(Caution – there be many a spoiler below)
A lot of articles have been written in the past week about the end of Lost and to a lesser extent 24. I have never watched an episode of Lost but I have watched every episode of 24. As Ian and Andy did an excellent job writing about the end of Lost, I thought that I would write about 24. I am not going to recap or give many thoughts on the final episode of 24. You can get that from many other places. I’m just going to talk about what 24 meant to me.
Little did I know on November 6, 2001 that I would be watching a show that would span 9 years, 8 seasons, and 194 hours in the life of Jack Bauer (192 series episodes, and the two hour TV-Movie 24: Redemption). Very few people make that kind of investment in life (unless marriage, which hopefully lasts longer than 194 hours). I can’t pinpoint why I wanted to watch 24. The fact is, I’m not a big TV fan, and I had never watched a series from beginning to end since its debut. But, I was intrigued by 24 because of all the hype surrounding it. I got caught up in the buzz when the show was pushed from its September 2001 debut to November because of a plane exploding in the debut episode. The real-time format was also something new to TV (for me), but not something I was really thrilled about as I had seen the Johnny Depp thriller Nick of Time and that film showed that the real-time format could be boring if done poorly. There was also the hype that this show would resurrect the career of Kiefer Sutherland. The buzz on the show was excellent, so I thought I’d see what it was all about.
On Tuesday November 6th at 9pm, 24 debut. Immediately, I loved the voice over narration that said “The following takes place between 12am and 1am on the day of the California Presidential Primary. Events occur in real time.” The episode was a solid start and we saw something that we did not get to see in future seasons – Jack Bauer as a family man. His life was not perfect, but it showed that he did live a domesticated life with his wife (Teri) and daughter (Kim). At least for a little while. His daughter ends up getting kidnapped, and there is an assassination attempt on the life of Senator David Palmer, who has a legitimate chance of becoming the first African-American President of the United States. Surprisingly, the first season of 24 did not have Muslims as villains (a controversy the show had to deal with in many of the later seasons, which ended up making the show record PSA’s to say that all Muslims are not bad people) and was about the behind-the-scenes organization that did not want Senator Palmer come to power.
24 was only green-lit for 13 episodes in its first season, and it did not take off in the ratings in its debut. The 13 episodes gave the writers a chance to end the show properly in case it was not renewed. For some reason, Fox listened to the critics who had supported the show and its cult fan base and gave 24 a full season extension. The extension was a little bit of a struggle, and I have read articles where the writers admitted that they used all their ideas too early in the season, and struggled to get to the finale of season 1 (low point – Teri Bauer’s amnesia). But what a finale it was. The mole inside CTU was Jack’s friend and former lover Nina Myers, and Nina ends up killing Jack’s wife, which for my money is the best season finale that I have ever seen.
The show was renewed for a second season, but I think 24 benefitted because of DVD. This is my own opinion, but once the DVD of Season 1 came out, people would watch many episodes in a row, and when the new audiences experienced 24, especially the way that Season 1 ended, they were hooked. Ratings steadily rose until its high in 2006 with Season 5. As the show rose in popularity, so too did the criticisms. People got mad about the way Muslims were depicted, people did not like the use of torture that Jack Bauer used to get answers, and people got mad because they said Jack never went to the bathroom or ate during the show. The writing at times got sloppy. Some of the same story angles were being used time and again (2 nuclear bombs were detonated on American soil in the show – one in Season 2, the other in Season 6), cell phones would only die at convenient times in the story, and audiences began to realize that the problem at the beginning of the season would not always turn out to be the major problem at the end of the season. Season 2 was the most infamous example of bad writing (or plotting) when Kim Bauer got stuck in an animal trap and was hunted by a cougar. I agree that some storylines were better than others, but what show doesn’t have that problem? The fact of the matter is that the show was entertaining. Every week, Jack Bauer would be thrown into a different situation, and he had to use his resourcefulness, training, cunning (and weapons) to get out of the situation. Jack was even clinically dead a couple of times during the series. It was escapist entertainment to be sure, but it was entertaining, and at the end of the day, as long as a story is told in an entertaining fashion, even if it’s one we’ve heard, read, or seen before, then the story is successful.
What was also interesting in the show is that any character could be killed off at anytime. This became expected as later seasons went on, but the amount of “main” characters that were introduced and killed off was unlike any other show on TV (Fans know that Jack Bauer is the only main character, with Chloe and Kim being the other constants). It makes it more interesting for the viewer when you don’t know what to expect. I have made some criticisms of the writing, but the show was strongest when it had a great villain. 24 had two great villains in Nina Myers from Season 1 and President Charles Logan in Season 5. What was so different about the two villains is that Nina was a well-liked character throughout most of the season, and she was not shown to be the villain until very late in Season 1, while President Logan was always a disliked character, but became truly hated midway through Season 5 when it became clear that he was responsible for the assassination of Former President David Palmer.
I mentioned that the show was strongest when it had great villains, and Season 1 got people into the show, while Season 5 was the 24’s commercial, creative, and critical peak as this was the Season that 24 won Best Drama at the Emmy Awards. 24 also did something remarkable starting with Season 4 in that it would launch the show in January and let it run uninterrupted until the end of the season. 24 was never a show that did things by the book. It did things to be innovative (storylines of having a black President and a woman President, and as mentioned above running the episodes in consecutive weeks without hiatus), and it took the format of real-time and made it into something unlike anything that had ever been done before. The show mirrored real-life (the torture debate is a great example of this when Guantanamo Bay was in the news), and entered pop culture in a way that most TV shows can only dream of. When people say Jack Bauer, most people know that he is from 24 and that he is willing to do what it takes, even if it means breaking some laws, for the greater good. Controversial – yes. Entertaining – absolutely.
I have never watched a season of the show on DVD. I may have PVR’d or recorded some episodes but when 24 was on, for 60 minutes I did not have a care in the world. I could sit back, and get transported into the world of CTU and watch Jack Bauer save humanity from all different sorts of threats. The finale of 24 was good, and left enough room for a possible film to continue the story; while at the same time giving enough closure to fans (at least I think so, even though the ending is a little reminiscent of Season 4). It was not a finale that will be remembered as being the best ever, but it did what it had to do. Like fans of Lost, when next season starts, the tv landscape won’t be the same. 24 was different and got me caring about television again. No longer did I think that network tv was where movie stars went to die. Kiefer Sutherland resurrected his career, and you were absolutely drawn to the character of Jack Bauer. I will miss his constant yelling of the word “Dammit”, how skilled he was with weapons, and how he could get out of almost any situation (sometimes with help, but don’t we all need a little help sometimes). I even read that Kiefer was so grateful to critics for keeping the show on the air in the first season, that he always was at the TV junkets for critics, when most stars write that out of their contract when they become big. Kiefer is just someone who you root for (even if he has had some negative press during the years), and he just embodies Jack Bauer. The actor was perfectly cast for the role.
Sadly, what I will miss most is the clock of 24. That sounds stupid, but when the clock started up each episode, my heart would race just a little, and my concentration level went up a notch, and at the end of each episode when the clock hit the top of the hour, most of the time you couldn’t wait for next week. 24 did not receive the same level of attention as Lost did this week, but that’s all right. I read that if Fox had really cared about 24 , they would have announced at the start of this season that it would be its last (like ABC did with Lost, letting viewers know when the end was coming seasons in advance). Both series will be remembered fondly for how they changed television. I can only saw what 24 did, and to sum up, I would like to say this – to everyone who was involved in making 24 possible, thank you. There never has been, and never will be a show quite like 24.