“Right now, terrorists are planning to assassinate a presidential candidate. My wife and daughter have been kidnapped… and people that I work with may be involved in both. I’m Federal Agent Jack Bauer, and this is the longest day of my life.” ~ Jack Bauer
That line of dialogue initiated every episode of the first season of 24. Little did series hero Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) know, there would be seven more ‘longest days of his life’. Those next seven seasons would not have happened had the first not been a tremendous success, but how does that first season hold-up twelve years later. The answer, sadly, is not so well.
I thought it would be fun to start a new little segment on this blog that takes a retrospective look at some of the old pieces of media we once held so dear. With Netflix making so much of those movies and television shows available with ease, I hope to do these on a semi-regular schedule. It should be obvious that such a segment will contain significant spoilers so readers beware.
So lets start with 24, the quote-unquote real-time television drama that explored a day in the life of Counter-Terrorism Unit Agent Jack Bauer as he attempts to rescue his family and stop a terrorist threat against the life of a presidential hopeful, Senator David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert).
- David Palmer – Dennis Haysbert is the man in this show. He is the pillar of responsibility, and he represents everything that we want in our politicians. Sadly, the supporting characters in his story-line do not warrant the same level of respect. Much of Palmer’s arc in the first season has to do with his constantly untrustworthy wife, as she attempts to manipulate him both emotionally and psychologically. However, his interactions with Jack as they try to problem solve who wants him dead are some of the strongest aspects of this season.
- Jack Bauer when he is not interacting with anyone in his family – The calculated behaviour of Jack Bauer, super-agent, is thrilling. He is constantly working against the authorities, running from the law, and just doing what he thinks is right, no matter what his superiors throw against him. At one point near the end of the season, he receives false information that his daughter is dead. Believing it, he goes 100% Charles Bronson on every bad guy in his proximity, running over a few in a truck and gunning down everyone who is left. This is the Jack that we all came to watch every week.
- Finding out main antagonist Victor Drazen is played by Dennis Hopper – Any chance to see Dennis Hopper is amazing. Full-stop!
- Finding out Dennis Hopper can’t do accents – Hopper’s Drazen is a Serbian war criminal. Dennis Hopper tried his best to pull off an eastern-European accent, but my god is it bad. Kevin Costner knew not to attempt a phony British accent when he played Robin Hood and Hopper should have followed suit. He is menacing throughout, and you are convinced of his evil, but his accent cannot help but pull you out and make you realize that you are watching a television show, nothing more.
- The lead-up to the twist – Throughout the season you are being told that there is/are a mole/moles in CTU, and throughout the season they do everything they can to guide your suspicions towards certain individuals. The heavy-handedness they exercise in trying to convince you that the mole is temporary CTU head of operations George Mason (Xander Berkeley) could not be any more forced. This is especially true when throughout the season, it is so obvious who the corrupt force in CTU is.
- The twist – The great reveal in the penultimate episode comes in the form of a phone call from CTU agent Nina Meyers (Sarah Clarke) to Victor Drazen warning him of an impending trap. Nina is so obviously the mole from the point she leaves Jack’s wife and daughter at a safe house 15 minutes before it is attacked by a hit squad that leaves every other agent there with a bad case of lead poisoning. But we are continuously directed elsewhere, the show telling us to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
- Senator Palmer’s Family – As I said earlier, David Palmer is the stand-out of the show, that is when he is given the material to show off his absolute bad-assness. Sadly 60% of his plot involves rumors of his son killing the man who raped his daughter, his wife hiding that fact from him, and a group of mysterious business men who want to keep him in line. The worst offender in terms of ruining Palmer’s screen time is his wife, Sherry (Penny Johnson). I suppose we are meant to hate her character, and in this regard the writers succeed. If there is one thing I cannot stand in a fictional character, it is when they have not even a single redeemable item that defines their character. Sherry is 100% horrible. You don’t ever think that she is meant for anything more than to be the object of audience frustration, a kink in Palmer’s armor, a source of constant trouble. In the end, David finally says goodbye to Sherry and you yelp with joy. But this is a marriage ending, it should mean more than it does. Instead, it is like getting to finally scratch your leg after having to suffer 3 months with a cast.
- Jack’s Daughter Kim and Every Decision She Makes!!! – Kim (Elisha Cuthbert) is a disgusting character. She exists to pad out the plot as she makes dumb decision after dumb decision. Okay, that is not her only reason to be on the show. The other is to parade her around in low cut tops and have her bend over every opportunity she gets. She falls in love with her kidnapper, an obviously handsome troubled poor disadvantaged young man, seeing the good inside him, locked away behind his dreamy eyes, which leads to one of the worst periods of the season where she sits in his shanty of a home and tries to convince him that he needs to help her find her mom. “You are better than this” she repeats over and over and over again. It is exhausting to watch and almost had me giving up 15 episodes in, and yet it is not even close to the worst offense committed by 24 Season 1.
- Jack’s Wife Teri (Leslie Hope), and EVERYTHING ABOUT HER IN EVERY WAY!!! – If Kim is repulsive in her existence, Teri is a cancer. Thank god she dies because if she was in the following seasons, I don’t think I could have made it. She has extreme circumstances thrusted upon her, I realize. But the way she wanders the halls of CTU demanding everyone stop and pay attention to her is inexcusable. And the worst WORST WORST plot point of the season occurs when she faints and wakes up with no memory of who she is and what is going on. Amnesia is one of the laziest plot devices a writer can exercise. It is a soap opera plot device, and in a show that wants to be taken seriously, it has absolutely no place. Watching Teri flail around wondering who am I for what had to be 3 episodes only to then take a bump and have it all come back is telling that the writers had nothing for her and needed something to pad out the season.
In summary, 24 has some moments that make it near unwatchable, which is a real shame because when it is good, it is really good. Jack Bauer is a great character and David Palmer is pure awesome. But Sherry, Teri and Kim are so incredibly awful and occupy so much screen time that I would recommend against anyone going back and watching this show. The writing, for lack of a better word, is just dumb for about 70% of the season. Perhaps I am jaded because the writing in television has gotten significantly better since 2001. But when you watch a show like Showtime’s Homeland, where the threat of terrorism is treated with stoic sincerity and respect for its subject matter, it is hard to watch a show that is inundated with cliche and mal-serving plot devices.