Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Please Don't Bring Back Audrey Raines!
Before I became disillusioned with it for being a lazy and pretentious show, I was as big a "24" fan as there ever was. Having been a fan of the 1980s prime time soaps, I eagerly welcomed another series into my life that completely embraced serialized storytelling, where the story and characters wouldn't be resolved by the end of the hour. Throughout the many years "24" was on the air, I fooled myself into thinking it was one of the best TV shows ever made. In so doing, I ignored the sloppy and lazy writing, where it became obvious after awhile that the writers and producers hadn't carefully thought through the characters and storylines. You got the impression after awhile that they were making things up as they went along week-to-week, and were changing the characters 180 degrees on a whim--often merely as a cheap shock tactic--rather than allowing plot or character twists to develop and reveal themselves naturally and organically. That being said, I am still intrigued by FOX's announcement that they plan to revive "24" next year as a limited-run miniseries entitled "24: Live Another Day." However, I'm put off by the idea that this "24" is only going to run 12 episodes and will purportedly only focus on "the most dramatic moments" of Jack Bauer's (Kiefer Sutherland) latest day. "24" just isn't "24" if it's only 12 hours long.
Moreover, I was concerned about one article which suggested that the producers were considering bringing back Kim Raver (a mediocre, uninspired actress not generally known for playing individuals with intelligence, strength and integrity and who bears a disconcerting resemblance to the equally mediocre and uninspired Michele Greene of "LA Law" fame) as Jack Bauer's love interest in Seasons 4, 5, and 6--the pitiful and pathetic Audrey Raines. I always hated that character, and hated Raver's performance as that character, and sincerely hope they do not bring her back. I admit that one reason I resisted welcoming the Audrey Raines character onto the show was due to the fact that I was a big fan of Season 2's love interest--Sarah Wynter as the brave civilian Kate Warner--who got short shrifted and phased out of the series with a quick cameo at the beginning of Season 3. I was always hoping Kate would return to the show but, after having seen how the show had a tendency to ruin characters that I liked, I think it's just as well she didn't come back so that her Season 2 character and story arc weren't undermined by some sort of twist which would have contradicted everything that had already been established. Even though I was biased towards Kate, however, the Audrey Raines character didn't help matters by turning out to be one of the most shallow, unsympathetic, narcissistic, whiny, wimpy, and useless TV characters of all time, which is ironic considering that the writers and producers evidently intended for Audrey to be a very sympathetic individual.
Let's be upfront and make it clear that the characters on "24" were, by and large, mere plot devices to keep the story moving along. The writers had no interest in creating consistent personalities who would engage us week-after-week, except for Sutherland's Jack Bauer and Mary Lynn Rajskub's computer tech geek Chloe O'Brien. Aside from them, and a very small handful of other characters, most "24" characters existed merely to propel the storyline forward. With that in-mind, Audrey Raines was a particularly useless character in that her storyline was mostly confined to scenes at CTU, where the writers awkwardly tried to give her duties and tasks to perform in order to try and make it appear that she was actually being useful to avert the latest crisis at-hand. She never ended up being a character who was out in the field helping Jack, the way Kate Warner in Season 2--and FBI Agent Renee Walker (Annie Wersching) in Seasons 7 and 8--did. It was never really clear what Audrey's talents and skill sets were that warranted having her character work for the DoD, much less being involved in assisting at CTU, and the only times she was ever out in the field was when she was kidnapped and held hostage in Seasons 4, 5 and 6. Because her character was so poorly defined in terms of what her job and abilities were, any of the functions that she performed while at CTU could have easily been filled by any of the other characters on the show.
As such, on a show where most of the characters are deemed useless unless they help propel the story forward, it becomes clear that Audrey's sole and only purpose of existing within the "24" universe is as Jack Bauer's love interest. Her character never became a metaphor for the resilience of civilian America after 9/11, the way Kate Warner was, nor proved to be Jack Bauer's equal as a Federal Agent experiencing the same challenges and personal conflicts the way Renee Walker was in Seasons 7 and 8. Audrey only exists on the show to be Jack's girlfriend, which would have been fine if she were actually a likeable and sympathetic character. I never really liked the presence of Audrey in Jack's life because, by making her character so important in the fabric of the series, the producers undercut the significance of Jack's late wife Teri (Leslie Hope), who was tragically killed at the end of Season 1 by turncoat agent Nina Myers (Sarah Clarke). By constantly harping on the notion that Audrey was purportedly "Jack's true love," the show tarnishes the memory of Teri, whose death symbolizes the terrible moment in Jack Bauer's life when things turned irretrievably out of control. It would be the same, in regards to the James Bond movie series, as suggesting that any of the leading ladies who followed Diana Rigg's tragic Tracy, who marries George Lazenby's James Bond at the end of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969), were more important to Bond than Tracy ever was. (Eva Green's marvelous Vesper Lynd in 2006's "Casino Royale" doesn't undermine Tracy's legacy because her character appears in the rebooted Bond series timeline that presumes Tracy never existed.)
