It is ironic that 24 has yet to be one of my Marathon to Start Features, as I can say that hands down it is my favorite show of all time. I think I have mentioned before, but it is the only show that I started watching from the moment the first episode aired and barring any huge disasters, watched every episode on-air through the series finale. It is a show that came at a time when quality television began to be introduced in to mainstream television, and in fact, much of the rise of it over the last ten years can be attributed to 24 and a select group of shows (ex. The Sopranos, The West Wing, Six Feet Under) that stared airing in the early 2000s. Over time, it has aged a little bit, being that one of the great aspects was how technically savvy the show was, but now when you see Jack Bauer holding a huge cell phone in season one, you almost laugh. However, it is so good and amazing and unlike any show in the history of television and if you haven't taken the time to watch the series, you should do it and you should do it now.
When looking at 24 as a series, beyond its pure entertainment factor, it must be recognized for its place in television history. It started with The Sopranos in 1999, but by 2001 when 24 first began airing, we entered a new "Golden Era of television". During this period, cable began exploding and becoming competitive with broadcast networks, and because of this, everyone had to up their game. As HBO started producing shows with better writing and a more cinematic quality, audiences began to become accustomed to intelligent series with complex story lines and in response to this, writers and creators began taking advantage of the creative freedom that they were allowed to take in this medium. Television dramas were no longer left to cop shows and soap operas, but they became likened to films that were broken up into one hour chunks and aired weekly. 24 was one of the best shows to take advantage of this new-found free rein and took it to a whole new level. Not only did they target an intelligent audience with a story that was a political thriller, they came up with a concept that was so ambitious, no one was sure it would even work. If someone were to pitch me the concept today, I would say there was probably no way you would actually be able to pull it off, let alone be able to succeed doing so for eight whole seasons.
The series creators (Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran) decided to write a show that plays out in realtime, and each season covers the events of one single 24-hour day in 24 episodes (anybody guess where the title comes from?). The series follows the story of Jack Bauer who is a part of the fictional Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) which is a government agency that focuses its efforts on protecting the United States from terrorist plots. Interestingly, the pilot of 24 was conceived, written, and produced before the events of 9/11 and began airing very soon after the tragic event. In fact, the pilot episode was changed and a scene that featured an airplane exploding was eliminated when it aired. At the time, Homeland Security was not a real agency, so CTU was truly a fictional place. However, I wonder if some of the popularity of the show can be attributed to the attacks that sadly made terrorism become such a part of our consciousness at that time. While we actually were dealing with the fear that came after the attacks on the World Trade Center, I know that it sometimes made me feel better thinking and believing somewhere there was a a real-life Jack Bauer working to protect our country.
The first season of 24 begins at 12:00am and follows the events of the California presidential primary in Los Angeles. We learn that there has been an assassination threat on the life of Senator David Palmer and Jack Bauer must work to find those responsible, while also working to protect his own family, who have become involved in the terrorist's plans. It is difficult for me to talk about anything beyond this, because one of the most brilliant aspects about the show is the way in which the stories are told. There are shocking and surprising moments in each episode and the most fun thing is watching how the story unfolds. There are also more cliffhangers in the first season than there are usually in an entire series, so prepare yourself, because it is difficult to watch just one. In fact, it is not entirely uncommon to hear stories of people who begin the first season and end up watching it in 24 hours, because they just want to watch one more episode and end up watching all of them in one sitting. I, in fact, almost missed an airplane once while watching with a friend who just wanted to watch a few more minutes before shutting it off.
In addition to the high concept, 24 must also be recognized for several other incredible aspects. First and foremost must be Kiefer Sutherland. He is the show and he is Jack Bauer. Without his strong, yet vulnerable performance, I doubt that the show would have been as successful as it was. He won an Emmy Award in 2006 for his performance in season five and the entire show won an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series that same year. Sutherland was nominated six additional times for the role and deserved every single one of them. The best part about Jack Bauer is that he becomes almost a super-hero. While watching I never cared that I didn't see him eat or drink water for a 24 hour period, because goddammit, he was Jack Bauer! He didn't have to! He would do anything to further the success of his mission and I mean anything. You don't think threatening a man with a towel sounds scary? You just wait until you see Jack Bauer do it. However, it is not just that Jack Bauer is great at the action and being utterly terrifying when he needs to be, but Sutherland was able to create the character with such dimension, that he still had a heart and some of the best moments occur with the people that he loves. Although Jack Bauer, is the center of the show, he is surrounded by a marvelous cast of characters. I would like David Palmer to be elected the President of the United States in real life, the awkward but love-able Chloe, Mike the Secret Service guy who turns up at just the right time and so many others, I can't even name them all (and don't want to for fear of any spoilers, because the story lines are just that intricate).
Furthermore, the casting of Kiefer Sutherland in 24, began another trend in television that led to the appearance of popular film actors appearing in television shows. Now, with actors such as Steve Buscemi, Glenn Close and Alec Baldwin appearing in series on a regular basis, it doesn't seem odd, but at the time, (with the exception of Martin Sheen in The West Wing) it was not a common occurrence. I believe this particular casting of Kiefer Sutherland not only elevated the series, but television in general and I am forever thankful to the brilliant person who made that happen.
Now, I must note that although I love the show and entire series completely, there are seasons that are better than others, and certainly a few that are not as great. My personal favorites are seasons one, two, four and then five is hands down my favorite of the series. However, I know that everybody has their own tastes, so I invite you to watch and join in on the conversation and let me know which you love/hate the most.
Additionally, in some cases, people have become critical of the series because they claim that it is unbelievable and hard to accept that Jack Bauer repetitively had the hardest day of his life, more than once, let alone eight times. However, for me, I thought the way that they connect the seasons and stories this never was an issue for me. Also, as I mentioned before, being that Jack Bauer was created as more of a super-hero than a real, true-to life character, it never really bothered me.
When examining this show, it is also interesting that this was not my first first marathon to start, because one of the other major influences 24 had on television history was really solidifying the DVD/Marathon culture. The show was released at the same time that TV series on DVD became popular and because the show is so incredibly suspenseful, there were many fans that did not want to watch the show on-air because that would force them to wait an entire week until they could see what happened. Instead, they would wait for the season to be released on DVD and watch all of it at the same time and at their own pace. This practice is now so common-place that I have created an entire feature around it, but before shows like 24, it is likely would not watch television in the way we oftentimes do now.
I must say, so far, I believe that this has been my favorite Marathon to Start to write. Not only because it reminds me of the reasons that I love 24 so much, but it also made me examine why it has been one of the most important shows to air on television recently. If you haven't taken the time to watch it, I invite you to do so. However, in good conscious, I must give you a warning – get ready to brew some coffee and ignore your everyone in your life, because Jack Bauer is about to become the only friend you actually care about.
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