Now that 24 is back on the air with their new “event” called “Live Another Day”, I’m reminded why 24 really sucked so bad the last time around. It wasn’t always that way, in fact, 24 was a damn good show for the first 4-5 seasons it was on the air. Then, it started to slide and eventually went into freefall and finally went off the air after 8 seasons. It’s come back since, once as a televised movie and once as this 12-episode event.
Unfortunately, it’s never recovered from it’s fall from grace, it keeps making the same mistakes that drove it off the air in the first place. Let’s look at the problems behind 24 and how to fix them.
The whole idea behind the first season of 24, for those who are new to the scene, was to follow a 24-hour day in “real time” of Jack Bauer, Director of the Los Angeles branch of the Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU). In the first season, when a plot to assassinate a Presidential candidate is revealed and Jack’s wife and daughter are kidnapped by the assassins, he has “the longest day in his life”, at least according to the opening narration. What followed was 24 episodes of political intrigue, action, adventure and angst. The show proudly proclaimed that the things that happened were “ripped from the headlines” and it attempted, at least loosely, to be as accurate as possible as far as the technology and practices of the law enforcement agencies involved. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but at least in the first couple of seasons, the show was pretty tightly focused and the amount of filler was kept to a general minimum.
However, as the show was a big hit for FOX and as it started getting a lot of media attention. I don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh but I caught a show where he had the creators of 24 on because he loved the show. The creators, over time, started making things bigger and better and louder and more exciting. This is not at all uncommon. Heck, look at action movie franchises, like superhero flicks, where sequels start having two, then three, then more villains, just to up the danger level. That’s what happened to 24. Jack, who by now was no longer Director of the CTU, had to keep getting more and more edgy. The stories were not only about enemies from without, but from within as well. In the first season, there had been a mole in the CTU, but after a couple of seasons, just about everyone was a traitor. Jack couldn’t trust anyone. If there could be a mole or a saboteur or a traitor stuck in any government agency, there was one. Maybe there was two. And Jack, not at all satisfied to follow the rules from the beginning, became outright anarchistic. He’d do anything whatsoever to get the job done, no matter who he had to kill, torture, abuse, etc. Jack became not just an anti-hero, but a downright villain. There’s no way that any government agency would ever deal with him and, by the end of the series, he was an out and out domestic terrorist.
The side stories in 24, even from the beginning, were pretty ridiculous but they got utterly absurd as time went on. I mean, it was bad enough in season 2 when Jack’s daughter went on the run after she rescued a young girl from her physically abusive father. Oh, and the new head of the CTU, George Mason, gets exposed to a lethal dose of radiation. And then, President Palmer finds he has traitors in his own cabinet. Why not, they’re everywhere else? This all gets in the way of Jack stopping the terrorists who are planning on exploding a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles. Move to season 5, where things got laughably bad, and you’ve got things like Jack’s girlfriend Audrey getting tortured by the Chinese, government conspiracies about nerve gas, guilt and alcoholism, etc. It got so bad, with all of these side stories, that most episodes were little more than filler. It was just stupid crap that they stuffed into episodes because they just didn’t have enough actual plot to fill up 24 hour-long episodes. As time went on, as writing the show became an ongoing activity instead of a passion, everything went straight downhill.
As time went on, 24 got more and more adolescent. It reflected immature macho views of law enforcement, that violating a person’s rights was a-ok if it got you the information you needed, that the end justified the means and good would always triumph over evil, even if “good” was ten times worse than “evil” ever was. It got cartoonish. The situations got absurd. And when you consider that all of these awful things just kept happening to Jack Bauer, it just left you shaking your head. Even the U.S. military, who started off being huge proponents of the series, started becoming concerned that 24 was negatively impacting how the public viewed the military. Jack Bauer was a monster, not only to the terrorists, not only to our own government, but to foreign governments as well. The series ends with Jack on the run from both the American and Russian governments. He’s pissed just about everyone off at one time or another.
Now they could have learned from their lessons, realized the downfall of 24 and done some tweaking for the new series, better yet, they could have done a full reboot and started over, but instead they decided to double down on the crap that ruined the show in the first place. Jack is still an animal. He’s still happy to torture, maim and kill anyone who gets in his way. This is still adolescent torture porn. Jack is older but he hasn’t mellowed any. Jack has information that someone is going to try to assassinate President Heller. Instead of going to Heller with the information, which granted, he is a declared terrorist, nobody would ever listen to him, he shoots innocent people, takes hostages, breaks into secure facilities, all in the name of saving the day. That’s really the same thing that has ruined the series but FOX never learns. They’ve been desperate to get back the high ratings that 24 once provided them, they’ve launched similar shows time and time again, like the execrable garbage heap, The Following, by doing everything wrong instead of trying to recapture the magic that the show once had when it was fresh and new.
Give it up, FOX, you’ve failed and you don’t even know that you’ve failed. Live Another Day isn’t any better than the seasons that spelled the doom of 24 because it’s doing the same things that killed the show’s ratings. The show worked in the shadow of 9/11 because people wanted to see the terrorists getting beat up week after week. That’s not the way the world works anymore. Jack Bauer, super-soldier, just doesn’t make any sense. I can’t imagine that he appeals to anyone outside of a tiny minority of hyper-right-wing survivalist types. I’m struggling to get through these 12 episodes because not only can I not identify with any of the characters, I absolutely would never want to encounter any of them. They’re all dicks. There isn’t a redeeming characteristic among them. In the real world, they’d all be in prison for treason and up before a firing squad. These aren’t heroes, these aren’t even morally ambiguous characters, these are out-and-out villains who are arguably villanous on the “right” side of the issue. Maybe. We should not be rooting for animals, even if they’re “our” animals. A good story doesn’t have to constantly ramp up the action, it survives on it’s own and 24 hasn’t had a good story in a very, very long time.
Please, let this show die and learn from it’s failure. Maybe then FOX might put something good on the air and have it stick around for a while.