasing plague out of their exhaust pipes. All across the city, people stop what they’re doing, start apologizing for everything bad they’ve every done and sneeze a lot.
The IMF team discovers that the plague that 20 million people just ingested is merely the common cold. Then the NerdGirl turns the electron microscope up to Instant 3-D High Resolution and sees tiny little robots. Nanobots are inside the flu virus! And they are eating peoples’ brains! Chomp, chomp, chomp!
Suddenly, Jack Bauer starts sneezing and apologizing for every movie he’s ever made besides “Lost Boys,” “Stand By Me,” “Dark City” and “Freeway.” He has the cold, and he has only two hours before his brain melts!
The Eviler Brother, who was caught several episodes ago, is forced to listen to this litany of cinematic disasters and has a nervous breakdown. He has a complete 180-degree reversal of personality and motivation, and decides to help save Jack.
President Palmer orders a crack team of Junk Yard Wars guys to show up at IMF. They put together a microwave oven, a leaf blower and all of NerdGirl’s vibrators to build a Nano-Reducer. They crank it up and shrink Kim Bauer and a Jet Ski down to the size of a virus. Except that clothes don’t shrink. They stick a catheter up Jack’s penis, and away she goes.
I haven’t yet worked out the last hour, but when Kim battles the Nanobots, I think she should do something clever with her nipple rings.
— Conrad Spoke
OK, Conrad. You had me at “Eeeviler Brother.” Then you lost me at “crack team of Junk Yard Wars guys,” because that sounded too much like “The X-Files” or one of those episodes of “The Simpsons” where Homer comes up with an elaborate scheme and collaborates brilliantly with others instead of scarfing doughnuts on the couch like he’s meant to. Then you had me again at “penis.”
In unrelated news, the first two times I read your e-mail, for some reason I misread “peasant” as “pheasant,” as in “They put on Dr. No suits and test the brew by spraying a pheasant. The pheasant sneezes and apologizes for voting for Vicente Fox, which seemed like a good idea at the time. He stands there in a daze, sneezing. Two episodes later, his brain melts and runs out his ears.” I didn’t understand your choice of pheasant, but was quick to assume my own ignorance was to blame. Was there a major pheasant population South of the Border? Were pheasants the white rats of the new millennium? Finally I determined that you had a real genius for throwing in that bizarre detail that skews the entire picture, further proof of which was reflected in your referring to the pheasant as a “he.”
And you have to admit, a pheasant whose brain melts out his ears is sort of endearing, whereas a peasant in the same situation is just plain sad, unless he’s a cocky drug-peddling peasant or a snotty peasant with a head full of blond ringlets who teases the awkward girl at school about her outdated shoes.
I say bring on the pheasant. In fact, let’s animate the little guy and fill him to the brim with wiseass remarks. See how it works? Your story can be wandering aimlessly for half a season, but the second you throw in a small animal with a smart mouth, you’re in business. But you didn’t suggest that, so don’t go taking credit for it. Next!
Entry No. 3
I agree that the “imminent threat” of 24 was what made it a good show (and now makes it an only “meh” show). I think the plot needs a little jump-starting. My idea:
Jack is forced to doink Nina to prove his loyalty. In the act, she reveals that she intends to kill President Palmer with the virus. Jack escapes the hacienda as the Mexican hottie reveals to Hector her infidelities, causing a large gun battle, costing her life and disposing of Chase (until he reappears later in the season to save the day). Jack now has to rush cross-country, “Every Which Way But Loose”-style, to save the president in California. I’m still working on how he acquires an orangutan.
— Luke Crownover
Wow. You basically predicted half of the stuff that went on in last week’s episode. You even predicted that I would mandate the inclusion of a smart-talking animal. And you spelled orangutan correctly! Go back to tending the ant hospital, you’re intimidating me.
Entry No. 4
While I don’t think “24″ is beyond repair, I do think this season feels too much like the writers are making it up as they go. Here’s what could make the rest of “Day 3″ better.
