Pooling The Game

Well, the NCAA Tournament is over, and your annual foray into gambling with your officemates has ended — in abject failure, as usual.  You’re feeling a bit wistful about it.  In fact, you acknowledge, you don’t really care all that much about the money element of the office pool — it’s the social interaction, and the trash talking, and the possibility of getting bragging rights, that’s the real attraction.  It’s been fun following your brackets and talking to your friends about how you’re doing, and you’ll miss that.

hand-of-the-king-pin-replicaSo how about scratching that itch by getting together with your friends and combining the concepts of office NCAA pool, fantasy sports league, and everyone’s favorite big-budget quasi-medieval/sword-and-sorcery/dungeons-and-dragons HBO show?  Except, unlike the NCAA pool where you’re trying to pick winners of basketball games, in this pool you’re trying to select the characters who are most likely to get killed and earn your team valuable points.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to the Game of Thrones Death Pool.

It’s straightforward.  Identify fellow rabid fans of the show, figure out how many of your pals will be in the pool, and set a time for your draft.  Come up with a list of characters (there’s a lot of them, by the way).  Figure out what you’re going to kick into the kitty and how you’re going to allocate the money — whether it’s after each episode, or at the end of the season, or both.  Decide how many rounds the draft will go.  Prepare a grid that people can use to keep track of who’s drafted whom, and appoint a commissioner — being a Game of Thrones pool, perhaps Archmaester or High Septon is a better title — who will keep track of the scoring, provide a brief recap, and let players draft from the list of remaining (and new) characters to replenish their roster and replace the characters who’ve been killed.

And then get together with your friends, have your draft, and enjoy an adult beverage or three while you’re deciding whether Brienne of Tarth is more likely to get knocked off early in the season than, say, Varys or The Mountain.  There’s some strategy and skill involved, because even if you’re reasonably sure that a character is going to get rubbed out at some point — like, for example, Cersei — if you think they’ll last through the first few episodes you might want to hold off on drafting them in favor of a more minor character that could easily meet their maker in an earlier episode.

We had our Game of Thrones Death Pool draft last night, and it was a lot of fun.  We each are kicking in $45, points and money will be allocated after each episode and at the end of the season, and the ultimate winner will get an authentic knock-off Hand of the King pin purchased from Amazon.  There were five of us, and we had five rounds in the draft.  I drafted second and am pretty happy with my team, which consists of Melisandre, Qyburn, Baric Dondarrion, Yohn Royce, and Gilly.

Let the GOT Death Pool begin!

Wading Into A New Death Pool

Thomas Wolfe famously observed that “you can’t go home again.”  His saying seeks to convey the wistful notion that things that you once enjoyed, years ago, can never be fully recaptured and will never have the same magic again.

That may well be true — in the abstract.  But I’m guessing old Tom wasn’t a 24 fan.  If he was, he would have agreed that you should at least try to go home again — in the sense of giving a shot to a new series that seeks to recapture the most over-the-top, terrorist-frenzied, mole-addled, conspiracy within a conspiracy within a conspiracy TV show ever broadcast.

So when our group of 24 diehards heard there was going to be a 24 reboot called 24 Legacy we couldn’t resist the idea of resurrecting the 24 Death Pool.  Sure, it won’t have blood-soaked, torture-happy Jack Bauer at the helm — the new hero is a tough dude named Eric Carter — but we’re hoping it will have the same awesome, jaw-dropping body count, the same mayhem, the same blood and gore and maniacal focus on catching terrorists bent on destroying the country and ferreting out every scheming conspirator seeking to install a new regime even while everything happens within one no-bathroom-break 24-hour period!  (Whew!)

So tomorrow we’ll be having a beer at a local tavern, peering at the cast of characters and trying to decide who is most likely to get knocked off in the first episode, which airs immediately after the Super Bowl.  Will it be a security guard?  An innocent bystander?  A hardass CTI agent who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Who cares?  We say:  let the bloodbath begin!

The Death Pool Lives Again

In a few short minutes, the new season of 24 will begin.  We celebrated today by reviving the 24 Death Pool.