Audrey Raines proved to be pretty useless even as a love interest. In Season 4, her introductory season, she was already off-putting from the moment she arrived because she was wavering between both Jack and her estranged husband Paul Raines (James Frain) who, as it turns out, is actually a good and decent man who genuinely loves Audrey. As the season progresses, Audrey's loyalties continually bounce back and forth between Jack and Paul and it becomes clear that Audrey is a wishy-washy individual totally lacking in strength of character who can't make up her mind who she wants to be with. It didn't help matters that, before the scenario of Season 4 even began, Audrey and Jack had already been deep in their affair, which meant that viewers never really had a chance to slowly acclimate to this romance and they had to accept her wholeheartedly from the moment she was introduced. It was as if the producers were sternly telling us, "This is the woman Jack loves. Get used to it." This "in-your-face" introduction of the Audrey character contrasted with the way Kate Warner was introduced in Season 2, and also with the way Renee Walker was introduced in Season 7. In both cases, Jack didn't know either Kate or Walker at the start of the day and the audience had an opportunity to see the trust, caring and rapport that eventually developed between Jack and each of these women throughout those seasons.
But what really turned me off to Audrey Raines was how whiny, weepy and wimpy Kim Raver played her throughout much of her tenure on the series. When "24" came to Washington, DC in 2007 to film Season 7, I approached Executive Producer Jon Cassar when they were filming near the Navy Memorial and asked him why they wouldn't bring back Kate Warner, even for one episode. Mr. Cassar was generous with his time and we chatted for awhile. The conversation turned to the Audrey character and I mentioned how a lot of fans in DC hated her because of how weepy and shamelessly emotional she was in Season 4, and that that set the tone for our dislike of the character. Cassar attempted to defend Kim Raver's performance by explaining how the writers make up the story week-to-week, rather than having a established game plan for the direction of the stories. He explained that the writers had inadvertently written one scenario-after-another which required Audrey to react in an emotional manner so that, by the time they realized that they had written one crying fit too many for her, it was too late and that the character had already been established as weak and self-indulgent in the minds of many fans of the show. I never bought that explanation because, as an actress, Kim Raver could've chosen to play those scenes in a calmer, more collected manner if she was inspired and talented enough to think outside the box.
My opinion on this is influenced by the anecdote Lauren Bacall shared in her memoirs where she related how director Howard Hawks instructed her to train her voice to speak in a low, deep manner so that, if he ever gave her a scene that was very emotional, she could still play it with a deep voice. Hawks' logic was that a whiny voice often reflects how a character has lost control of a situation. If Bacall could play an emotional scene with a deeper voice, then it would show how her character was still calm and collected, despite the turmoil she is experiencing, and that that would demonstrate the strength of the character. The purpose of this example is to illustrate how actors can approach how they perform a scene from a wide variety of perspectives. It was obvious while watching Season 4 that Kim Raver never read Bacall's memoir. If she did, she apparently learned nothing about the direction Hawks gave to Bacall in terms of how to modulate her speaking voice. Raver could have chosen not to play Audrey in such a sniveling, weepy manner and she simply did not do that. As such, Kim Raver must ultimately take the blame for the negative first impression she made as Audrey by choosing to play her from a such conventional perspective and for not finding ways to give the character more gravitas and authority by having her react to the crisis around her in a more mature manner.
