I already reviewed the HUMAN TARGET pilot back during the upfronts, but some thoughts lingered in my head, especially after Fox put it on with the premiere of the latest season of 24 on Sunday night. Looking at it again doesn’t make me change my mind about it, and having 24 on only compounds what had been on my mind about the thrillers we’re getting these days.
The main draw of techno-thrillers is that they make the appearance of appearing current, cutting-edge, smart and edgy, and make the viewer feel smart. You’d think that the writers would at least do the right amount of research and thinking to get the ideas and details correct, as opposed to looking all slicky-slick and pretending to be smart when in fact the scripts are really dumb as a sack of hammers. What I find more and more in US thrillers is that they’ draw on an increasingly small pool of ideas and clichés that are out of date.
What 24 tends to do is pile on a new twist or burst of violence at great speed so the viewer is constantly too busy keeping up to stop and think about how stupid all the characters are or how hoary the plot mechanics are. I suppose you could say it’s just pulp but speeded up even faster than ever, where the characters frequently have to suddenly be completely stupid in order to for the plot to move ahead. At the peak of its popularity and insidious politics, 24 was an interesting barometer for what America was preoccupied with and how America saw itself, but that never lasts, and it now carries the whiff of a carton of milk in the fridge that’s past its sell-by date. I wonder if fans treat the usual enemy-within, swarthy foreigners, dystunctional office politics, double-triple-backstabbings that are recycled over and over again a form of comfort food. I was thoroughly bored and found that the Golden Globe Awards were much more unpredictable, odd, brutal and filled with overall entertaining.
And HUMAN TARGET’s looks even more formulaic and cardboard the second time around when I know what’s coming in the plot. The hero, who’s professionally trained, just happens to run out of bullets or have a misfire just as he’s about to shoot the bad guy? He’s supposed to clean and maintain his gun and not run out of bullets when he first fires it so that doesn’t happen. That’s another lazy writer’s get-out for prolonging the story when he can’t think of anything more plausible.
The upcoming spy thriller SALT, starring Angelina Jolie, is hinged on a plot by the Russians to kill the US President. So either the writer and makes think this is still plausible or they’re just too lazy to think of something more believable.
MODERN WARFARE 2 seems to share the same paranoid worldview as 24 and most Hollywood writers – well, it was scripted by a writer from NCIS. It reinforces a cliché that seems to have embedded itself deep in the minds of Americans conditioned to fear Communism: the fantasy that Russia will invade the US. The fallacy of that belief is massive. The logistical hassles of invading a landmass as large as the United States is not worth it from a military point of view. Russia’s whole landmass is so much bigger than the United States itself anyway. Same goes for China. What would they do with the US after they conquer it? Enslave the population? For what? They already have huge populations of their own if it’s a workforce or military recruitment. Not to mention that China doesn’t need to invade the United States – it already practically owns the place, given how much debt the US owes it. That seems to be what most people who don’t read the financial pages miss. Once you’re aware of this, an invasion fantasy falls apart at the inception stage.
And then there’s the upcoming FROM PARIS WITH LOVE. Granted, it’s produced by Luc Besson and officially French, but it’s co-written by a Hollywood writer. It strikes me as semiotically messed up: a bald Travolta looking like a member of the Aryan Brotherhood beating up and shooting a whole bunch of non-white bad guys in France because they’re terrorists.
It all seems to boil down to the same thing: the Other is bad! We must kill them! In stories written mostly by people who wouldn’t have the first clue of how to save anyone’s ass if the shit hits the fan. The feeling I get is that the thriller is atrophying. If anything the cartoon spoofs THE VENTURE BROTHERS and ARCHER are a lot more insightful in deconstructing the thriller archetypes and clichés into metaphors and analogies for male insecurities, pettiness, emotional immaturity, dysfunctions and disappointment. I find those shows more interesting for what they say about the unacknowledged subtexts inherent in the thriller genre. They’re also probably a sign of the genre entering its decadent stage, where the stories are endlessly recycling and starting to eat their own tails ouroboros-style.
Christ, it’s not even that writers are even pulling their hoary old plots out of their own asses anymore – they’re pulling them out of toilets into which older writers already dropped from their asses. And there’s a trickle-down effect to all this endless recycling of old thriller clichés to a dwindling audience: the next generations of writers think all it takes to sell a thriller is to write the same old shit, and then comics writers, who generally take their ideas from movies and TV, also end up with the same attitude, and the ideas get more and more degraded because they’re the same ones being recycled by increasingly clueless and lazy successors. And Hollywood still refuses to understand why their audiences are shrinking except for the big tentpole blockbusters that cost more then 200 milllion dollars to make, because a TRANSFORMERS 2 or an AVATAR at least has big expensive explosions to look at.
The question is, do we want our thrillers to just keep us as dumb as we were before or do we want them to actually make us better-informed, and thus, smarter? Are we content to be as dumb as they’re happy to leave us?
Not feeling thrilled at firstname.lastname@example.org
© Adisakdi Tantimedh