This year we decided to start the pool without watching even a single episode of the show, or even knowing anything about the characters.  We got the list of the characters from the wikipedia and imdb websites and know only their names.  We don’t have any idea whether those websites even know what they are talking about when it comes to characters.  But, because it’s 24, we know that deaths will occur — inevitably and in droves.  Along with mayhem, torture, conspiracies, moles, Jack Bauer screaming, evil and clueless Presidents, and the failure of American intelligence agencies to maintain a “hard perimeter.”

When you don’t know anything about the characters you are drafting as likely future corpses, you can only fall back on tried and true 24 plotlines.  It therefore is not surprising that the first three people drafted were identified as “Agent” X, Y and Z.  If 24 teaches us anything, it’s that otherwise nondescript “agents” are as likely to be promptly knocked off as the red-shirted security guys on the original Star Trek.  Because I drafted last, all the “agents” were gone when I made my selection — so I chose “Pete,” a member of a hacking group.  I’m speculating that we know his name only because another character yells “Pete, look out!” before a bomb goes off and “Pete” is blown to kingdom come.

I’m ready, baby!  Bring on the deaths!

5/5 24

One of the few notable things about the lopsided Super Bowl was the debut of the trailer for the new season of 24, which explodes onto the airwaves on May 5, 2014.

The new season of 24 will be set in London, where a fugitive Jack Bauer hooks up with Chloe O’Brian to try to foil another dastardly terrorist plot. From the all-too-brief brief trailer, we know two things we knew already: no mere explosion can have an impact on Jack Bauer, even if it knocks Chloe O’Brian senseless, and Jack will somehow be armed and ready to scream and fire off shots at any time and anywhere, even in England where private ownership of handguns is forbidden.

I’ve already sent around the email seeking to reinstitute the 24 Death Pool and have received enthusiastic responses. True fans of the show understand that, if CTU still exists, its agents will die by the score, harbor a mole, and be unable to establish a “hard perimeter,” that hapless Brits will be shot, poisoned, gassed, disemboweled, blown up, and tortured simply by virtue of being in the proximity of a whispering Jack Bauer, and that Jack is unlikely to stop for a pint of bitter or a trip to the loo during his frantic 24-hour quest to stop the terrorists. Bring it on!

The Return Of 24?

Could we soon see the return of Jack Bauer, Chloe, implausible coincidences, and the deaths of scores of nameless, faceless innocents?

Fox apparently is in talks with Kiefer Sutherland to bring back 24, the rock ’em, sock ’em, “real time” drama about superman Jack Bauer, super-helper Chloe O’Brian, soulful Tony Almeida, and the otherwise horribly inept counter-terrorism team at CTU.  They’ve fought foreign and domestic terrorists, dealt with gas attacks and nuclear blasts, and watched as co-workers were knocked off, exposed as moles, or shown to be craven blowhards.  They’ve experienced countless plot twists, broken every constitutional right afforded to American citizens, and applauded as Jack Bauer has used torture to wring confessions from appalling evildoers (including his brother).

Sutherland’s current series, Touch, was not renewed.  It was a show with an interesting premise, but this season it became a lot more like 24, as Sutherland’s character and his son and their allies fought an ultra-powerful corporation that was using human subjects to advance its evil corporate agenda.  So why not just bring back Jack Bauer in full, give him his PDA and his Jack Pack and his pistol, and let the death pool begin anew?

Jack Bauer vs. The World (And Charles Logan)

24 will soon run its course, and it is clear the the writers and producers want to end the series with a bang.  Recently we’ve seen one character dispatched with a gruesomely slit throat, and another got plugged after unwisely enjoying a few moments of passion with Jack Bauer.  So now Jack, once again, is on his own and battling the forces of evil pretty much unaided.  The only difference this season is that the faithful Chloe, who has been bizarrely elevated to head of CTU, may not have Jack’s back as he breaks the rules and flouts her orders while he exacts his bloody revenge.

