Thursday, February 5, 2009

TV Watch: '24'

After an extended delay that cost we fans of the Fox television series '24' almost the entire year of 2008, Jack is finally back. Intrepid U.S. counter-terrorist Jack Bauer that is, and he's on a mission to stop yet another crazed terrorist from laying waste to the land of the free and home of the brave.

This time around there are many new challenges facing Bauer and the series producers have also decided to bring some of today's top public issues into the discussion. These early episodes of the shows 7th season have brought the issues of coercive interrogation, torture and communications interception into play, and future episodes will be exploring these issues even more closely.

Taking on modern issues and putting them firmly into play is nothing new for the folks at '24', who this year have cast actress Cherry Jones as President Allison Taylor, the first female President of the United States. She follows on the heels of the early years of the show which featured regular character David Palmer as the first African-American U.S. President.

For those who have not followed closely, the basic plot of '24' surrounds Keifer Sutherland in a career-defining role as a U.S. undercover operative named Jack Bauer. Bauer has spent most of his adult life in highly sensitive, dangerous, and at times violent deep undercover operations for the government.


During most of the series he has publicly re-emerged and become a member of, and at times the head of, the fictional CTU (Counter-Terrorism Unit), and each season he and his CTU buddies are up against some major terrorist group planning some major strike against America. In fact they are often up against multiple groups with disparate agendas with multiple threats against our country developing as the day moves along.

I say as the 'day' moves along because that is the other major plot vehicle in the show. As it's name implies, '24' seasons happen within the span of one 24-hour day. Each episode shows what is happening during a particular hour of that time frame from the perspectives of Jack, his CTU co-workers, the President, the terrorists, and even in some of the characters families and personal lives.

I have a bit of a weird history with '24' in that it was one of those shows that always looked interesting to me, but was difficult to follow because of what I believe is one of it's main problems - it is network television. With a job like mine in police work, this didn't always prove conducive to my schedule, and once I missed the first season I just let it drop for a few years. I really believe that a show such as '24' could be so much better under the greater creative freedom and with the expanded viewing opportunities that a cable network such as HBO or Showtime could provide.

Anyway, I finally purchased the first four seasons after they were finished, and I caught up on DVD. Let me tell you that there is no better way to watch a television series than on DVD or recorded in some other way that allows you to fast-forward through commercials. These days I always 'DVR' the episodes on Comcast and then watch after they air for this very reason.

In any event, I caught up with Jack and his pals quickly through their first four years, and my opinion is that while the show remains well made they have been chasing their tails a bit since the 1st season. That first season of '24' was simply one of the best dramatic television seasons that I have ever seen, full of interesting plot twists, a solid story line, and strong acting. It showed Jack as both an agent and a family man, and his efforts to balance these roles and ultimately combine them when his family became involved in his work responsibilities.

If you have never followed the show it is well worth pursuing it on DVD or some other medium, starting from the beginning. In this current season, which began actually with a 2-hour television movie titled "24: Redemption" that aired back in late November, Jack battles a new enemy.

Instead of the radical Islamists and their sympathizers that have appropriately reared their heads in previous seasons, here it is an African dictator bent on genocide and keeping America out of his efforts to control his country with violence that is providing the danger. He also is up against the challenging fact that he is being questioned by a government panel investigating past allegations of torture and prisoner abuse.

All this on his plate, and his CTU has been disbanded, so he has no official agency to help support him. How can Jack Bauer possibly succeed without all of the CTU agents, gadgets, gizmos, and quirky-teckie support personnel? That is another twist which reveals itself early on, but I won't ruin it for you.

Suffice it to say that I am very glad that Jack is back. In these days of terrorism and other threats in reality to the very existence of our way of life, it is comforting to know that there are actually real people out there like him trying to keep us safe.

NOTE: This is a continuation of the 'TV Watch' series highlighting various programs that I recommend. All the articles in the series can be viewed by clicking in to that below label.

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