Janeane Garofalo and Mary Lynn Rajskub Complement and Compete on ‘24’

In most offices, having even one sarcastic, socially artless computer expert is barely tolerable. But on “24,” the Fox action serial, the collision of two acerbic, tech-savvy employees played by Janeane Garofalo and Mary Lynn Rajskub is a welcome development for viewers.

Monday night’s episode of “24” features the pairing up of sorts between Chloe O’Brian (Ms. Rajskub), the computer hacker who has long helped guide the hero Jack Bauer through his life-or-death adventures, and Janis Gold (Ms. Garofalo), an F.B.I. agent deeply suspicious of her new office mate Chloe.

It is a rivalry meant to leaven the often-grim, high-pressure thriller with humor. And it’s an inside joke for Ms. Rajskub and Ms. Garofalo, longtime pals whose careers often intersect.

“It was just a weird mixture of my goofy buddy and then, like, ‘Oh, God, it’s Jack Bauer,’ ” Ms. Rajskub said of the pairing in a telephone interview. “It’s so intense that it’s kind of crazy.”

Chloe O'Brian and Janis Gold in 24 Season 7
Chloe O'Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and Janis Gold (Janeane Garofalo) in 24 Season 7

When Ms. Rajskub (pronounced RICE-cub), a comedian and actor, joined the counterterrorism team of “24” in its third season, her character was designed to provide support to Bauer by hacking computers and providing him with escape routes. She also offered assistance to viewers by delivering crucial exposition as well as comic relief, often as a result of her tendency to say exactly what’s on her mind, no matter the situation. (Introduced to the F.B.I.’s computer system in Monday’s episode, Chloe tells an agent, “Whoever set your network up that way didn’t know what they were doing.” The agent sheepishly responds, “I set our network up that way.”)

Howard Gordon, an executive producer of “24,” said: “Chloe was the slightly out-of-sync person who was strangely competent but lacked certain social cues. She had a really unique charm that could be set against the deadpan urgency of the show.”

The plan for Season 7, Mr. Gordon said, was to discredit Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) and his team, forcing them to work alongside their counterparts at the F.B.I. “It would be interesting to see someone who was like Mary Lynn in many ways, and who did the same thing as Chloe,” Mr. Gordon said. “What would happen if two competing and complementary characters were doing the same job?”

But when she was asked to join “24” in 2007, Ms. Garofalo, a former “West Wing” star and an unabashed liberal, had misgivings about the conservative politics of the series’s co-creator Joel Surnow as well as the show’s seemingly cavalier depictions of torture.

Nonetheless, Ms. Garofalo said in an interview, “being unemployed and being flattered that someone wanted to work with me outweighed my stance.” (Mr. Surnow left the show in 2008, though its trademark gunpoint interrogations have remained.)

Ms. Garofalo had an added incentive: she would be working with Ms. Rajskub, whom she has known from the standup comedy world for more than 15 years. The two often performed standup together (Ms. Garofalo said they shared equal billing; Ms. Rajskub said Ms. Garofalo was the headliner) and briefly overlapped on the HBO series “The Larry Sanders Show,” on which Ms. Rajskub became the fictional talk show’s talent booker when Ms. Garofalo’s character left that job.

At the time, Ms. Rajskub said, she was intimidated by Ms. Garofalo’s popularity and her performance style. “She’s very well read, very verbal, very outspoken,” Ms. Rajskub said. “I’m none of those things.” Her own comedy, she said, comes “from my insecurities, being uncomfortable and unsure what I’m going to say, and being swept along with things.”

On “24” that mixture of technical proficiency and social awkwardness has made Chloe one of the show’s most popular characters. (Ms. Rajskub resisted the idea that male viewers might be attracted to a computer geek with a willful attitude. “Are you asking me to dominate you?” she asked a reporter.)

When Ms. Garofalo joined the series, it was her turn to be Ms. Rajskub’s apprentice; Ms. Garofalo’s challenge, she said, was to create a character that was not only distinct from Chloe, but that would not be pigeonholed as one more irascible female sidekick.

She decided that Agent Gold would come from a place “where anxiety and irony collide,” she said. “She’s very self-aware. Whereas Mary Lynn doesn’t quite understand what impact she’s having on people.”

But their fateful face-off was delayed — along with the “24” season — for more than a year by the writers’ strike. During that time Ms. Rajskub learned she was pregnant; she gave birth in July to a son, Valentine. (“That was a surprise to everyone,” Ms. Garofalo said. “Probably her boyfriend most of all.”)

With the new season now under way, Ms. Rajskub and Ms. Garofalo said their alter egos would eventually develop a reluctant respect for each other as they search for a mole in the F.B.I.’s ranks.

“I don’t want to work with her,” Ms. Rajskub said of Ms. Garofalo’s character, “and I think everybody’s stupid and I’m better than everybody. You know, the usual, and I’m pretty much right.”

Playing ornery friends is not much of a stretch, Ms. Garofalo said; the real difficulty is pretending that the world’s fate rests in their hands.

“It’s hard to do dialogue like that, especially with someone you know in your social life, because the stakes are so ridiculous,” Ms. Garofalo said. “It’s very hard not to start laughing. Or I guess I should say, it’s very hard not to start laughing if you’re as immature as I am. ”

Source: NY Times