Digital Polyphony

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A 24 Retrospective

Posted on May 25, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Retrospective: 24

With one of the biggest budget and most popular shows now calling it quits, and let's be honest it's probably time (though it will be missed), I thought I'd give a quick rundown of my thoughts about each season and take a look back at the fun, action thrill ride that was 24.

Note: Expect Spoilers

Season 1

Jack and The Presidential Candidate Assassination Plot

Certainly an intro season, that's for sure. The budget it noticeably smaller than what the series will eventually gain and many effects and sets are pretty generic looking. Yet, we are also introduced to the elements that would make 24 so successful: great characters and tension. It literally is a ticking clock in every episode of every seasons and rarely lets you take your breath.

This season is certainly the most personal when it comes to Jack Bauer's story. His wife and daughter are kidnapped and used as leverage against him to basically get him to do what the villain wants. This is also the season where we see Jack at his most normal, because big changes happen and he shifts dramatically through Season 5 to a more hard-edged and certainly angry individual. It ends with the cliffhanger of his wife being murdered, and that is something that is brought up in every season sense in some form.  It also introduces us to a couple of important characters. Tony Almeda, who stakes his claim for six solid seasons with the show, and Kim Bauer, Jack's daughter. Kim is primarily found in the first three seasons (as is Tony), but eventually becomes a guest star in later ones (if appears at all).

There's also David Palmer, a fantastic character who will be important for the next two seasons especially as president up to Season 5. Oh, and a surprising guest appearance by Dennis Hopper as the villain - every season of 24 has a really good villain at some point and though Hopper is only in it towards the end, he's pretty memorable.

Season One pretty much introduced the standards for what the series will become known for: main villains, main plots, sub plots that include moles and conspiracies to bring down CTU or other agencies and interpersonal drama with members of CTU (minor, but in every season ranging and usually involving romance and treason...a good combination for fun).

Season one was basic, sure, but gritty and realistic. There are a number of plot holes but it doesn't take away from the overall quality of the season.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Season 2

Jack and the Nuclear Bomb

When I think of 24, I think of this season. Jack, now estranged from his daughter and CTU, is called back in to fuck shit up (literally, that's why they need him). He is a very angry and violent person in this season, and this season itself is one of the more violent and gritty ones out of the whole series. It literally starts from Episode 1 and does not stop. Its pacing, writing, character development and everything else (notably the music as well) seems at the absolute top of its game.

I mean, there's not a whole lot to not like on this one. It's literally about as flawless of a television season as you can have. Sure, maybe some sub-plots could not have been so prominent (the various ones surrounding Palmer could get confusing) but overall, there's not a lot to not like here. I wish I had more to say, but the intensity and smart writing, hitting major twists and plot events perfectly, has this working fantastically.

I will say, though...the ending could have been a little stronger. You only realize this until Season 3, though, when the ending of Season 2 is glossed over and you realize how unimportant it is.  At the time, I bet it was big. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. They'd pull this again in Season 7.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Season 3

Jack and the Deadly Virus

While not as deep as it seems to want to be at the start, Season 3 does a great job really closing arcs (and they would be permanently closed in Season 4 in most respects). The virus story is a little strange, and sometimes confusing, but the show is really at the top of its game coming off the strong Season 2. It's a constant rush and full of tension with few lulls in between.

We are reintroduced to Jack - now a drug addict and fighting it. This could have been an interesting approach to his character, but it's really underplayed and probably not developed because in the grand scheme of nearly killing his partner and Kim a far larger role in things, it gets pushed to the back.  Speaking of his partner, the character of Chase, who Kim Bauer is involved with, stars annoying and whiny, but eventually redeems himself in the end. I still wasn't a huge fan of his, and thankfully the character of Curtis comes into Season 4 to replace him. This season also introduced us to Chloe, who I've never been a huge fan of yet at the same time realize the show needs a character like her. The villains were hit or miss, the cartel people starting things off and eventually unfolding the mystery of it all...but I honestly don't even recall who the main "bad guy" was and that's not good considering I just watched this Season during a marathon a few weeks ago. If anything, it works as a good continuation from Season 2 and wraps up some arcs nicely.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Season 4

Jack and the Nuclear Football (I'm sorry, the what?)

Season 4 saw a lot of changes and, truthfully, it starts out relatively slow intoroducing a fairly new CTU and new characters. It eventually grows and grows, especially when Tony Almeda is reintroduced into things and Palmer, despite no longer being president, comes into play. Soon you come to realize that the season build and builds into a really good one, though it can start a bit slow.

