After eight long years, 73 tortured terrorists, 327 snappy phone calls, 108 car crashes, 10 double agents, one very weary, ex-government agent is hanging up his gun; the TV show 24 is finally coming to an end. As you read this, Jack Bauer is working through his eighth and final season at the moment, striving to keep nuclear rods out of the greater New York City area while his colleagues crack on with the interpersonal relationships which famously pad out a season of 24.
Basically, it’s business as usual and I, for one, have been loathed to keep quiet about the banality of Jack’s formulaic day. It’s only now, with the show’s cancelation, that I’m actually feeling pangs of remorse. I’m going to miss Jack and his exploits. I’m going to miss the 24-episodes of suspense, clichés and stupid wooden characters. It’s like my loud but friendly neighbours are moving out or my postman is retiring.
I’m even going to miss the annual double-agent revealing phone call. You know the one, where the 24 production team put all the CTU and government agents’ names in a hat and pull one out. The winner gets a scene where they whip out their mobile phone, scowl and say ‘Everything is going to plan’, while the protagonist we’ve been following all season twiddles his moustache on the other end and says, ‘Excellent’.
This year it’s 24 newbie Dana Walsh, but no one did it better than Nina Myers, during Season 1. Even Tony Almeida couldn’t pull off being the secret baddy as well as Myers. Still, Almeida, Jack’s BFF, triple agenting the audience during Season 7 was as radical as 24 ever got. The production team never really tested the format they’d refined so well and every plot they came up with had been done before. On 24 itself.
Season 8 is no different to Season 5, 6 or 7, or 3 or 4, thinking about it. Or 2. It’s different to Season 1 only in that more happens in a day than ever before. All the innovation the show is famous for happened in the first year – big budget movie-level production values, strained characters, harsh but necessary torture scenes, CTU under threat, betrayal, etc. Season 2 introduced us to ludicrous and outlandish plot developments and Season 5 is where the whole thing peaked.
If only they’d pushed their own envelope, if only they’d pumped some fresh blood into their writing staff, maybe Season 8 of 24 would be the show’s half-way point. Maybe the show would continue to be a ground-breaking piece of high-octane television constantly evolving to keep audiences guessing, actors challenged and clichés buried. But that wasn’t to be.
Fox TV executives kept 24 as formulaic as a pre-Daniel Craig Bond film but only half as interesting. The character of Jack Bauer, a largely emotionless, blinking, plot-depending lynch-pin drove the stories forward, while the actual characters bumbled away around him. Don’t get me wrong, I love Kiefer Sutherland too. It’s just I love good TV more, and unless a good actor is going to play a good character, a show’s premise becomes the bigger draw – which is exactly what happened in 24. The opposite of this would be something like House.
Think of it this way; if 24 was called, say, ‘Bauer’, and the whole season took place over a few weeks, or even a year – like most procedural shows do – would it still be as exciting or as groundbreaking? No, is the answer you’re looking for. 24 was almost exclusively about this Jack Bauer chap, when it could have been about pretty much anything as long as it took place over 24 hours. The character of Jack offered nothing new, season upon season. You might have liked that, but it was really a waste of a good TV show.
Never again will one man have the balls to do whatever it takes to save lives week after week, cutting through the red tape like a hot knife through butter and then cutting up terrorists also like a hot knife through butter. The most predictable yet proactive man on TV is retiring for good. Well, for now, at least.