Jack Bauer is probably about the same age as me, maybe a bit younger, but his days are consistently more action-packed than mine.
Bauer, played by the admirable differently-talented Kiefer Sutherland, is the hero of 24, an action series that has just embarked on its eighth series. Now, I flipping love 24 I do. The first series was one of the most exciting things I’d seen on TV when it launched in 2001. It was a multi-stranded thriller whose gimmick was that it played out in “real time”. An hour of the characters’ lives passed as you spent watching the hour on television.
It wasn’t an entirely novel concept. The 1995 movie Nick Of Time with Johnny Depp and Christopher Walken did the same thing. But 24 did it, and really continues to do it, with laudable elan. After the first episode I remember ringing a friend and saying “Did you see that?” which I don’t think I have done before or since with any telly.
After a while the shortcomings of the format became a bit obvious. The plane which blew up over Los Angeles at one o’clock in the morning in the first series was barely mentioned again. There was a big thing after the programme had been running for six weeks (or 6 hours in the characters’ lives) where the sun came up and you saw your first bit of daylight in the programme. But attentive viewers might have wondered why the TV news channels which were featured so heavily seemed to have entirely forgotten about the plane crash that had happened only a few hours earlier and had moved on to the less thrilling matter of a visit by Presidential candidate senator Palmer. Time moves strangely in the 24 universe.
There were occasional infelicities of plotting too. At one point, realising that Jack Bauer was miles away from somewhere he needed to be in a few seconds the screenwriters inserted a beautiful bit of ad hoc dialogue: Kiefer Sutherland running out of a building bellowing into his cell phone, “This is Bauer, get me chopper command!” And, as if by magic, a helicopter appeared.
At another point, suddenly becoming aware that Bauer’s luckless wife Terri needed to be delayed from getting to her destination too fast they wrote in one of the most excruciating traumatic amnesia episodes ever broadcast as entertainment.
Generally though, what fabulous stuff.
I love the fact that as they made more series Bauer’s day just became ludicrously amped up. In his average hour he can beat heroin addiction, torture three terror suspects, shoot his boss in the back of the head and defuse, or occasionally detonate, a nuclear bomb.
The average hour of my day involves me walking from room to room in my flat with a bowl of Sugar Puffs in my hand, wondering where I’ve left my Sugar Puffs. From time to time I will carefully lay the Sugar puffs down on a flat surface while I look for them under my bed or a chair or something. Then I will pick them back up and wander, frowning, back into the kitchen muttering, “I’m sure I had a bowl of Sugar Puffs”. I can spend hours looking for something I am actually holding. I don’t think it does any harm, but it’s not a sure-fire ratings winner.
I am, as of Monday, two hours in to Day 8 and, as ever, am deeply loving it. I’m already a bit lost as regards the plot. Bauer seems to have retired from the terrorist-torturing business preferring now to put his feet up with his button-cute moppet of a granddaughter Terri (ahhh). He’d be well-advised to have a bit of a rest. At the end of Day 7 he was dead, and that will tend to take it out of you.
He’s been dead before, as have many of the other characters. There’s always a deus ex machina on the way, from Deus Ex Machina command presumably, and it has now reached the point that (as with DC and Marvel comics continuity) a revival after death is not miraculous, it’s pretty much inevitable.
Starbuck from new Battlestar Galactica is now working for the Counter Terrorist Unit but she has some sort of sinister past. This isn’t at all surprising. For a cutting edge anti-terrorist homeland security unit CTU has a pretty shocking recruitment policy. We checked references more ruthlessly in the bookshop I used to work in. I’m sure some of the CTU personnel are honest hard-working patriots, but you never see them. Most of the ones you see are alcoholic, drug-addicted, indebted, blackmailable, compromised, treacherous, bomb loonies. Apart from Chloe who is merely sarcastic and in possession of a borderline personality disorder.
I blame the ramshackle nature of the operation on the consistently rubbish head of operations. This office changes hands with horrifying frequency, once three times in the course of a day. It’d be difficult to even run a bloody Burger King franchise if the boss changed every eight hours and they don’t have guns, nukes and chemical weapons. Mostly.
Bauer’s getting sucked back into things against his better judgement, and I’m glad. I can present no criticisms of this huge monument to preposterousness. And I couldn’t be more gurglingly happy that I’ve got another 22 hours of it to watch.