As Fox's amped-up adventure series 24 careens into an emotional two-hour finale Monday night, I've finally figured out why I have disliked this season's story lines so much.
It's not the cartoonish plot twists (second banana Tony Almeida is a bad guy who was pretending to be a good guy who was pretending to be a bad guy? Really?).
Or the astounding array of misfortune befalling hapless ex-government agent Jack Bauer in a day's time — including getting framed for murder and exposure to a slow-acting, fatal bioweapon while fighting a shadowy conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government.
What I hate most about this year's 24 are the choices. Or, rather, the false ones.
Through this season's adventures, the show's producers have strung out a dramatic debate about torture mirroring the current, ugly fumbling we're now mired in as a country, also in real time.
Time and again, Bauer charges into situations where he needs information. And, as weak-kneed FBI agents or gas-baggy politicians drone on, he pulls out a knife or a gun or a ballpoint pen (!) and cuts through the hypocrisy to get the job done.
But these choices are false. We know from our real-life debate on torture that such situations are rarely so simple.
Often, our real-life Jack Bauers have no idea whether the people they are interrogating know anything. Even after suspects confess or make statements, it may take a long while before anyone knows if the information gathered is valid.
That's why 24 is more sinister than Glenn Beck or any obvious demagogue. Because 24's false choices are specifically crafted to make the immoral choice seem unavoidable — which is, as any religious person will tell you, how evil often seduces the virtuous.
If the show's producers really wanted to test Bauer, they would make him face the same ambiguities as real-life agents; the same uncertainty about whether a brutality produces information of any value. They would force the hero to make a heroic choice between his values and the temptation of a corrupting choice that may lead nowhere.
All this subtext leaves a bitter aftertaste, as Bauer chooses Monday between letting the bad guys kill his daughter or doing their bidding and freeing Almeida, killing a friend and fellow agent to do it.
Wonder how they'll make that choice look inevitable, allowing Bauer to duck the truly tough choices again?
Glee, debuts at 9 p.m. Tuesday on WTVT-Ch. 13: How does a not-quite comedy about a dysfunctional high school glee club wind up debuting after the second-to-last episode of monster hit American Idol? When it's written by Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy, who presents a quirky, appealing collection of misfits for whom cranking out a Broadway-esque version of a Journey hit is the next thing to heaven. Will the hunky teacher/club sponsor leave his shrill wife for the germophobic work friend crushing on him? Can the jock football star resist his teammates' scorn to stay in the club? You'll have to wait until fall to find out; tonight's show — a dark combo of Friday Night Lights and High School Musical — is just a preview.
The Bachelorette, premieres at 9:02 p.m. Monday on WFTS-Ch. 28: From the moment you see new Bachelorette Jillian Harris washing a car in yellow pumps, you know this is ABC's most desperate edition of its female-focused dating series yet. Harris' problem: America mostly knows the two girls who finished ahead of her in the last Bachelor series, as star Jason Mesnick first picked Melissa Rycroft and then dumped her on national TV for second-place finisher Molly Malaney. Harris, who placed third back then, was the only woman willing to risk her dignity in a different role, sorting through 30 guys to find the perfect man she might consider dumping on national TV. But a third-place finisher doesn't make a first-class show.
The big three-hour finale for ABC's Dancing With the Stars looms at 8 p.m. Tuesday, with the field finally whittled down to the show's three best dancers. Here's a little prognosticating on who places where:
The favorite: actor/model Gilles Marini
The reason: He's a hunky guy who has blossomed into the show's best dancer, which Dancing's mostly female audience loves.
The odds: 3 to 1 in favor.
The challenger: former Bachelor contestant Melissa Rycroft
The reason: Once the favorite as a former cheerleader with dance training, she peaked early and sympathy over her mistreatment on The Bachelor finale has faded.
The odds: Even money.
The dark horse: Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson, below
The reason: Clearly a cut below Rycroft and Marini, she's a plucky teen who needs the front-runners to stumble for a shot.
The odds: 2 to 1 against.
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