As interesting as that plot development may be — and it holds great promise for all participants in this year’s 24 Death Pool, because we can only guess at the spectacular body counts Jack Bauer will rack up in his zealous quest for “justice” — the real pleasure of the most recent episodes has been the reappearance of former President Charles Logan.  You have to give great credit to Gregory Itzin, who plays Logan, because he has given birth to one of the great characters ever seen on TV.  Logan is evil, corrupt, smarmy, arrogant, devious, and craven, all at the same time.  When he is on the screen spinning his conspiratorial webs the sleaze just seems to pour out of him.  He is fascinating and riveting to watch, whether he is trying to wheedle the formerly upright President into taking her first step down the path to perdition or ranting that some flunky didn’t pay him the proper respect.

I expect that Jack Bauer will take out President Logan before this season is over.  I suppose that’s only right, but I hope it doesn’t happen for a while.  The machinations of watery-eyed and unctuous Charles Logan make an old favorite much, much better.

Rising On The Implausibility Meter

I’ve recently posted on the boring nature of this season of 24.  The producers and writers apparently have heard such complaints, because the show has taken an abrupt veer into the random violence, outright implausibiilty, and general weirdness to which the loyal viewers of the program have become accustomed.

Last night’s episode was a good example.  Consider:

*  Jack Bauer and three other CTU agents engaged in a machine-gun firefight with a group of terrorists at some deserted industrial facility on the shores of the East River, near Manhattan, at 4 a.m.  The din of gunfire continued for a good half hour, without any sign of police or, for that matter, concern by local residents whose sleep was interrupted by the local equivalent of World War III.  (Pitched gun battles apparently are so commonplace in the NYC area that they aren’t worth bothering about.)

*  Minutes after CTU’s computer systems were totally fried by the explosion of an electromagnetic pulse device, the redoubtable Chloe O’Brian pulled a gun on an NSA engineer in order to try her hastily developed plan to fix the systems by “tapping into the trunk line.”  Surprisingly, the NSA geek would not allow her to try her improvised approach after she scowled a few times and waved a piece of paper with a scrawled diagram at him.  After barricading herself in the room, only to have security break back in, she is permitted to try her plan, her jury-rigged fix works and gets the systems up in seconds, and by the end of the show she is back at her desk getting a pat on the back from her boss.

*  The first CTU mole — a 24 tradition — has been exposed to be agent Blondie.  After being a mere annoyance with her idiotic subplot about her ex-boyfriend and his criminal buddy, she strangles a hefty Arkansas probation officer who had been bugging her for information about the ex-boyfriend and rolls him into a man-sized ventilation duct conveniently located at floor level.  (With ventilation systems that sizable, CTU probably is not very “green.”)  She then makes a phone call to the lead terrorist to say that her cover has been blown.  No kidding!  Makes you wonder what the lead terrorist thought about Blondie’s lengthy absences during the first part of the terrorist operations, as she haplessly dealt with her ex-boyfriend before finally sinking the corpses of the ex-boyfriend and his buddy into a deserted pond.

*  Chloe’s 4 a.m. call is fielded by a wide-awake, fully clothed former FBI agent Renee (Freckles) Walker.  Walker is told that Jack Bauer is in some vaguely described area, immediately heads there, and arrives in time to use a handgun, from a distance of about 200 yards, to plug two terrorists who are getting ready to splatter Jack’s brains across a parking lot.

Sure, it’s implausible, but I’ll take implausible over boring any day.

Death Pool Blues

I hate to say it, but this year’s version of 24 is boring.  I never thought I would use that word to describe 24.  Wildly improbable?  Yes.  Outrageous?  Sure.  Ultraviolent?  Of course! One-dimensional, certainly; absurdly coincidental, absolutely.  But boring?  Never!

This season has changed that.  I have faithfully watched, hoping for some mindless action, maybe an unfortunate torture scene or two, a bit of snark from Chloe — and have consistently been disappointed, episode after episode.  Jack Bauer remains Jack Bauer; he is the indefatigable focus of the government’s efforts to stop some ill-defined terrorist plot even though he is not an official government agent and was stabbed a few hours ago by a crazed and abused FBI agent.  Other than Jack, however, the show has become pretty thin gruel.

