To celebrate the UK premiere of ‘24: Legacy’, here’s why I think ‘24’ is a TV show everyone should watch. The addiction has started again, and I’m halfway through Season 3 after starting Season 1 four days ago. I’m beginning to shout ‘TELL ME WHERE THE BOMB IS!’ randomly at people in the street. ‘24’ is a lot like fast food, in that it’s easy to consume, but one Big Mac meal deal will never do; you always want more…However it is the Burger King of the TV world, the fast food that will satiate your appetite but leave you wanting more at the same time…
Some people say that ‘24’ celebrates torture and validating George Bush’s desperate measures after 9/11. It could be seen as an apology for the Bush years, but like The West Wing is sometimes described as an apology for Clinton’s years of infidelity and privatisation. There are 67 scenes of torture just from Season 1 to Season 6. The US military apparently asked the producers of ‘24’ to tone down the torture scenes! In most of these scenes, the person usually breaks and reveals the location of the bomb/virus/etc. On the face of it, 24 seems like a thoroughly Republican show. It can be viewed as an account of how to combat the dangers that face us today. It tells us to fight fire with fire. If these terrorists are willing to massacre millions of innocent people, then why shouldn’t Jack Bauer torture one man to stop the massacre? It was one of the few TV series that questioned how we should deal with post 9/11 threats. Can we really rely on the ethics of the past if they don’t produce results? However, Jack is often the only one to never question using methods of torture for interrogation. Those around him are shocked by the measures he explores. He is always presented as the ‘outsider.’
This is where the subtle subversion enters. Consider the character of Jack Bauer. During the first season, he seems like the typical American hero, willing to do anything to save the Presidential candidate, David Palmer, AND his own wife and daughter. If Palmer is killed, then America will break down into civil war (Palmer is African-American). Jack will go to any lengths to save the President and his family. As the seasons go on, however, this willingness to do anything takes its toll on Jack. He can’t face people, his speech becomes quieter and his eyes seem withdrawn and vacant. He breaks down into tears at one point, reflecting on what he’s done to prevent millions of people dying. This man who risks his life for the world gets nothing in return. He loses almost everything, making sacrifices for the greater good.
‘24’ always asks ‘Is it worth protecting the greater good?’ It is a typical graduate level ethics question, but 24 teases out this question with panache. So, rather than a show advocating torture, it should be seen as a show condemning it. Jack is a poison to the people around him: those closest to him are killed, kidnapped, or become a clone of Jack Bauer. Chase Edmunds, Jack’s protégé in Season 3, becomes a mirror image of Jack, only to regret it in the end. In the Season 7, FBI Agent Renee Walker at first is repulsed by Jack’s methods, but slowly adapts them herself. Jack takes many precautions to ensure others don’t have to take on his methods. Core values are constantly questioned, unlike The West Wing, for example. The characters in that show make jokes about democracy, question their liberal values, etc. But it’s all a cunning deception. They thoroughly believe in their convictions. ‘24’s’ conservatism has the guts to question itself over and over again.
The action is second to none. No action film of the modern era can hope to match 24 for pure thrills and spills. ‘24’ has influenced recent action films. Look no further than the rejuvenated Bond series or the Bourne trilogy. The realistic action scenes make them brilliant. And it’s all thanks to ‘24’s’ take on the Hollywood action genre. It is the next step in the evolution of the ‘action’ genre. It harks back to the glory days of the 1980s, with films such as Rambo and Commando lighting up cinema screens with their ultra-violence and massive body counts. These super-human heroes took on entire armies single-handedly. The enemies were usually Communists.
