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Comic Con Day 2: Jack Bauer Goes Down to Fraggle Rock

After a little while in Ballroom 20, especially a little while without sustenance beyond the insipidly named Kawoosh purchased at the Cafe Diem, one starts to get a little punchy, especially when one is pretty much only there for panels situated at the end of the day that the cruel networks/Comic-Con schedulers are making you sit through other stuff for.

But that said, I had more fun with the 24 and Bones panels than I thought I would.

24 mostly showed up to promote the fact that, hey, it's eight seasons old, and you used to be obsessed with it, so why not pay attention again? Also, they wanted to show off that they've added the quiz show host from Slumdog Millionaire, Starbuck and Freddie Prinze, Jr. (most famous role: Freddie Prinze, Jr.) to the cast. This is not such a bad idea, honestly. Of course everyone loves Kiefer Sutherland, but this is a crowd particularly primed to welcome Katee Sackhoff in a form-fitting dress and a Freddie Prinze, Jr. who seems to have forgotten that his wife is beloved by 95% of Comic-Con attendees ("Oh yeah. She's big here," he said sheepishly when an offhand mention of her drew applause). Even though the panel marched through the usual questions about how Jack Bauer keeps going, it ended up being unusually forthcoming, as Sackhoff dropped hints about how her character changes from the first episode, when she's bright and bubbly and as Sutherland pretty much just abandoned the idea of talking around spoilers and went for it whole hog, revealing that the season will reveal around United Nations peace talks where the pivotal figures will be the president of the U.S. (the returning Cherry Jones). All involved talked about getting back to the realism of the first season, which is the sort of thing shows that have long since left the tracks say when they want to round up the old ratings gang for one last go of it, but everyone was just so happy to be there.

Well, that is until one of the questioners asked executive producer Howard Gordon whether or not 24 had suffered from not having significant female voices on its production team. Gordon hemmed and hawed for a while before finally saying some outrageously sexist thing about how none of the Rolling Stones were female, so he didn't see why any of the producers of 24 had to be either. Perhaps fittingly, Gordon didn't attend the 24 press room afterward, so fellow producer David Fury had to apologize for him (or so I'm told; I didn't actually get to go to the press room).

24 also showed a fair amount of footage from its new season. The first scene involved an old informant coming to Jack to tell him that he's got some new information, only for Jack to draw a gun on him and start shouting. Just like old times! Then, we cut to the new CTU, which looked like a cross between the Dollhouse set, the American Idol set and a mystical underground cavern ("So it looks like Fraggle Rock?" said my friend). There, Sackhoff's Dana met with her fiancee (Prinze) and condescended to Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub, also attending the panel) about how she'd catch up with her computer learnin' soon enough. Nobody condescends to Chloe and makes it out of a 24 season alive, so here's hoping Sackhoff is prepared for this. (Though considering she said on the panel that she told her manager to get her on 24, she's probably well aware.)

It was time for Bones after that, a panel I was planning on mostly zoning out to catch up on work, but damned if the irrepressible Emily Deschanel kept winning me over. David Boreanaz was stuck in Los Angeles with his wife, who is due to give birth to their second child any day now, so it was pretty much just Deschanel and creator Hart Hanson. Weirdly, Deschanel received the third-biggest ovation I heard all day, losing to Jim Parsons and Joss Whedon, but just barely edging out Edward James Olmos. The old maxim about women wanting to be her and men wanting to be with her probably applies.

The duo showed off a clips package featuring lots of gross and icky moments from season four (which suddenly made the show's continued presence at Comic-Con make a lot more sense) then sat back for some good-natured hectoring about how the season finale - a largely tangential dream sequence/Hart to Hart fan fiction riff that featured the two main characters as a married couple and everybody else as, like, bar owners and stuff. The finale was roundly pilliored, and while Hanson tried to insist the hardcore fans took the episode for the love letter to them that it was, we all knew the truth. There was also an extended discussion of how Deschanel's concern for animal rights issues colors some of the show's scripts, followed almost immediately with Hanson saying that in a future episode, the team was going to visit a chicken farm, complete with impeccably timed comic stare from Deschanel.

Most of the questioning, of course, centered on whether or not Deschanel's character and Boreanaz's character would sleep together, and when the audience was prompted to cheer for the two getting it on or the two keeping things platonic, both options received almost equal applause, which surely makes Hanson's job that much easier. All in all, it was a fun panel for a breezy show, and it ended up enlivening what could have been a dead stretch of the afternoon.

The whole day, a core of Ballroom 20 dwellers had been growing and growing and growing, as show after show after show pulled in more and more of them. A few stayed after Stargate, while even more stayed after BSG, while even more stayed after Big Bang and so on. But once it was about time for Joss Whedon to take the stage to air the purportedly lost episode of Dollhouse, the room began to gradually fill up (it was filling up already toward the end of the Bones panel), and when "Epitaph One" actually began, the room was completely full of rabid Whedonites, ready for whatever the guy had in store for him.

My full thoughts on "Epitaph One" are here, but it was a bold, ambitious piece of TV-craft, nothing less than Whedon trying to encapsulate everything he was trying to say earlier in the series in one episode designed to create an ever-mounting sense of dread. It's very hard to talk about "Epitaph One" without lapsing into spoilers (and the episode proper will get a review when the series is released on DVD), but it's unlike anything else I've seen on television in many a year. It was the perfect primer for the next panel, which featured 45 minutes of Whedon talking to his fans, series stars Eliza Dushku, Fran Kranz and Dichen Lachman at his side (and more on that here).

Whedon's always one of the best draws at an event like this, even if you don't quite like what he's selling. He's always funny, and he's always gracious to his fans. What I didn't expect was to see the guy so happy. He's usually beaten down by the world and the way things are going in his tortured relationship with Hollywood. But after receiving an unexpected second season of Dollhouse, after seeing Cabin in the Woods attract so much hype, after seeing Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog nominated for an Emmy, well ... the guy seemed downright peachy. It also helped that he sprinkled his talk with Dollhouse, season two spoilers, like the fact that the characters from "Epitaph One" will return in season two or the news that Alexis Denisof (he of Angel) has signed up for a recurring part.

After Whedon, it was time to wander down onto the show floor. After a full day of televiison panels, it was nice to remember what the show's roots were, though I didn't get nearly enough time to peruse Artist's Alley, so distracted was I by the vendors selling literally anything you could think of in geek culture. I'm sure someone's called it this before, but it was like a great nerd bazaar, and just being in the center of it was enough to nearly make the mind explode. I hope to get down and talk to some of the dealers and artists on Saturday or Sunday, just to figure out how they see the increasing Hollywoodization of the Con. Or, barring that, just to buy some rare issues of She-Hulk or something.

Tomorrow: More, sigh, TV, but Lost! Futurama! And a bunch of pilots!