The various plot lines this season have been even more silly than normal and the tension that used to characterize the show has been almost totally lacking.  The show’s writers need to understand that constant scenes of characters talking intently into cell phones simply aren’t very interesting.  The ridiculous plot line centered around the blonde CTU agent, her nefarious past, her ex-con ex-boyfriend, and now the parole officer trying to track him down has sapped all energy from the show.  (Although the parole officer, calling people at 2 a.m. as he drives through the night, trying to find the ex-con, may be the most dedicated civil servant ever depicted on TV.)  Every time an episode turns to that character as she trots around CTU, hissing into her phone, the interest level drops off the meter.  The storyline with the family woes of the president of Whocaresistan isn’t much better.

C’mon, 24 — you can do better than this.

Death Pool, 2010

Tonight we had the draft for the 2010 24 Death Pool.

After the normal pointless arguments about the rules — which are capable of being changed at any moment, and in fact were changed again tonight — we drafted our teams.  I drafted fourth of five, and I did no preparation for the draft.  I have no idea of the plot of this season, reviewed no spoilers or descriptions of the season, used the handout provided us by this year’s Commissionr, and operated only on the assumption that this season’s show will follow the broad conventions established during prior seasons of 24.

Who did I draft, and why?

1.  Ben Prady, described in our handout as “Dept. of Corrections officer looking for a parolee gone missing.”  This was an easy one.  Any non-CTU officer is likely to be wiped out, if only to provide an easy contrast with the studliness of Jack Bauer.  Do we honestly think a Department of Corrections guy is going to play a major role on 24?   In fact, in the 24-verse, when has any law enforcement person other than Jack Bauer displayed even a shred of competence?  Ben Prady is bound to go six feet under in the first episode, perhaps after we learn that he is a good guy with a family.


2.  John Mazoni, NYPD.  See above.   Plus, Mazoni is played by actor John Lombardozzi, who played “Herc” on The Wire.   I thought Herc was one of the best characters on a great TV show, and I just wanted him on my team. That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t want him to be rubbed out as quickly as possible.

3.  Mehran, described as “leader of Islamic opposition group.”  A good rule of thumb on 24 is that bad guys get killed at a ratio of about 2 to 1 to good guys.  Assuming Ben Prady and John Mazoni are good guys — which may be a stretch, given the conspiracies and moles always found on 24 — I feel like a needed a bad guy.  Mehran seems like a relatively minor character, and therefore capable of being bumped off in, say, the fourth hour of the “day” after initially establishing himself as a dangerous threat.

4.  Agent Owens, described as “CTU SWAT agent.”  We know that virtually every CTU agent except Jack Bauer, Chloe O’Brien, and Tony Almeida necessarily must get killed.  Agent Owens — that poor sap! — doesn’t even have a first name.  He therefore is obvious cannon fodder who probably will be knocked off the first time some terrorist group breaches CTU security, as must inevitably happen.

So, my initial roster is set.  The first two episodes are Sunday and Monday night.  Here’s hoping the members of my team go toes-up almost immediately.

The Death Pool Approacheth

I’ve written before about the 24 Death Pool we have at work. The new season of 24 will begin in about a month, and Fox has posted the trailer for the new season.  It’s set in New York City, it’s got Jack Bauer, and his daughter, and Chloe, and no doubt he will once more be reluctantly dragooned into saving his country through use of extreme methods that leave dozens dead and will be completely unappreciated by tight-assed, by-the-book politicians and federal agents.  What more do you need to know?

Ending With A Whimper

The last, two-hour episode of 24 aired last night, and with the episode the storied Death Pool also came to an end. I did pretty well — ending up tied for first — but it was a bit of a choke job, because I had a big lead that got frittered away as the characters on my team remained disgustingly healthy over the last few episodes. Unfortunately, the President’s daughter, the hardball political operative she consulted to find a contract killer for Jonas Hodges, and Kim Bauer and her husband all survived the last two hours of the day, too.

