FOX's breakneck drama 24 has always thrived on the friction between the real and the implausible -- and never more so than in the program's second season, which ended this week. Split into the 24 hours that make up a really bad day in the life of former counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), the show has replaced last year's Serbian villains with U.S. and Middle Eastern terrorists planning to detonate a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles. The first season's plot to assassinate a presidential candidate has given way to talk of a retaliatory war in the Middle East and the erosion of domestic civil liberties.
If one's a nerd, growing up is supposed to be a good thing. One gets to finally leave behind those difficult teenage years: the crying jags, the freakish bodily changes, the days of writing bad poetry and brooding to the sounds of the Cure, Metallica and Sergei Prokofiev's "Violin Sonata No. 1 in f minor." One can also abandon that haunting sense of alienation, that feeling -- half self-loathing and half self-aggrandizement -- that no one can understand the misfit pain of being so different, so weird . . . and (one's unconscious whispers) so special. It can all be forgotten -- unless one is a Marvel Comics X-Man, a mutant whose strange and staggering powers are feared by the rest of society.
"Once there was an average Joe," begins Joe Millionaire -- an apt opening for a reality TV show that draws on fairy-tale conventions. But there's something darker than happily ever after in Fox's latest offering: What happens when the dream prince is nothing but a pauper, when a Cinderella tale collides with real-life lies?
The Cinderella story was never great: A girl pined for a prince who carried her goddamn shoe around because he couldn't remember what his true love looked like. But trust Fox's perversion of the Midas touch to turn even the fool's gold that is Cinderella to pure poop.
Perhaps Harvard University professor Samuel Huntington would like Trading Spaces.
After all, the home-decorating show's most dramatic moments are the "clash of civilizations" writ small -- battles between the chintzy tchotchkes and blandly pleasant decor of most American homes and the highfalutin excess of the show's designers.
The allure of a good party is nearly irresistible, especially when it costs less than $3 to join in the fun. Last week, a fistful of change bought two Big Macs -- buy one, get one for a penny -- during McDonald's 35th birthday celebration for its prize pig of a sandwich. I had never eaten a whole Big Mac before and I figured this special occasion would be a good time to finally take the plunge. So I enlisted the help of lion-hearted Prospect designer Aaron Morales, and we set off to do irreversible damage to our innards.