Stephen King on ''24''
It's always annoying to be bumped by the front-of-the-book boys and girls (this column was slated to go last week, but then News & Notes ran ''Has 24 Gone Too Far?''), but the additional time has given me a chance to refine these 14 Lessons. Hell, even back-of-the-book guys understand that when it comes to current events, the clock is always...but that's Lesson 1.
1. The Clock Is Always Ticking This builds suspense and rushes us past any inconsistencies, as in season 3, where the subways, streets, and schools are filled long after President Palmer has told everyone in L.A. to stay home.
2. There Are Enemies Everywhere They have homemade nukes, vials stuffed with lethal viruses, and Nuclear Power Plant Meltdown Devices (NPPMDs). Many of the enemies have prayer rugs rolled up in their closets and names like Behrooz.
3. We Fight Back With American Technology The center of this fight is the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU), filled with computers and run by a boss who never stops saying stuff like ''Switch the A-4 booger-sucker node to kernel 7 now!'' and ''Nobody goes home until we get these guys!''
4. The Technology Always Screws Up Those tracking satellites are especially pesky, but the darn computers aren't much better; they always seem to be full of worms and viruses. I often wish that stoner guy would stroll in and say, ''Hey, CTU dudes, don't worry! You're all gettin' Dells!''
5. The Management Ain't That Great Either Last year's boss (Tony Almeida) went in the crapper for putting his wife's safety above the welfare of the country. This year's boss (Erin Driscoll) has a schizo daughter with a morbid fixation on the 7-year-old next door. Erin also loathes Jack Bauer and dumped Chloe O'Brien, who seems to be the only tech (other than Edgar) capable of using CTU's off-brand computers and no-name software.
6. The More Chloe Pouts, the Better I can't wait for Chloe (underplayed with deadly, delightful precision by Mary Lynn Rajskub) to return from exile. Why is that?
7. Never Trust the President's Wife If you watched the first three seasons and met Sherry Palmer, a smiling ogre who makes Erin Driscoll seem a schoolyard brat, no further explanation is needed.
8. Never Trust Smart African-American Women in General As last week's EW story points out, they all seem to be high-riding you-know-what cutters. Sherry Palmer, seasons 1-3; Julia Milliken, last season; the current Marianne Taylor; case closed.
9. The President's Advisers Are Monsters of Expediency Sherry Palmer is always the best example of this lesson, but recently the man closest to the current president advised that it would be better to scrag the hostage secretary of defense (and his daughter) in a purposely botched raid rather than allow terrorists to put him on trial. Harsh! Last year, President Palmer's brother wanted to snag Senator Keeler's debate playbook and later took part in an abortive black-bag job that led to a murder-suicide. And, speaking of suicide:
10. On 24, Suicide Is Always an Option Mysterious and vaguely Middle Eastern music preceding the act is optional (as just before Kalil Hasan offed himself by running into a truck), but the act itself is always on the table. It's true that Ryan Chappelle couldn't quite bring himself to ventilate the old brain bucket (Jack Bauer considerately finished him off), and Secretary of Defense Heller and his daughter Audrey were saved before they could finish sniffing the gas, but Julia Milliken turned the trick last season...and then there were all those hotel virus victims, lining up for so-long capsules. I kept wondering if they were swallowing them with Kool-Aid while the Reverend Jim Jones told stories about his dear old mother.
11. For 24 Hours, the Rule of Law Is Suspended There's no worrying about search warrants, Miranda warnings, any of that nonsense. Things are too dire. Everything is black-and-white; the good guys are all good and the bad guys are superbad (Nina Myers, for instance, may be the greatest TV villain ever). Certainly no one worries about a little torture with the fate of the country hanging by a thread. Jack Bauer never works over the wrong person, anyway. Although wouldn't it be great if, after shooting a guy in the leg and then asking him who he works for, the guy screamed: ''I work for Dell, dude! I came to fix the crappy computers in this place! Please don't shoot me in the other leg!''
12. In the Course of the Season, One Good Guy Will Get Killed Or as in the case of Chase Edmunds will only get his hand chopped off.
13. In the Course of the Season, One Good Guy Will Turn Out to Be a Bad Guy This is the Nina Myers Rule, and to 24 fans, it really needs no further explanation. You can't call it the Tony Almeida Rule, because I had a feeling Tony would be back even before he turned up to save Jack and Audrey's bacon.
And finally...of course...
14. For One Day a Year, Jack Bauer Will Not Need to Go to the Bathroom for 24 Hours But once those 24 hours are up, I bet he's in there for a long time.