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A Farewell to Jack Bauer

April 9th, 2010
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By now, you’ve all probably heard that this season will be the last for 24.

I was an enormous fan of 24 when it began.  I still remember, a few days after the premiere episode aired, my folks sitting me down and insisting that I check it out.  (Fortunately they had taped that first episode.)  I was blown away, and I remained gripped throughout that phenomenal first season.  The production values were extraordinary — it was like a mini-movie every week, filled with incredible action and nail-biting suspense.  I was also really taken by the “real-time” conceit of the show: that each of the twenty-four episodes of the season was one hour in the no-good, terrible, very bad day of beleaguered super-agent Jack Bauer.

I still hold the first two seasons of 24 as two of the finest seasons of television ever forged.  (The gutsy death of a main character in the season 1 finale remains a high-point for me, and it helped cement my love for this dark show.)  Sure, there are some weak spots in those first two years (mostly pertaining to the misadventures of Kim Bauer), but having watched those seasons through several times, over the years (bless you, DVD — let’s not forget that 24: Season 1 was one of the first-ever full-season DVD sets ever released), I think they hold up remarkably well.

Things began to go awry in season 3, when the writers decided to abandon all of the dangling story-lines left hanging by the cliffhanger end of season 2, and instead create an entirely new scenario, with Jack involved with drug-dealers in South America.  In hindsight, I respect the writers’ attempt to find a whole new paradigm for the show (something that, sadly, they’d never attempt again, much to the show’s long-term detriment), but at the time, Jack Bauer’s adventures in South America seemed like a big mis-step.  Things picked up in the second-half of the season, when suddenly the show became about stopping the release of deadly nerve gas in LA (the first but not the last of the show’s mid-season story-telling about-faces).  But looking back this signaled the end of the show’s ability to create a unified story for  each season that could sustain over the full 24 episodes.  It also signaled the unfortunate end of the writers’ interest in maintaining any semblance of plausibility to the “real-time” aspect of the show’s story-telling.

Though I kept watching, with each subsequent season I became more and more frustrated with 24.  It boggles my mind why the writers continued to re-use the same tired story-lines again and again and again.  How many moles in CTU could there possibly be??  How many ill-fated trips back to the dimly-lit server-room do we have to sit through??  Just what the hell was Chloe doing each time she “opened a socket,” anyways???  Each time the show cut away from the main story-line to delve into one of the side-characters’ ever-escalating ridiculous personal problems, a little bit of my love for the show chipped away.

Ultimately, this once ground-breaking series became a cartoonish caricature of its former self.  Which is why every episode of season 8 sits, unwatched, in my Tivo queue.  And there they will remain.  I’ve decided that I’m a much happier person NOT watching the show and banging my head in frustration.  Maybe I’ll tune in to the series finale, for old time’s sake, but that will be that.

However, I am intrigued by the idea that the show will return as a feature film.  I’ve been excited by that idea ever since they first started floating it, several years back.  I’d pay ten bucks to see Naked Mandy cavorting on the big screen — wouldn’t you??

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