There’s a growing wave of terrorism and international crises in the fictional world of primetime, where, like everything else on TV, a glut of shows deal with such threats.
Whether that programming has an effect on the public consciousness, or TV viewers can completely separate fantasy from current events, is subject to debate. But the saturation factor is making the genre feel tired, and contributes to an atmosphere that keeps terrorism concerns top of mind while addressing these issues in a manner that’s usually rather superficial and ultimately cathartic.
“Six,” a History channel drama about Navy SEAL Team Six members introduced carrying out a mission in Afghanistan, is the latest addition, premiering January 18. In a sign of what can be called convergent development, its plot bears an initial resemblance to the set-up for “24: Legacy,” the revival that Fox will launch following the year’s most-watched annual event, the Super Bowl, on February 5.
The latest “24” features a new protagonist, played by Corey Hawkins, who is part of an elite group of Army rangers who participated in a secret mission abroad eliminating a terrorist leader. Hawkins’ character is pressed into action when his peers are exposed and start getting picked off by sleeper cells operating in the United States.
Those programs come closely after the season premiere of “Homeland,” the Showtime series, which brings a more nuanced approach to the complexities of the war against terrorism. They’ll also be rejoined January 23 by “Quantico,” which returns in a new time slot.
Another ABC drama, “Designated Survivor,” which promoted “24’s” Kiefer Sutherland to president and kicked off with an attack that decimated the U.S. government, returns in March. And NBC’s “The Blacklist” and “Blindspot” will add more mayhem with a spinoff of the former in February.
These series are obviously produced and ordered independently. Yet perhaps inevitably, recognizable tropes and patterns emerge amid the sheer abundance of them.
Part of that involves the image of Muslims some shows convey, often relegating them to faceless or ill-defined roles as stock villains.
In a recent New York Times article titled “Can Television be Fair to Muslims?,” “Homeland” and “24” producer Howard Gordon noted that after the latter premiered, he heard from Muslim-Americans who worried that the series was “contributing to this xenophobia by trafficking in … the sort of basest fears.”
There is also a habit of name-checking real-life terror organizations. In “Six,” for example, the Nigerian group Boko Haram abducts the SEAL team’s former leader (played by “Justified’s” Walton Goggins, a last-minute replacement for Joe Manganiello) along with a group of young girls.
“Six” professes to be “inspired” by actually SEAL Team missions, but it mostly appears inspired by earlier successes in the genre, among them the movie “American Sniper.” The show’s shortcomings are magnified by how familiar it feels, from the clipped military jargon to action sequences shot using those eerie green night-vision lenses.
When “24” made its debut shortly after 9/11 terrorist attacks, some wondered whether U.S. audiences would be willing to watch a program that evoked a tragedy that had just struck so close to home.
Sixteen years later, the answer to that question is pretty clear. Indeed, the series became so popular as to birth to the term “Jack Bauer syndrome,” an academic reference to its protagonist, who regularly faced choices about violating safeguards like civil liberties and due process in the face of ticking-bomb scenarios.
Like any number of fictional heroes, from Sherlock Holmes to James Bond, “24: Legacy” really just revives Bauer in a new guise. What’s different now is that with so many copies tackling similar threats and racing around to save the world, the storytellers devising those nail-biting plots are practically bumping into each other.