This is an interesting one because it introduced Audrey Raines, who would be relevant, even if not on screen, through Season 6. This really starts a new arc for Jack through her and is actually very, very well done.

The Villain is probably my favorite out of the series. He's relevant through a majority of the season, is incredibly smart, knows how to handle himself and has some great scenes with Jack and others seemingly one step behind him. Out of all the bad guys Jack and CTU face off against, this one felt like the most legitimate and on the same level as Jack himself. He's the most "James Bondy" villain, though, but I liked the focus this time on the villain and not the big "virus/bombs/" that usually dominates seasons. It shifts focus a lot, but the villain and Jack are the two central threads and the pace of it all is brilliant (Seasons 2, 3 and 4 easily showing 24 at its very best).

The ending seems as though it was going to be a goodbye to Jack Bauer as he, now assumed dead thanks to his friends staging it, walks off into the sunrise..a new day ahead of him. This is the best ending of all the seasons, I thought. It showed the trust he had in only a select few people and that he's friends with them outside CTU (a feeling we rarely get).

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Season 5

Jack and the Nerve Gas Canisters

Peter Weller, Robocop himself, is the villain as we get in to Season 5. Jack is "back from the dead" as he's called into action when the few people that new he was still alive are knocked off, or almost (Tony and Chloe survive, more on that later). The biggest shock is the death of President Palmer in the opening scene. The opening scene. That's how you knew this season wasn't going to mess around.

Unfortunately, it does kind of mess around. It isn't nearly as tense and tight as the other seasons and using the President as the villain feels a little cheap and forced, though there are some good moments with him and Gregory Itzin is pretty damn amazing in the role.  The season starts incredibly well, but eventually deteriorates as time goes on. I've always felt this season was more to set up the future seasons, a stepping stone if you will. It doesn't have the same sense of satisfaction and overall "fun" that 24 is known for. Probably the weakest season in my mind. It was just all over the place, and surprisingly really boring on more than one occasion despite Itzin's pressence and, naturally, Kiefer really doing a great job outsmarting just about everyone. You kind of half to watch it because it sets up characters for future seasons, otherwise I would say you could skip it entirely.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Season 6

Jack and the Suitcase Nukes

A popular season for a number of reasons: a really good supporting cast for one, including Powers Boothe, James Cromwell, Kal Penn, Peter MacNicol, Alexander Siddig, Henry Lennix, Bob Gunton Jean Smart, Regina King and Ricky Shroeder. Out of all the starts and guest stars, this was one of the stronger seasons and all really give a solid performance, even if they're only in a handful of episodes. Plus you saw the introduction of Chloe's boyfriend (he was actually introduced in the last season, but wasn't really a part of it) and the return of Milo from season 1 (now that's going back!) The new President Palmer is a shadow of his older brother, but he's solid - he just lacks something to really define himself this season.

This season is noted for a number of major twists too, all of which seemed to just rush in. You also saw Kim again, though again only briefly, and it really seemed the entire season was like a nostalgic trip (if only they had Tony). It kind of gets back to the nitty-gritty of things that was kind of lost in season 5. The whole Bauer-family angle is a little forced, but Cromwell makes it work. I also like the vulnerability of Jack in this season. They kind of touched on that element in Season 3 but never really revisited it, even in Season 5 where his returning from the dead and seeing his daughter again really just came across as a footnote and was undermined the minute CTU was attacked. Season 5 had a lot of loose threads like that - but like I said it felt like a stepping stone and Season 6 seems more refined.

But this season is biggest known for its biggest twist - a nuclear bomb going off in LA. Basically Jack screwed up and "ran out of time!" and controversy that, like most controversies, blows over in about a day. This season also had a very, very prominent middle-eastern villain, and he's is damn good. I mean, damn good. He already has a personal agenda against Jack, and how it all ties in is pretty interesting. Also, such a great ending here. Jack is literally at a loss, he is without direction, and it cuts to black knowing this. Nicely done.