I thought 24 was decent this year, but it ended with a whimper, not a bang. It seems like the show has consciously tried to be a bit more sensitive. So, Jack Bauer, after being infected by some toxic gas, is comforted by an Imam. Agent Renee Walker (known to Death Pool participants as “Freckles”) decides to torture the ultimate bad guy, and we don’t even get to see it. The hardball political operative lets the President’s daughter live on, even though she is an obvious loose cannon who will spill her guts to the authorities at the first opportunity. Tony Almeida turns out to be both good and bad, sacrificing dozens of people’s lives for a chance at revenge on the ultimate guy who was responsible for the death of his wife and unborn son — and when he gets caught, he doesn’t even get the courtesy of a heroic death.

Part of the enormous appeal of 24, to me, is its promise (usually fulfilled) or unbridled mayhem. When a show like that gets reflective, it starts to lose its moorings. I don’t mind Jack Bauer having a crisis of conscience now and then, or even seeking solace from a Muslim cleric — but I want him to promptly follow that up with a few dead bodies.

Sinking in the Death Pool

Recently I wrote about the “24” Death Pool we have at the office, at https://webnerhouse.wordpress.com/2009/02/15/splashing-in-the-death-pool/.

At the time I wrote that post, I was flying high, with my team having just experienced the greatest single hour of destruction and devastation in the storied history of the Death Pool. I regret to report that, since that post, I have been totally shut out. My characters have remained disgustingly healthy and appallingly alive and, indeed have mysteriously survived situations fraught with deathly peril. In the meantime, the characters on other teams have been knocked off and stacked up like cordwood as “24” continues to depict the bloodiest carnage imaginable. Last night, when there was a massive explosion at the White House, a hostage was executed, a long-time character sacrificed his life to save the President, and countless African soldiers and their bloodthirsty leader, General Juma, were mowed down in a hail of gunfire, my characters remained sickeningly safe and sound. As a result, my lead has vanished, and I am now looking at a team with no obvious deaths on the horizon. Clearly, I have jinxed myself by writing about my strong early performance — just as surely as Jack Bauer will be framed and left unappreciated despite his stoic heroism and cast-iron bladder and bowels.

Splashing in the Death Pool

A few years ago, Russell recommended a TV show called “24.” I started watching it with him and was hooked almost immediately. It is an extraordinary show, filled with violence and implausibility. Each season tells the story of one 24-hour day, with each episode being one hour of the day, shown in “real time.” The hero, Jack Bauer, is never shown eating, or sleeping, or engaging in other bodily functions that are the bane of lesser mortals. He dispatches teams of terrorists with ease while at the same time uncovering governmental conspiracies and delivering to “moles” and assorted evildoers his own form of rough frontier justice. The show introduces characters and kills them at breakneck speed. Bad guys and innocents alike are seen for the first time, given a name, occasionally tortured for information, and then knocked off in an episode or two.

I discovered that four of my friends at work also watched the show and enjoyed the mindless violence. We decided to create a game called the “24 Death Pool.” It is a bit like a fantasy sports league. Each player drafts a team of 4 characters. Each week, we identify which of the individuals on our teams we believe will be the first character on any team to be killed in that week’s episode. If you correctly pick the first “deader” from among your team members, you get two points. If one of the characters on your team gets killed otherwise, you get another point. Points also are allocated for “plot twists” — although, to my recollection, no one has actually correctly predicted a plot twist. Whoever ends the season with the most points wins.

This sounds silly and bloodthirsty, and it is, but it makes watching the show more fun, and the freewheeling post-episode analysis and commentary by other participants in the Death Pool is even more enjoyable. A few weeks ago I was in Chicago on a Monday night and found myself in a hotel room, cheering wildly when three of the characters on my team were rubbed out in a single episode. Litvak was shot in the head, Samantha Roth was brutally stabbed, and Agent Gedge broke his neck after the First Gentleman — who had been crippled by a paralyzing drug — recovered sufficiently to push Gedge off a balcony. As a result, I’m in the lead this season, although the death rate on the show is such that there is no assurance that any lead is safe. And, we wouldn’t have it any other way.