Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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TV OD: 24’s Murderer’s Row of That Guy Villains

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 10, 2009


Another benefit of my new DV-R acquisition is the fact that I’ve been able to keep up with Season 7 of 24, which after a hopelessly repetitive S6 and a supremely disappointing 24: Redemption (less Blood Diamond, more Commando, plz Jack) I would’ve never had the motivation to keep up with otherwise. With limited emotional or time investment, I’m able to continue to enjoy the show for what it is–a comfortable and occasionally exciting running through of some well-established motions. The only surprises that remain to be found on the show are who they choose to play the stream of antagonists Jack has to deal with hour to hour. 24 has basically become more overstuffed with villains every season, and by this season, we’re almost up to Batman Returns / Spiderman 3 levels of congestion–half a season still to go, and we’ve already had at least three climaxes, followed by the requisite “We’re not out of the woods yet…” caveat and an introduction of yet a deeper level of intrigue and danger.

This is, unquestionably, a good thing–or at least it will be as long as 24‘s producers really continue to work their Rolodex to make sure that even their roliest of role players are staffed by some of the nation’s elite forgotten stars, character actors and That Guys. Take the role of Janis, the FBI analyst. She basically does nothing but busybody herself and impede the progress of Jack and friends, a character who very easily could have been a forgettable nuisance. Playeed by forgettable nuisance Hall of Famer Janeane Garofalo, though, Janis has the weight of an entire career of mild irritation behind her, making it that much richer a character. Nowhere is this demonstrated more clearly in the villains that the show has trotted out thusfar. Take a look:

  • Tony Todd. Todd plays General Juma, the Sangalese (love those fictional countries) terrorist who breaks into the White House and holds the President and her staff hostage while planning on humiliating and then killing her. Due to his unique physicality (6’5″, weird-looking face) and strange charisma, Todd has been a mainstay of the Sci-Fi genre for some years, as sort of a slightly more credible Tiny Lister. Most peope will undoubtedly associate him with being the face of the Candyman franchise; for me, however, he’ll always be the foreboding and extremely unhelpful coroner in the Final Destination series. Oddly, Todd had already played a detective on the show about five years earlier–with actors of Todd’s caliber, sometimes a double dip is necessary.
  • Kurtwood Smith. Smith plays Senator Mayer, the figure at the head of the hearings for which Jack is called back to the States to undergo. Smith isn’t as much a traditional villain (like, say, Clarence Boddicker in RoboCop) but rather one of those infuriatingly stubborn and ignorant, albeit technically well-intentioned, assholes (like, say, Mr. Perry in Dead Poets Society). I’m not even sure what Smith’s beef with Bauer is–apparently he really doesn’t approve of torturing dudes, but his insistence on Jack’s persecution despite the fact that he’s basically saved the world about a half-dozen times that day alone could only really be explained by Jack somehow being responsible for his premature baldness. Then again, there’s no evidence out there that Smith knows how to do anything but playing dudes this needlessly disgruntled. Looks like in next week’s episode Jack takes him hostage–here’s hoping for some collateral damage.
  • Rhys Coiro. Coiro plays Sean Hillinger, the corrupt FBI agent who fucks with Jack and Tony’s efforts from the inside. Even though I knew that he was going to be in the season, I totally forgot that Coiro also played Billy Walsh while I was watching this–somehow, Entourage‘s mercurial auteur doesn’t feel the same with a suit and short hair. It should have been obvious, though, after one of the season’s most indelible moments, where after Janis blackmails him into giving her information by threatening to expose his affair with a co-worker to his wife, he snipes at her, “Youre a little bitch, you know that?” It was like Billy bickering with E and calling him “suit” all over again. Sean’s been exposed and arrested already, but I’m hoping we haven’t seen the last of him quite yet.
  • Bob Gunton. Gunton plays Ethan Kanin, the senior advisor to the President. OK, now Kanin hasn’t technically been confirmed as a villian yet, but after last week’s episode–where President Taylor snapped at him for offering his opinion, and then her daughter basically promised to ruin him for failing to prevent all the shit of that day from going down, it seems like only a matter of time before the tension there begins to bubble over. Besides, anyone who’s ever seen him as the warden in  The Shawshank Redemption knows the true evil that lurks inside Gunton–remember, he seemed like a pretty decent guy at first in that movie, too. Also, advisors on 24 are always incompetent, duplicitous or both, and he’s already gone behind the prez’s back at least once. I say minimum two episodes before he plots to have someone killed.
  • Rory Cochrane. Cochrane plays Greg Seaton, the assistant to Jonas Hodges, the super-evil-guy-behind-everything. It’s a nothing role so far, and Cochrane hasn’t exactly done too much to enliven it, but it’s always nice to see one of the 90s’ most underappreciated zeitgeist contributors find work. And as an unreserved adult now, too. Good for him.
  • Jon Voight. Voight plays Jonas Hodges, the super-evil-guy-behind-everything. OK, so the Oscar winning (and Oscar winner-spawning) actor has long since eclipsed That Guy status and should not be relegated as such. Still, Voight’s SEGBE portrayal caused me to go back and examine his career, and it truly stunned me to look at the run of supreme villainy this guy had in the late 90s. 1996: Double Agent Jim Phelps in Mission: Impossible. 1997: Ruthless hunter/killer Paul Sarone in Anaconda and sleazeball lawyer Leo Drummond in The Rainmaker. 1998: Murderous politician/conspirator Thomas Reynolds in Enemy of the State. 1999: Immoral and unfeeling HS Football Coach Bud Kilmer in Varsity Blues (an IITS-canonized villain, no less). I mean, is that a dynastic run of badness or what? He’s gotten away from it somewhat in recent years, even playing good-ish guys in The Manchurian Candidate and Transformers, but it’s great to see him back where he belongs–those cold, distant eyes just shouldn’t be promoting an agenda of positivity.

2 Responses to “TV OD: 24’s Murderer’s Row of That Guy Villains”

  1. Victor said

    I say Voight’s well into is second golden age of screen heavies. Over the last half decade he’s put in such memorable villain roles as: the evil villain in “Baby Geniuses II”, the main antagonist of “Karate Dog”, psedo-evil Hall of Fame college coach Adolf Rupp in “Glory Road”, and the no good, Bratz hating principal in “Bratz”.

  2. Anton said

    It’s always really unnatural and disturbing when he plays good guys, which in recent history I guess pretty much narrows it down to the Pope and Lara Croft’s dad. You’d think Angelina Jolie would be the last person to try and cast him as a good guy.

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