Two months after those towers in the Manhattan financial district came tumbling down, Fox premiered a new TV show that seemed to connect with the realities that sprang out of the terror attack. 24 portrayed a government agency called CTU (Counter Terrorist Unit) that fought terrorism; the most accomplished agent of the Los Angeles branch was Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland). 24 had a clever gimmick to offer – the full season played out in real time, portraying 24 hours in the life of Bauer and the other characters. Commercial breaks were preceded by a digital clock informing viewers where in the hour the action took place; every episode ended with a cliffhanger as the clock counted down the last three seconds.
The show began with Bauer being designated to protect U.S. Senator David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) in his presidential campaign; the first day of 24 was the primary in California where a U.S. mission in the Balkans came back to haunt both Palmer and Bauer, whose family became involved in the crisis. In season 2, Palmer had been elected President and Bauer tried to stop terrorists from detonating a bomb in Los Angeles. The following seasons played out over several years. Bauer fought a heroin addiction after infiltrating a Mexican drug cartel, then worked as a bodyguard for the Secretary of Defense (William Devane) and in season 5 had to come to grips with the fact that the new U.S. administration led by President Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin) was involved in an illegal high-level game where oil interests in Asia needed to be protected.
After being held prisoner in China and tortured for 20 months, Bauer was released in season 6 to fight another terrorist plot, only to end up in Africa (for a separate TV movie) and then being employed by U.S. authorities in seasons 7 and 8 to combat domestic foes (and the Russian President) – and always ending up in one or two conspiracies at the same time.
Cinematic quality to the action
Over the years, Jack Bauer became somewhat of a Rambo, a human being who was constantly subjected to inhumane conditions, torture and personal grief as people close to him were either killed or turned out to be traitors, but always prepared to fight a new enemy regardless of how much blood he shed. Sutherland rescued his career by taking the part, putting a lot of effort into this tough, clenched, unstable character. Throughout the series, Bauer remained someone willing to torture his enemies for information and co-creator Joel Surnow, a Republican, was often accused of having made a show that cooked up excuses for George W. Bush’s view of the world after 9/11. However, 24 weaved its plots with great care – the usual m.o. would be to let viewers believe that the culprit was some Muslim terrorist, but there would always be complications and the real villain usually turned out to be a rich, white guy with far more impressive connections than a paltry al-Qaeda sympathizer.
The show had a high price tag; the action had a cinematic quality to it. But the outstanding fifth season also had fascinating Bergman-esque scenes between the Nixonian President Logan and the First Lady (Jean Smart), elevating this smart show to a level rarely matched in television.
As the final episode of the eighth season ended, Jack was forced to go on the lam, once again betrayed by a corrupt presidency. As he bid a teary farewell to the only person he could trust, CTU analyst Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub), Jack prepared for a future in feature films… and we look forward to it.
24 2001-2010:U.S. Made for TV. 192 episodes. Color. Created by Joel Surnow, Robert Cochran. Theme: Sean Callery. Cast: Kiefer Sutherland (Jack Bauer), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe O’Brian, 03-10), Elisha Cuthbert (Kim Bauer), Carlos Bernard (01-05, 09), James Morrison (05-09), Dennis Haysbert (01-04), Kim Raver (04-07), D.B. Woodside (03-07), Reiko Aylesworth (02-05), Gregory Itzin (05-07, 10), Jayne Atkinson (05-07), Sarah Clarke (01-03), Penny Johnson Jerald (01-04), Jean Smart (05-07), William Devane (04-07), Cherry Jones (09-10), Annie Wersching (09-10), Leslie Hope (01-02), Sarah Wynter (02-03), Janeane Garofalo (09), Jon Voight (09), Peter MacNicol (07), Colm Feore (09), James Badge Dale (03-04), Freddie Prinze, Jr. (10), Jeffrey Nordling (09).
Emmys: Outstanding Drama Series 05-06; Directing 05-06; Writing 01-02; Actor (Sutherland) 05-06; Supporting Actress (Jones) 08-09. Golden Globes: Best Drama Series 04; Actor (Sutherland) 02.
Last word: “I think […] some people identified the show as somehow shilling for George Bush, which I think is absurd. We have the whole political spectrum both within our show and on the writing staff. This season and last we have stuff that pisses off people on the right. We had a corrupt president last year, racial profiling is an issue this year, and our take could have been written by a liberal. We mainly want to keep the audience off balance. It’s just a story, it has nothing to do with anything.” (Surnow in 2007, The Guardian)