Some of us would go just about anywhere for great trash. Not ordinary trash, which is painful to watch, but trash so transcendently bad it dazzles the room. Great trash unites aspirations of grandeur with ferocious banality in a bizarro realm where flaws are attributes and usual definitions of good and bad no longer apply.
Ordinary trash is the labor of hacks. Great trash is art.
Think Noah's Ark, a 1999 extravaganza on NBC preaching that Genesis was written by Borscht Belt comics, or Helen of Troy, a 2003 USA Network epic that launched a thousand clichés. Both were exquisitely trashy. And nearly as impressive last year was ABC's Judas, notable for the image of pretty boys Jesus and Judas roughhousing together in the forest.
As for series, ABC's Lost and Fox's The O.C. aren't quite bad enough to be good. Answering the call instead is 24, now boasting solid ratings in a third incandescently goofy season on Fox. Each hour triggers the next in a cycle of pandemonium testing the mettle of a high-tech government counterterrorist unit known as CTU. Although 24 fixates to the extreme on Islam-driven plots to destroy the U.S., its stunningly lunatic scripts—the sheer implausibility of its minute-to-minute bedlam and characters' robotic responses—are what make it so irresistible.
For example, if I were writing this column as 24 superhero Jack Bauer (the whispery action figure played by Kiefer Sutherland, right), it would look something like this:
7-8 a.m.: Begin column, fight off masked Ninja warriors.
8-9 a.m.: Framed for murder, escape police. Fall into manhole, break leg. Ignore pain, escape manhole.
9-10 a.m.: Column halted by mysterious worm attacking home computer. Repairman arrives. Turns out to be Middle Eastern terrorist. Abducts wife and cats. I have chest pains.
10-11 a.m.: Open-heart surgery goes well.
11 a.m.-12 noon: Recovery aborted when rearrested in hospital by police. Escape in drag, wearing uniform of nurse I beat senseless. Didn't like her accent. Write 200 words of column on laptop in car while pursuing terrorists with police on tail.
12-1 p.m.: Column vanishes from screen. Suspect rival magazine columnist who speaks broken English. Get concerned call on cell from editor. Turns out to be mole in cahoots with Middle Eastern terrorists. Dying to go to bathroom; no time.
1-2 p.m.: Save world single-handedly.
2-3 p.m.: Pass out from sleeping gas. Awaken in Middle East. Seize jet, pilot it back to U.S. Spot wife and cats with Middle Eastern terrorists at Starbucks. Run toward them. Fall over table and break arm. Terrorists flee. They take cats, leave wife. Not surprised.
3-4 p.m.: Arm heals. Reconstruct 400 words of vanished column. Words in Arabic. Baffled by this. Suspect Middle Eastern terrorists. Dying to go to bathroom; no time.
4-5 p.m.: Rearrested. Give police tongue-lashing; escape. Fall into another manhole. Bump into mother there. She asks why I never call. Suspect she's Middle Eastern terrorist. Stand on her head and escape to street.
5-6 p.m.: Called on cellphone by MCI telemarketer issuing threat: Switch carriers or will set off nuclear device. Wonder about his Middle Eastern accent. Arrange meeting. Torture him with electric shock. Learn he is AT&T double agent. About to disclose name of boss. Picked off by sniper.
6-7 p.m.: Major earthquake hinders pursuit of sniper. Suspect terrorists of Middle Eastern origin. Turn on CNN for earthquake coverage, instead get Larry King special “Who Killed Jon Benet?”
7-8 p.m.: Suffer cerebral hemorrhage. Ignore it and pitch in helping earthquake survivors. Write more of column on laptop. Boxer shorts riding up. Why?
8-9 p.m.: Bladder exploding.
9-10 p.m.: Kidnapped by neoconservatives. Tortured with electric shock. Freed when endorse private accounts for Social Security.
10-11 p.m.: Coldcock Middle Eastern terrorist trying to implant electromagnetic pulse in me where sun don't shine. Column vanishes from screen. Reappears in Farsi. Why?
11 p.m.-12 midnight: Save world single-handedly; really got to go.
12 midnight-1 a.m.: Have severe asthma attack. Inhaler transmitting signals to a mosque. Suspect the worst. Police rearrest me. Escape when police stop at Mr. Doughnut.
1-2 a.m.: Pounding in chest, breathing labored. Ignore it. Dig out elderly earthquake victims. Wonder about their foreign accents. Something fishy happening below. Boxer shorts transmitting signals to Middle East. Change to Jockeys. Called on cell and tongue- lashed by new editor who turns out to be mole for neoconservatives in cahoots with radical environmentalists moonlighting for a Colombian drug cartel paid by Middle Eastern terrorists. Tortured with electric shock. Freed when endorse Green Party. Secretly cross fingers.
2-3 a.m.: Suffer amnesia; can't remember column I'm writing. Bladder feels like Goodyear Blimp. Why? Suspect Middle Eastern terrorists. Memory returns when jolted by meltdown of nuclear reactor.
3-4 a.m.: Adelphia cable telemarketer calls cell. Why? Arrange meeting. Torture him, rip out fingernails. Admits he is Chechen rebel.
4-5 a.m.: Wife runs off with Ninja warrior. Cats call on cell. May be MCI moles.
5-6 a.m.: Type madly as deadline nears; complete column in thong underwear.
6-7 a.m.: Save world single-handedly; wet pants.