24/7: Reality TV With a Killer Twist
I hate reality shows. As I write this, "Survivor 3" is just starting up. I won't even watch a commercial for it. I did watch the first episode of something called "Love Cruise: The Maiden Voyage," or something like that, which involved putting eight men and eight women on a boat and having them pair up or down or whatever, with a man and woman being eliminated each week. They were all so obnoxious --- the most likable person on the boat was an attorney, so you can imagine what the rest of the crew was like --- that if I had been cap'n of this Good Ship Lollipop, the deck would have looked like the Marie Celeste before the first call of "Land, Ho!"
So it was with some trepidation that I approached 24/7 by Jim Brown. That's Jim Brown, with NBC, not the surly former Cleveland Browns fullback who is perennially accused of throwing women off of balconies, nor the pompadoured bandleader who by God and sonny Jesus is still the hardest working man in show business, but Jim Brown the newsman. And while I've never seen one of Brown's network appearances, from here on in I'll read anything with his name on the spine. He's that good.
Brown doesn't waste any time getting down to business. We're almost immediately introduced to Dana Kirsten, one of 12 contestants on 24/7, a new reality TV show. The premise of the show is "Survivor" all the way, with a group of participants marooned on the mysterious Vassa Island and having to face an assortment of challenges. The twist is that it is broadcast 24/7, with one of the contestants voted off by the viewing audience every three days. The prize for the remaining contestant is two million dollars and their heart's desire. Dana is a single mother whose daughter has muscular dystrophy; she is playing for her daughter and a possible cure for her condition. No problem figuring out who to root for, is there?
The game has barely started, however, before it is the subject of a high-tech hijacking by "Control," who immediately kills the camera crew and begins controlling the horizontal, the vertical, and the whole shooting match. Control changes the rules a bit --- when the audience votes a contestant off the island, Control offs them permanently. As the participants slowly come to understand that Control has an ally among them, they realize they can trust no one. Without hope of rescue, they can each only rely upon themselves.
24/7 requires a bit of suspension of disbelief --- what fiction doesn't? --- but you'll have so much fun with it that you won't notice the occasional stretch of credibility, and if you do notice it, you won't care. And Brown is absolutely freakin' brilliant as a plotmaster. I thought, smugly, that I had it all figured out, and I was so wrong, and Brown was so great at setting me up, that if there was any justice I'd be lying dead on Vassa Island --- or worse, trapped on the "Love Cruise" in a cabin with one of the contestants. Skip the television and read 24/7. It's better for you and a heck of a lot more fun.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 20, 2011