24: The New Season

JESSICA BADER: For its first five seasons, I was a loyal viewer of 24. From the very beginning, I was hooked on the concept, an entire season taking place in real time over the course of a single day, and my fascination with that stellar idea was enough for me to overlook many of the show’s flaws. The formulaic nature of each season’s main plot (after x hours, the putative bad guy is unmasked as a double agent or red herring of some sort, a CTU employee is either in cahoots with the real bad guys or on some secret undercover mission that the rest of the unit doesn’t know about or both, Jack Bauer defies death and saves the world while suffering some disappointment in his personal life, and every couple of seasons the 25th Amendment comes into play), the emphasis on, ahem, “advanced interrogation techniques” so at odds with my own views, the utter stupidity of just about any subplot involving Jack Bauer’s daughter Kim (especially the whole cougar/survivalist thing in season 2), all were forgiven as the “tick…tick…tick” brought us into and out of the commercial break. But even I have a limit to what I’ll put up with from my favorite TV shows, and 24, which had been losing my interest for a couple of years, lost me for good when it blew past that limit last season.

Early in season five, 24 killed off Tony Almeida and Michelle Dessler, two of my favorite characters. While 24 is primarily an action/suspense series, the evolution of Tony and Michelle’s relationship during the second, third, and fourth seasons added some emotional heft to the show, and through all of the ups and downs they faced I couldn’t help but root for them and care about what happened to them. 24 has never been shy about killing off major characters (Season 1 finale, anyone?), but the car bomb that took out Michelle and the injection that seemed to spell the end of Tony a few hours later still threw me for a loop.

Season six was when I really started to drift away from 24. I was a junior in college at the time and taking an evening class that made it impossible for me to be back at my dorm in time to watch the show. Rather than attempt to program my VCR and find some other time to watch, I found myself skimming through online recaps the next day and not being all that upset that I hadn’t actually seen what I was reading about. Thanks to the writers’ strike, it would be two years before season seven would air, but I never had any intention of watching it.

When I read that one of the major plot points for season seven would be that Tony hadn’t actually died in season five and would be one of the bad guys now, I was furious. Killing off a beloved character was bad enough, but bringing him back from the dead a few years later to serve as the evildoer du jour just reeked of creative bankruptcy.

While I greatly enjoyed the first few seasons of 24, I’m disappointed by what the show has become and I can’t bring myself to watch it anymore. There comes a point where a great concept is no longer enough to keep me as a viewer, and that’s a point that 24 reached a few years ago.

AKIE BERMISS: I agree with Jessica’s argument in nearly every way — except one.  And that is — I continue to watch.  And I love it.  Part of the reason I am still so enamored of 24 is that I came to the game pretty late.  The show began to air my freshman year of college when I was about to embark on a full five years without regular access to broadcast television.  I didn’t watch the first season of 24 until the summer of 2006, when I moved back to the city.  And I watched it on DVD — and I was hooked.

There is something so incredibly satisfying about watching five or six straight episodes back-to-back.  Say what you will about Kiefer Sutherland and his attempts to play such a tough-guy role — he holds the show down.  I think most sensible fans have one or two favorites that make the show a real pleasure (be that Tony Almeida and Michelle Dessler or David Palmer and Aaron Pierce — you know what I’m talking about), but respect that Jack Bauer is what brings us all together.  Of course, like any good serial show, 24 makes use of various celebrities as villains, super-villains, and turncoats — its always nice to see someone like James Cromwell playing the super-duper bad-guy… but also, Jack Bauer’s dad!

But as I was saying, like Jessica I found the unmitigated character-killing at the beginning of season five very off-putting.  Not only did we lose Tony and Michelle, former president David Palmer was shot through the throat and killed early on.  All these things, we find, were precipitated by Jack’s evil brother.  Still season five was a big flop for me.  And season six was even worse.  They killed off all the interesting bad guys to early, tried to bring back some atrocious love-story that no one cared about.  It was pretty bad stuff.  Though in season six, we discover that Jack’s brother AND his father are responsible for the events in season five and six.  Still it didn’t make up for the poor writing and craptastic characters.  I think the writers will always regret killing off so many great characters in order to get season five started.  It was overkill and it took a long time to come back from that.

I suppose I should have given up after that.  But when season seven started airing, I couldn’t help myself.  It was in DC this time, not LA.  And it involved a woman president.  And Jack was under investigation for his “intense interrogation techniques” and there was no CTU anymore.  How could I resist?  I had to know what would happen.  And sure enough: Tony was back.

Ok, let me be clear: I do not condone the return of characters who are supposed to be dead — unless they are supremely evil.  Supremely evil people can come back as much as they want.  Them and Jack — never will they perish.  Bringing back a good guy?  That’s just too much.  Good guys don’t come back.  And to make matters worse, the brought back Tony as a bad guy.  How did they do it? Goatee.  Man — that’s some uncreative crap right there!  It took me three or four episodes to get over that.

But when I did, it was TOTALLY worth it.  Season seven turned out to be one of the best seasons since maybe the third or fourth.  The other characters were written pretty strongly, the amount of destruction was just below too much, the number of people we cared about who died was just right, and the plot was over the top (of course) but not utterly laughable.  Jack faced his demons, CTU was exonerated, and Jack turned a by-the-book skeptical FBI agent into lean, mean torturing machine.

Oh — and then he fell into a coma or something.

So season 8 is in New York City.  They’re bringing back Cherry Jones as the first woman president, Chloe O’brien continues to cut ‘em up at CTU, Katee Sackhoff and Freddie Prinze Jr. are guest starring as the next generation of CTU personnel, and so far its been a smash.  The FBI agent Jack corrupted last season returns all haunted and suicidal as she goes under-cover and within seconds has cut-off some poor guys thumb (not unlike a move Jack pulled seasons earlier when he had to get back under-cover so he shot a prisoner and removed his head).  Its in New York so already we’ve been in Queens and on the BQE and at the United Nations.  Nothing has happened on the subway yet — but I have high hopes.

And, as it turns out, this may be the last season of 24.  It was supposed to be, any way.  Though my quick internet research has alerted me to the fact that FOX and Kiefer are in talks about possibly doing a 9th, I wouldn’t be upset if it all came to a close here.  In New York.  Maybe, they follow it up with a movie.  Maybe not.  But 24 has been a wonderful little piece of the first decade of the 21st century.  A show that started in 2001 and is still playing is 2010.  About terrorism and badassery and real-time action.  Fifty years from now, I suspect 24 will have had a strong impact on the espionage/action shows that are going to succeed it.

And let it be stated that Kiefer Sutherland held it down.  He jumped the shark over and over and over again.  But at the end of the day (literally) — he held it down.  And for that, regardless of the highs and lows over the years: we salute you, Kiefer.

We salute you.

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