Ten years ago tonight, the first episode of 24 aired. Having already been in the pipeline for months before the World Trade Center and Pentagon tragedies, this show wound up being incredibly relevant and played into the mindset of society at the time. As a society, we lived in fear of more attacks but we had a fictional hero in Jack Bauer who could prevent those attacks. In fact, I think the atmosphere of the time changed the show and the characters turning Jack Bauer into an even tougher force of nature delivering swift justice to the bad guys allowing us to live vicariously through him. He was smart, but it appears he is set up to be much more of a thinking man initially. Although, I could be reading more into that game of chess than I should.
The concept of the show was that the season would be twenty-four episodes long and each episode would show one hour of this particular day. The first season of the show is incredibly strong and with the exception of a couple of missteps, I would say it was a creative success and the best of the entire series. The beauty of the first season is the mundane. Because of the time constraints and the real-time aspect of the show, common things such as red lights could lead into incredibly tense scenes. The plot of the first season was also relatively simple in comparison to later seasons. This brought it down and made it more relatable. When this show originally aired, I remember saying that I wish it would have only gotten a season and just be a one-time experiment. I even flirted with the idea of not continuing on watching the show, but things were left hanging and I wanted to see more of Jack Bauer.
Season two wound up being another particularly strong season. But the stakes had to be raised and setting off a nuclear bomb on American soil seemed to be an upper crest of plot ideas that shouldn't be topped. I would have been fine with them bringing the story down in scope, but Hollywood never seems to share this idea with me. Instead, season three came along and made so many odd choices that I contemplated dropping the show. I stuck it out and it got better, but not resolving the President Palmer cliffhanger ending and turning Kim Bauer into a CTU agent never set well with me. Season four made an attempt to purge some old characters and introduce new ones all the while trying to again raise the stakes with a long series of terrorist actions over the course of one day. It has a rocky start, but eventually shows strength in a solid, season-long villain played by Arnold Vosloo.
For me, this marked the end of 24. Although I did continue on to watch season five, I found that season to be absurd and I gave it up after that. Season five begins by killing off two major characters and eventually appears to kill off a much beloved third. I wanted to like this season with the inclusion of Peter Weller as the villain, but new writers, including one from the just canceled Enterprise, killed the consistency and quality on this show. By this point, the real-time novelty seemed to have worn off for them and they were cheating that more and more instead of using it. They also couldn't get away from several tropes. CTU had to have a mole in every season, sometimes more than one mole. They also couldn't get away from having to include the president in the storyline. And there were several presidents throughout the series.* [See below for a big rant about the whole presidents thing.]
I can't speak to seasons 6-8 since I have not seen them. I do feel like I will watch them someday, but I'm not rushing out to do so.
There has been talk of a 24 movie. In fact, my understanding is that the show ended rather weakly leaving it open for Jack Bauer's return. That's a shame if that's the case. With eight seasons, the show deserved a solid ending. And the character of Jack Bauer may no longer have the relevance he once did now that Osama Bin Laden has been found and killed. If he were to return, he would need to find new cultural relevance, perhaps being a force that can unite a country that seems so divided and hateful towards one another. Jack Bauer inspired many common people on the show to fight for his cause. Perhaps he could once again inspire an audience to work together for a common good. Or perhaps it is best that he not move on from that period of time where we needed him the most.
*The president thing did get stupid. If I lived in the 24-iverse, I'd probably move to Canada. To highlight the absurdity of the show, I'll list out the nine presidents that the show had over eight seasons:
Season one does not show the president, but there was one presumably. There was reference made to another fictional president named Harry Barnes that would have been president after Reagan and before Palmer. It does not appear he was president during season one, but there is no confirmation on that to my knowledge.
In season two, Palmer has become president, but near the end of the season, James Prescott, Palmer's VP becomes president after a vote of no-confidence. This does not stick, but Prescott was acting-president for a short time.
In season three, Palmer is president in spite of an assassination attempt. Palmer decides not to run for a second term after his ex-wife is killed.
In season four, John Keeler is president but an attack on Air Force One renders him incapacitated. He never returns and it is my impression that he died, but I guess that was never confirmed. As a result, Charles Logan becomes president.
In season five, Logan is still president, but turns out to be one of the big bads in that season. He is arrested. Hal Gardner (comic book fan writer on the staff, I presume?) becomes president and finishes out the term.
In season six, Wayne Palmer, brother of David Palmer was president. He was assassinated and replaced by his VP, Noah Daniels.
In season seven, Allison Taylor was president and she remained president for all of seasons seven and eight. Although even during season seven, there was an attack attempted on the White House.
It is also interesting to note that the entire series takes place over 14 years or so due to the referenced gaps in time between seasons. So, in 14 years, at least one, if not two sitting presidents were assassinated, a presidential candidate had an attempt made on his life and was eventually assassinated after his time as president, a president was charged with major crimes, and an attack was made on the White House. And according to 24: The Game, there was an assassination attempt on Vice-President Prescott's life. I realize this is fiction, but it's just a bit much in my opinion.