Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Another 15 Minutes of Fame

The freakiest moment in television history occurred at 8:41PM EST on Sunday night, January 11th. Maybe you saw it; I will never be able to get it out of my head.

It's strange that I'm such a big fan of the show "24," because I'm a pacifist. I've never fired a gun or even punched anybody (perhaps more amazing is the fact that I've never been shot at or punched either, considering what a smart-ass I am). "24" must be the most corpse-strewn television show ever. Rarely will more than ten minutes go by without an explosion, a shooting or two, or at least some gruesome torture, as government agent Jack Bauer (star/producer Kiefer Sutherland) fights terrorists and traitors (who have included the likes of his own father and brother and at least one President). I've gravitated toward the show from the start mainly because the suspense is relentless and it is so well-produced. The real-time format provides an intense escape from everything else in life.

Sunday's season premiere (Day 7) was the most anticipated in series history, because the show did not air in 2008. The writers strike plus Sutherland's impending jail sentence for drunk driving caused fans to wait more than eighteen months between episodes. So Sunday night, my wife and I hunkered down, stretched out comfortably in bed, for the two-hour free-fall into Jack Bauer's latest gore-fest. As it turned out, only one person got killed in the whole two hours. But it wasn't the quantity, it was the quality of that one death which proved so freaky.

The show began with Bauer testifying briefly before the U.S. Senate about his unabashed use of torture to combat Evil, then lurched him over to the FBI, where the agents were having trouble solving a recent series of thefts of high-tech computer hardware and gizmos. After six thefts, the bad guys were on the verge of penetrating the core of the nation's transportation and utility systems. Bauer looked at the reports of the thefts on a computer screen, trying to find a lead. At 8:40 on my clock, it dawned on him: the thieves gained access by using almost-impossible-to-forge government IDs. "There are only two people who can make those," he told the FBI dunces, then tapped a few computer keys until the page of information he sought came up on the screen.

"There's your man," Bauer told them, pointing to the screen. "Gabriel Schechter."

I sat bolt upright in bed and screamed "what the fuck?!?!?!"

Hit the rewind button and watched it again, to make sure that Jack Bauer had fingered me (or my namesake, if you will) as the genius behind the thievery. Yep, he said it again, though on the computer screen it was (as is usually the case with people who don't know me) misspelled as Schecter. No matter. It's a very unusual name. I'm only aware of one other person with that name -- and I didn't know about him until just a couple of months ago. It isn't the kind of name you simply pull out of a hat or concoct when you need to name a fictional character. Someone at "24" has been reading my mail or my books, or my mind. Or maybe they saw me on "Jeopardy!" last year and felt that my name sounded so nefarious that it was worthy of being purloined and attached to someone bent on disabling national security. Either way, it's disconcerting -- unless a royalty check arrives in the mail.

A moment later there was a commercial break. I said to my wife, "All I know is that I'm going to meet a swift and gory death." This Gabriel Schecter geek was just the kind of character who has no chance for survival on "24". For one thing, Jack Bauer knew him, had worked with him until he sold out. For another, even though Bauer referred to him as having moved East, he was conveniently residing in an apartment about a three-minute drive from the FBI office in Los Angeles.

Sure enough, after the commercial, Bauer was knocking on a door, and there was the scarred and scared visage of the actor portraying Gabriel Schecter. "Hi, Gabe," said Bauer with the steely look he gives bad guys who are about to face the music. Nothing doing for a couple of minutes, until Bauer turned to the FBI agent and asked how far he could go to get the needed answer to the simple question "who paid you to make those IDs?" "As far as you want," said the agent. Within seconds, Bauer had poor Gabe pinned to his seat, with a ballpoint pen millimeters from his eyeball, ready to gouge with glee.

My namesake did just what I would have done: he quickly promised to tell Bauer whatever he wanted to know. Bauer backed off, just far enough to give the sniper across the street enough room to fire two bullets through Gabriel Schecter's chest. End of character.

The death was as swift and gory as I had predicted. I looked at the clock. It said 8:56. That was exactly fifteen minutes after this all-too-forgettable character was introduced. He didn't quite have time to tell Bauer that he had been hired by a character named Tony Almeida, who seemed to have been killed three seasons earlier, another former colleague of Bauer's who is now apparently an evil mastermind. Tony is back, but I don't like Gabriel Schecter's chances. I'll just have to settle for another fifteen minutes of freakish fame.