‘Die Hard’ came long, which presented an ordinary man dealing with an extraordinary situation. He’s visibly injured (like the barefoot-across-the-floor scene). John McClane is a fallible, guy-next-door hero. He’s just a policeman. The action was more realistic than before, the plot grittier, the violence slightly toned down. The enemies were Communists. Nothing happened for 10 years until ‘The Matrix’ appeared and rejuvenated violence for the masses. The hero, Neo, was a nerd, who became an extraordinary man to deal with the biggest fear of today’s society: a totalitarian dictatorship. The film presented us with an enemy constructed from a medley of ‘1984’ and ‘Brave New World.’ It was polluted by the promise of freedom; people need to escape illusion and enter ‘reality’ (‘Wake Up,! ‘Rage Against The Machine’ scream over the credits). And that was it for action films. The once mind-blowing fight scenes have been replicated so much that they now seem tame and ludicrous. And the preschool philosophy encapsulated in them has become as plain as ham and eggs.
However, ‘24’ took on the mantle of the action film and looked back kindly on the 1980s (think of the slightly 1980s electro-tunes that run throughout the series). ‘The Matrix’ presented us with a unreal enemy, that of a dictatorship. Obviously, at the end of the 1990s, liberal capitalism had taken over the world, communism was dead, and nothing could stop democracy’s spread. 1990s action films had to create a false enemy. And that false enemy, in the instance of ‘The Matrix,’ was a dictatorship, the enemy of liberal democracy. Instead of the projected fear of totalitarianism that Neo fought, Jack fights the post 9/11 threats of terrorism. Now the spread of democracy is not so certain. There is no longer a bipolar or even a unipolar world: we live in a world where no one has absolute power. Jack seems like an ordinary man, like John McClane. However, you quickly find out that he worked for the U.S Army Delta Force and is an all-round tough guy. Villains refer to him as ‘the great Jack Bauer.’ And while he’s around, the body count is always high. It is essentially a reversal of the 1980’s. This seemingly ordinary guy is actually extraordinary, and deals with extraordinary circumstances. However, unlike the action heroes of the 1980s, Jack never finds himself in a position of happiness at the end of the day. John McClane ended ‘Die Hard’ with a chance of getting back with his wife. In ‘Commando,’ Matrix killed at least 300 people and saved his daughter. Jack always leaves the end of the day with less than he started with, and although the free world has been saved (for the present), he is left by the wayside.
The concept seems shaky at first, but after one episode you will be dying to see the next one. And this continues with every episode you watch. It’s hard to resist watching the next one, and the next one, and the next one. In the first two seasons, with the concept at its nascent stage, some of the plotlines get repetitive (anything to do with Kim Bauer, for example). You’ll be too intrigued with what’s going on elsewhere in the episode to care much for these flaws, though. The problems of repetitiveness largely die down during the third and fourth seasons, where the concept of 24 hours in fine-tuned to perfection. The major twist in season 3, about a quarter of the way through, is simply genius. As is usual with long-running TV series, the peak is around Season 3 or 4 (The X Files, West Wing, the modern Doctor Who, etc). All the problems have been ironed out, all the writers are comfortable with whatever they are writing, same with the directors, actors, and so on. However, a peak is always followed by a trough. From Season 6 onwards, it’s a case of diminishing returns. The twists and turns seem lamer, the characterisation more contrived, and because of the example set by season 4, the writers cram in as many threats and terrorists as possible. Convoluted is not the word. However, carry on with it; it’s still a thrilling adrenaline ride. The feeling is like you’ve eaten too much fast food. Every other bite becomes painful, but it’s still devilishly good.
‘24’ combines the best action scenes of recent times with ingenious plots, twists, and characterization. There’s no Lost-esque dragging out of twists here: a twist happens, and the plot moves on. They are often explained and resolved in an hour, leaving yet another shocking twist in its wake. Jack Bauer is the true hero of modern times. But the true tragedy of all of it is that he lives on, to save the day once more, whilst eradicating his enervated soul…Of course, a new hero will greet us in ’24: Legacy.” Bauer is nowhere to be seen. It probably won’t be as good as ‘24’ is its peak, but anything will be better than the dire ’24: Live Another Day.’ You could give that one a miss!
’24: Legacy’ starts on Wednesday, 15th February on Fox UK at 21:00 hours