Saying Farewell to “24”

Spoiler warning – post and links may reveal information about current or past seasons of “24”

Fox announced Friday that they would be canceling their successful and long-running real-time drama, and one of my favorite shows, “24” after the end of the 8th season (Variety article here). There had been some previous speculation about this, but when the news became official, it hit me harder than I thought it would.

Although it had suffered in quality in recent years, like many long-running TV shows do, “24” has been a Monday night staple for me over the majority of this past decade. I have to admit, I didn’t start from the beginning, but I was hooked right when I started watching (I pulled double-duty, watching Season 2 live while catching up with Season 1 on DVD.) At first it was the real-time aspect of the show’s premise, but after awhile I was enthralled by this take-no-prisoners, do-whatever-is-necessary patriot and protagonist, Jack Bauer, and how he becomes this almost superhuman figure, continually tasked with saving America from the evil hands of foreign or even domestic terrorists.

A lot has been said about the series and it’s politics, including this recent New York Times article – For Fox’s ’24,’ Terror Fight and Series Near End, but despite it’s conservative leanings, and controversial stance on torture, I never was negatively influenced by its messages. One thing about watching a TV show is that you should know that it’s just that – a show. I viewed “24”‘s reality as an alternate one to ours, very similar, but I still never brought my own political views into my enjoyment of the show. And there are some big cases against the show being too conservative – the fact that they broke television history with the first African American President in David Palmer before this country even elected one. The only thing I have to say on the subject is that the format they created made it easy to always side with Jack, no matter how crazy or immoral his actions were. You always knew as the viewer, that his methods would work, and as he would often state, there was no other way of getting what they needed.

The format itself, even the revolutionary real-time episodes compiling 24 full hours in a day-in-the-life, did tire after some time (Another NY Times Article, before the official announcement – Television – ’24’ Was a Victim of Reliable Format). But as a loyal viewer, you’re made to accept and forgive the unrealistic concepts that the important things always occur on the hour, or 1 minute before the hour, national or global crises take exactly 24 hours to be resolved, and no characters ever eat, sleep or go to the bathroom. For me, I tend to have fun with the predictability of some of these issues – anticipating when the clock will appear on screen, signifying an impending commercial break, playing the “what time will it be when we return?” game, or the “which box will they zoom in to, when they show shots from the multiple storylines within each episode. There’s also the ever popular 24 Drinking Game, where viewers take a shot or drink whenever Jack yells “Damnit!” kills someone, explains that they’re running out of time, or when popular plot twists and devices are revealed.

Despite these popular jokes and criticisms I’m showcasing, I’ve always had a respect for the writers and the show itself. Sure they would occasionally lose their way, and throw Kim at some cougars, or give a character amnesia, but the bigger and more important plot points always made up for the lamer ones. One great example that they used throughout was when an important character died at the end of an episode, they would do the “silent clock,” where the seconds would still count down to the end of the hour, but they would leave the “boop…beep…boop…beep” sound out of it, as a somber tribute to another fallen soldier. My top moments from the show often involved that plot device – George Mason’s Kamakaze suicide mission to detonate the nuclear bomb in Season 2 comes to mind. That was always one of my favorite parts of the show – how you knew in the back of your head that no character is safe, except for Jack (and Kim after season 3). They also did a great job of bringing back old characters from previous seasons, and whether it was a big surprise (Tony saving Jack in Season 4) or a cop-out (Tony coming back from the dead in Season 7), they always tried their best to explain it and put it into the context of the season, and once you got into the flow of the day, the “why” became less relevant, and you’d focus on the “now.”

While I am sad to see the show end, I’m satisfied with the amount of time it’s been on the air and I’ve enjoyed it. 8 years is a long time in this day and age of television, and FOX certainly did its part to support the show throughout its run. It won an Emmy for season 5, which was a great season, as well as many other industry accolades and honors. It certainly has already cemented its place in television history just in its real-time format alone, but is important to television for so many more reasons than the fact that each episode is an hour in a 24-episode day. It succeeded as a political network drama/thriller that wasn’t a serial drama, and because of it, was one of those shows where you can’t jump in halfway through a season and understand what’s going on. It’s definitely a show that if you want to get into, you should start from the beginning (although in recent seasons that hasn’t been as big an issue as it would have been earlier on). Weirdly, their better seasons have been the odd numbered ones, but that’s purely coincidental. Despite it’s new-viewer-limiting premise, the show did well in the past 8 years, especially once Fox decided to broadcast it week-to-week without a hiatus, which allowed viewers to stay in the show’s grasp, as opposed to the very real potential of forgetting what was going on if there was an extended hiatus halfway through the season.

The cast has already expressed sadness, but mostly gratitude toward the show after the announcement. For many of the actors – especially Kiefer Sutherland, “24” was a major part of their careers, whether it be a revival like in his case, or a big break, like for Elisha Cuthbert (Kim), Mary Lynn Rasjkub (Chloe) and Annie Wersching (Renee). Similar to the actors who have appeared on “Lost” or “The Wire” (and some of those actors have also appeared on “24,”) we’ll be seeing them in something else, and refer to them as their character names (I still call Dennis Haysbert “President Palmer” when he’s appearing in Allstate commercials.)

The show may live on with a feature-length movie, that may break the real-time format to fit within two hours, but whatever happens at the end of this season, I hope it give us loyal viewers a strong and meaningful conclusion so we can be proud we rode with them these past 8 years. I have no idea what’s planned, but I trust the writers and producers to give the fans what they’re hoping for, and whatever it is, I’m sure the silent clock at the end will resonate with us for the rest of our real-time lives, and continue to hope that there is never a real need for Jack Bauer to save the day from real terrorists threatening to attack us.