Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"24" and "Mission: Impossible": 2 peas in a pod?

Mission: Impossible cast, season 5

One of the unexpected benefits of getting rid of cable TV was the discovery of MeTV, which we get over the air as part of the ABC affiliate's split digital signal. And perhaps the best thing about MeTV is that it reruns the classic TV series Mission: Impossible. Not just the theme song, which may be the best ever TV theme, but the show itself.

Having recently found a used copy of a long-desired book, The Complete Mission Impossible Dossier by Patrick J. White, I now realize what should have been fairly obvious, which is that Mission: Impossible is a thematic ancestor to my favorite TV show of all time, 24. Of course, it didn't use the "real-time" gimmick that drove 24, nor did it feature split-screen shots. But what it did share was a secret(ive) government agency devoted to protecting American national security at all costs, meaning the American agents would do whatever it takes to stop the threat to the country.

Sure, there's no torture on Mission: Impossible, at least, not that I can recall. But as author White puts it succinctly, the show involved "treacherous saboteurs who would lie, cheat, steal, kidnap, subvert the media, destroy the property of innocent people, and break any civil and legal code that stood in their way. They were the heroes." (p. 1, emphasis in original).

24 was surely groundbreaking in depicting a protagonist whose "means" included savage (though not sadistic) torture*, but that probably reflects when the show aired. By 1960s and early 1970s standards, Mission: Impossible went pretty far, so much so it drew contemporaneous objections from some critics, Hollywood writers, and so on. One critic characterized it as "this season's most harmful television program." Creator Bruce Geller's father, a judge, "ha[d] problems with [the show], because the theme of the show is contrary to his philosophy." (White, p. 22). The first person that Geller offered a producer slot to, Stan Kallis, declined because: "I thought Mission: Impossible was immoral, that it would have dangerous consequences because it was basically a neo-Fascist concept. It's no different from an elitist CIA or worse, the SS." (White, p. 51).
* In this vein, 24 owes a lot to the USA Network series La Femme Nikita, which was produced by the same people behind 24. As a cable show, LFN had a little more slack than 24 did.
Coincidentally (or not), Mission: Impossible was considered the longest-running espionage-related series on American TV (7 seasons) until it was surpassed by 24 (8 seasons). Further solidifying the comparison is the fact that Mission: Impossible had a short-lived revival in the 1980s (2 short seasons, totaling 35 episodes), while 24 just had 24: Live Another Day (also a short season, 12 instead of 24 episodes). You have to wonder how much of their relative longevity, compared to other terrorism/national security related dramas like Threat Matrix and E-Ring, stemmed from their "ends justify the means" approaches, as opposed to a kinder and gentler approach.

No comments:

Post a Comment