The one major thing that bothered me in this season, though, is the unrealistic depiction of travel. 24 was able to slide by in the past as it always took place in California (or Mexico) and even though I know that getting everywhere in 15  minutes is pretty unrealistic, I can overlook that because maybe they had an escort or were going 90 mph or using helicopters. Sure, why not? In this season, though, you're asked to believe that people can travel from California to DC in only about three hours (less, I think actually). I just can't do that, even if it was  private jet with direct escorts to and from CTU and the White House. Just no way, and it really sticks out.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Season 7

Jack and the Toxic Biological Agent

Coming after the fantastic TV Movie, 24: Redemption (which I would give a solid 4/5), we are quickly brought up to speed to Jack's world as the series moves from California to Washington. There's no longer a CTU, but that doesn't stop the cast from returning including Tony Almeda. Look, Tony is probably my favorite character next to Jack, but the fact is the guy died and the BS way they explain his return is just laughable. I really have to give the show a knock down in scoring on that one, and I don't buy the ruses either.

Season Seven was always about someone else in charge. It rehashed its own plot line again and again. It's a pretty by the numbers story that keeps folding into itself with little new to the formula. Yet, it's also one of  the more interesting ones. A new setting makes for new things that can be done in terms of action and tension, Tony is a great character with a good motivation even I don't buy his sudden re-appearance and Cherry Jones as the new President is surprisingly very, very good. I mean, you really buy her as the leader of the free world, conflicted and still learning the way of a new president.

Renee Walker enters the season but though it's interesting to have Jack's "Partner" this time be female (all the others were male, if he had one), I don't think her character really goes anywhere until Season 8. It's a good set up though.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Season 8

Jack and the Assassin Conpiracy

I couldn't tell you who the hell the villain was in this one. Pretty underdeveloped plus it goes from person to person, faction to faction to where you aren't entirely sure who you should be routing against...but you certainly know who you should be routing for. Jack "fuckin" Bauer. Now here's a season that sees Jack at his strongest and then at his most vulnerable. All the bad things that have built up, from his wife to his past women to love to his friends dying left and right, have now boiled over and Jack officially flips the switch. He's no longer just under orders, he's on a personal vendetta. And the season, mostly, pulls this off really well. There are sub plots that utterly were annoying and confusing, and the season lacked focus, but it really started gaining its ground by the mid-way point and ended incredibly strong...probably one of the stronger final four or five episodes in the series, which sometimes end with a hush rather than a bang.

Just watching this you can see the the budget for this season is astounding. Shooting in New York is expensive enough, but the sets and "gadgets" that the newly reformed CTU uses aren't just the near future the series has always claimed, but feels almost a good twenty or thirty years in the future with Star Trek-like offices, real-time satellite feeds on every square inch and unmanned drones throughout the city flying and monitoring everything.

It lacks the familiar faces, but it shows it had some major balls in going out with a bang for the series. Jack rogue? Presidents and the country threatened by him? Him failing to achieve his assignment and the woman he loved being murdered in front of him? Well done final season, though and through, even if it took a few episodes to really get going. As for the final ending, it ended perfectly and with complete satisfaction, though it feels a bit forced and rushed. Still, it combined an emotional hit with a "thank you" to fans as Jack looks directly into the camera. So long, Mr. Bauer. You will be sorely missed.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

A Final Thought

So what show will emerge as the action/thriller in coming years? 24 was known for its big budget, and I doubt a network is going to take it to that level. I suppose Human Target is one, Nikita is coming up...but here's the thing:

Jack Bauer is easily one of the best television characters in history. You love him yet hate him, and he's fine with that. Kiefer Sutherland created such an icon, that there's really few other characters on TV right now that equal him. Maybe Draper from Mad Men? Dexter perhaps? Hard to say, but I don't know if either of those are as rooted into pop culture like Bauer managed to be. Hell, he has his own action figures:


That says it all.

24 will be missed, but the character even moreso. Will a movie series emerge? Possibly. 24: Redemption worked surprsingly well for a movie of the week, so it can happen. I just hope we aren't saying goodby to Jack Bauer for good either way.

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1 Comment

Reply toosmartforbond2
7:40 AM on August 7, 2010 
Steven Saunders, damn it!

The first three seasons, the "Nina Meyers" arc, were truly the great times for the show. After S4, it became essentially generic action to me, and they crammed too much unbelievable crap into each day.

Still, 24 was better than 90% of the rest of the garbage on TV, even at its worst. I enjoyed the ride, and I can't wait to do an 8-day marathon. Probably die before the end of it, staying awake that long. Maybe I should get some drugs.

I agree with most of your points, but I would rate the seasons drastically differently. My Netflix shows you the score, as I see it.