1) Make the virus threat more immediate, just like the assassination in the first season, or the bomb and then the threat of a trumped-up war in the second. Bring it back to L.A.
2) Get rid of all the petty CTU squabbling: Chloe, Kim and Michelle all seem like transplants from “Sorority Life” and not people charged with defending the country from terrorism.
3) Forget Nina, bring back Sherry Palmer … it’s more conceivable that she’d be out of prison (something I’d hope they’d explain about Nina), and she’s a better character.
4) Remember how, at the end of Season 2, the terrorist fallback plan was to infect President Palmer with … something? Explain where that went. Millions of fanboys across the country would give a kidney to the producers if they brought back Mia Kirshner …
5) … or they could bring back all of the evil women: Mandy, Sherry Palmer, Nina and Marie Warner. They could team up in Day 4. C’mon, Fox, the clock is ticking.
— Tom Coombe
You predicted the return of Sherry Palmer! Either that, or the writers at “24″ hacked into my computer and found all of your suggestions. I’m onto you people! Go ahead and start casting orangutans, and I’ll slap a lawsuit on you so fast, you won’t be able to pass me on the street without getting a look that’s really disconcertingly disapproving!
Entry No. 5
I’m inclined to agree with you, “24″ seems off and rather ho-hum this year. Here’s what I think might bring some of the edge-of-your-seat luster back to the show:
1) The Salazars, out of the virus game thanks to Nina, should discover that Poor Man’s Angelina is working against them — maybe her dad is undercover Mexican CIA (is there such a thing?) and they force Jack to kill her … dun dun duh! But then he wriggles out of it by shooting one of the Salazar brothers and flying out of there on a convenient rescue helicopter piloted by Gael. But the copter can’t fit Gael, Jack, Poor Man’s Angelina, the kid, Chase and Mexican CIA Dad — so CIA Dad stays behind to provide cover. He takes out Salazar No. 2 but dies in a hail of henchman gunfire. Little kid sees — screams “Abuelo!”
2) Jack, back in the States, gets some methadone, and tries to figure out who Nina is working for. It unravels pretty quickly and leads us to what we really need to do. Which is: Kill Palmer — the White House worked great last year but this year … it’s one big yawn. If Palmer were to try to intervene — say Nina’s buyer is an ambassador or some such in cahoots with brother Wayne — and Palmer goes down literally fighting his brother for his country, well that should hit us where we live and give Jack a needed dose of rage-to-avenge. Plus, Sherry could come back and cry and assist Jack with her own formidable rage-to-avenge.
3) Jack and Sherry take out Nina and Wayne, respectively, only to discover that the buyer has released the virus in Costa Rica or some other semicontainable spot. End of season.
Next season, the world is different (virus fear is everywhere!) and Jack is protecting a team of doctors who are this close to finding a cure for the virus. But of course, someone wants them dead — maybe even someone on the team! And Kim just developed a cough …
— Allie Gerlach
It’s funny, isn’t it? Claudia dies, but instead of making Jack kill her, which would be troubling and dramatic, she kicks the bucket quietly out of Jack’s sight. Yet another dead end this season — first Kyle Singer, then Palmer’s lover Ann, and now Claudia. It seems like the writers’ habits of throwing things together at the last minute is really backfiring these days. As well it should, really. What other show could it make less sense to write at the last minute, than an intricately plotted suspense thriller?
Then again, how can I bag on the “24″ writers when I feel exhausted just from contemplating the plot possibilities for a few brief moments? In fact, the more I focus on it, the more I wish there were a simple solution to the whole problem.
Entry No. 6
Two words: Musical. Episode.
— Jim Treacher
Congratulations, Jim! You won the “Fix 24 Contest”!
Oh wait, I forgot. This is a democracy now. Rats! I guess that means everybody needs to choose Entry 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 and send me their votes for who should win the contest, and I’ll count up all the votes and then pick the one I like best anyway.
Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.More Heather Havrilesky.