There are people who felt her character had been "improved" when she returned in Season 5, but I felt that those were shallow and cosmetic changes. Even if she wasn't crying as much as she was the previous season, she still rarely demonstrated any genuine sense of character or depth. This was reflected in the scene in Season 5 where Audrey interrogates the working class woman Diane Huxley (Connie Britton), who Jack had been living with for months while incognito after having staged his death at the end of Season 4. I recall how Audrey was unable to set aside her emotions about Jack and ended up asking Diane intrusive and personal questions--not necessarily to understand what had happened to Jack while he was in hiding--but to find out whether Diane was having an affair with Jack. For someone who was supposed to be a DoD official, she demonstrated an utter lack of professionalism with the way she conducted that debriefing. Moreover, as Season 5 progressed, as in the previous season, there really wasn't a strong raison d'etre for Audrey to even be around CTU, much less the show, anymore. This is reflected in the fact that Audrey had dwindling amounts of screen time in the concluding episodes of both Seasons 4 and 5. If she was truly an important character, she wouldn't have been relegated to the sidelines in the climactic hours of both of those seasons, left with only a handful of lines of dialogue in each segment.
I guess what I really don't like about the Audrey Raines character was the manner in which she and Jack turned out to be bad news together. They may have been passionately in love, but they brought out the worst qualities in each others' personalities. While Audrey was a mass of simpering, narcissistic self-indulgence in the context of her relationship with Jack, Jack turned into an illogical, emotional, sentimental mess where she was concerned. Rather than inspiring Jack to rise to the occasion and be the best that he could be, her presence on the show made Jack selfish and self-involved at key moments, forgetting about the larger crisis at-hand and only concerned about whether he and Audrey would find happiness together. This was exemplified by the subplot in Season 5 where it was suggested that Audrey might be a treasonous turncoat agent. Rather than remaining objective about the situation, Jack's character went into a total meltdown in order to defend his lover against all suggestions she might be evil. His own interrogation of her was not so much to learn about her alleged treachery, but to find out whether she was having an affair with someone else during the year he was in hiding. I always applaud stories where characters are able to show their vulnerabilities and weaknesses despite their overwhelming strength, but these moments merely demonstrated the level of blind co-dependency that characterized this relationship. Teri, Kate, and Agent Walker never distracted Jack in such a destructive manner.
The careless narcissism of the Audrey character is exemplified by her mercifully brief Season 6 story arc where she has become a catatonic mess after being captured and held hostage by the Chinese. This occurred after she foolishly went over to China, without any assistance or backup, to try and negotiate Jack's release after he was captured by the Chinese at the end of Season 5. So self-involved is her character that she never considers the dangers she has put herself, and those around her, in by embarking on such a dangerous mission alone. Kim Raver's scenes in Season 6 demonstrate the extent to which both the show, and the Audrey character, had veered into camp territory. Her frightened, childlike mannerisms and reactions to everything around her seemed to be an exaggerated metaphor for the character as a whole. For the first time, I found myself amused by the character because of the bad writing and the absolutely terrible, dreadful acting on the part of Kim Raver that was involved in demonstrating Audrey's catatonia. It's amazing how as useless a character as Audrey continued to survive when more sympathetic and/or compelling characters such as Agent Walker, Michelle Dessler, President Palmer and even the turncoat Nina Meyers all met their maker. I still hoped that her character would be killed off that season--the last one to feature her so far--in order to rule out any risk of her ever returning to the "24" universe, but I guess Kim Raver has built up enough strong allies on that show that Audrey was allowed to survive at the end of that day.
Which brings us to the upcoming "24: Live Another Day." I really hope they resist their worst impulses and keep the Audrey character off of this miniseries. There are plenty of other characters in the history of "24," other than Audrey, who would make valuable contributions to the new storyline. (Carlos Bernard's Tony Almeida being one of them.) While I hesitate to even hope that they would ever bring Kate Warner back, I would welcome them bringing Renee Walker back from the dead so that the underrated Annie Wersching can reprise that wonderful character and Jack's life can be redeemed by finally pairing him off with a woman who is his true equal. The Audrey Raines character--and Kim Raver's uninspired, unsympathetic, and mediocre performance--demonstrate the worst aspects of "24" as a series, especially with regards to creating a weak, emotional, unprofessional, shallow, self-centered and narcissistic individual who simply reinforced negative and harmful stereotypes of the portrayal of women in the media. Kim Raver's dreadful and pathetic Audrey Raines ranks with Kristian Alfonso's Pilar Ortega in Seasons 8 and 9 of "Falcon Crest" as my least favorite TV characters of all time. Please, don't bring back Audrey Raines.