Plot: Counter-terrorism Agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland, Flatliners) fights the bad guys of the world one day at a time. With each week’s episode unfolding in real time, each season covers a single day in the life of Bauer each season. Jack deals with assassination attempts, nuclear attacks, bio-terrorism, torture, traitors, sleeper cells, other inside men and the alarming tendency for his romances to end badly.
Noted for it’s brutal themes and action scenes, divided by its audience and critics, this is the ultimate action-mystery show which invented binge-watching before there was such a thing. Let me break down the reasons why!
Beginning at midnight on the day of the California presidential primary. Jack Bauer’s protocol is to protect Senator David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert, Heat) from an assassination plot and rescue his wife Teri (Leslie Hope, Talk Radio) and stupid daughter Kim (Elisha Cuthbert, Airspeed) from mysterious forces from a Balkans mission gone wrong years ago during Jack’s Delta Force days.
Meanwhile CTU Agents Nina Myers (Sarah Clarke) and Tony Almeida (Carlis Bernard, Babylon 5: A Call to Arms) and tech contractor Milo (Eric Balfour, What Women Want) must hold off some of the bureaucrats from division while trying to figure out if there’s a mole.
For the first season, this show is off to a dynamite start and while dated in some places, which was noticeable even at the time, the Die Hard 3/Nick of Time/In the Line of Fire scenario is beyond gripping and even incomparable both in terms of the plot twists and how susceptible the characters are the various danger surrounding them. There’s some lame stuff surrounding the wife’s personal problems but it is never enough to derail the season from working overall.
Set 18 months later and beginning at 8 AM, Jack must go undercover in order to stop a mysterious forces from detonating a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles while assisting President David Palmer in proving which conspiring forces are responsible for the threat. If nothing is prevented, a potential war between the U.S. and three Middle Eastern countries could break out!
Meanwhile, new intelligence agent Michelle Dessler (Reiko Aylesworth, You’ve Got Mail) and newly promoted Almeida must deal with more CTU bureaucrats and unprofessional behavior. Further down the road, it becomes clear that Palmer’s Vice President Prescott (Alan Dale, First Daughter) is conspiring with his cabinet to vote him out as unfit for duty as they believe the terror attack to be legit.
This season easily outdoes its predecessor and stomps it to the curb by giving every single character more to lose. The villains are far more diabolical and the conspiracy plots are far better developed, and set the overall signature tone for this franchise to come. The Kim Bauer supporting segments are FAR more annoying than before but at least there’s more peril for her to thwart. And by this time, the show has earned itself a place at the table in the growing trend of grey moral fueled characters and great political talking points which easily rival the likes of The West Wing and The Sopranos. The show is also benefitting from ensuring from this point on by making every season feel like one big epic action disaster film thanks to its big screen movie style camerawork and top notch editing.
Set three years later and beginning at 1 PM, Jack and Tony must infiltrate a Mexican drug cartel to seize a deadly virus being marketed underground to the highest bidder. To do that, Jack will be forced to break one of the druglord brothers, Ramon (Joaquim de Almeida, Desperado), out of prison and retain his undercover alias while kicking a heroin addiction he’s developed while assuming the part.
Furthermore, President Palmer must deal with a potential scandal involving his brother Wayne (D.B. Woodside, The Temptations) that could cost him his presidency as Wayne is now his brother’s Chief of Staff.
This season can’t outdo the previous two seasons no matter how furthermore twisted it gets (and to be fair it had too much to outdo) but it still does a lovely job of introducing new themes, character development, disaster scenarios and retaining the same relevant urgency we all love in a good action film/show. Nevertheless, by this point, the show has established itself in pop culture right alongside Star Trek and Miami Vice as being both unintentionally cheesy and endlessly quotable to where it can make a great drinking game.
Set 18 months later, begins at 7 AM, Jack must save the lives of his new boss, Secretary of Defense James Heller (William Devane, Rolling Thunder) and Heller’s daughter Audrey Raines (Kim Raver, Third Watch), with whom Jack is romantically involved, when they are kidnapped by sleeper cell terrorists. However, the cell leader Habib Marwan (Arnold Vosloo, The Mummy) is using this as a disguise to launch further attacks against America, and Jack is forced to use further unorthodox methods to stop him, which results in long-term consequences for both Jack and the United States.
This season brings back other beloved supporting characters while introducing us to the likes of Field Ops Director Curtis Manning (Roger Cross, The Chronicles of Riddick) and new CTU Head Bill Buchanan (James Morrison, Space: Above and Beyond) who become welcome additions and further complement the no-holds-barred nature of this show. The overall season also benefits from being Kim Bauer-free and leaves one feeling that even the late great Alfred Hitchcock would’ve tipped his hat to this.
Set 18 months after, beginning at 7 AM, Jack is believed to be dead by everyone except a few of his closest friends. He is forced to resurface when some of his friends are murdered and he is framed by terrorists with connections to the American government. The acquisition of nerve gas by the terrorists poses a new threat, and Jack discovers an insidious conspiracy while trying to stop those responsible.
Regarded as the magnum opus of the series and often cited as unable to be outdone, this season is also arguably the most implausible out of all the seasons yet keeps you glued in thanks to the steroids driven excitement never wearing thin and being one of the most creative conspiracies on the show to date. And because its a personal vengeance fueled season, it further opens up new wounds (no pun intended) for the characters to have to heal.
Set 20 months later and beginning at 6 AM, Jack is released after being detained in a Chinese prison. Terrorists who hold a vendetta against Jack plot to set off suitcase nuclear devices in America. Later, Jack is forced to choose between those he loves and national security when the Chinese set their sights on sensitive circuitry that could trigger a war between the U.S. and Russia, and someone from Jack’s own bloodline is primarily responsible.
Both fairly and unfairly trashed by fans and critics alike, this season is already off to a rough start by revealing that some of the events from previous season are personally tied into Jack’s own family, and this is far harder to swallow at initial glance. However, some of the complaints towards the villains seems rather lame given how thus season is essentially a “Greatest Hits” tribute and some of the bullets hit their targets (pun intended!) while others land astray.
The scenarios and politics are very much like the best parts of Seasons 2 and 4, and the flaws echo that of Season 3. However, every season should be judged on its own merit, just like every movie sequel/reboot/spin-off and I will make zero exceptions here. The action is just as welcomely hardcore and the second half of the season improves in comparison to the start which sorta throws all its cards into the deck way too early. And I once again applaud this for being free of Kim Bauer’s presence, although the other Bauer relatives prove just as big a patience tester. Judged on it’s own accord, this is a season still worthy of the brand name.
Set 65 days after the end of the Redemption telefilm special (set between Seasons 6 and 7) and beginning at 8 AM, Jack is assisted by the FBI and covert operatives when the firewall for America’s federal computer infrastructure is breached by the same people responsible for a war conflict in Sangala. Jack must uncover corruption within President Taylor (Cherry Jones, Erin Brockovich)’s administration, which has allowed the Sangalans to raid the White House and capture Taylor. She is later blackmailed by a Blackwater-type private military company in an attempt to release biological weapons on U.S. soil.
Things don’t get any easier as there are still various bureaucrats trying to make Bauer serve prison time for past misdeeds. Jack will have to rely on old friends, some previously thought dead, and new strategies to put an end to all this madness.
This rivals Season 5 as the most implausible season of the series while arguably featuring some of the better moments all around thanks to starting things fresh in the Washington, D.C. area and playing Law and Order with discussing how Bauer, a man of both various good deeds and misdeeds, is still a dead man running. One could argue that there were WAY too many plot twists and bad guys at times but at least the show was staying relevant by showing the same characters in a different post-9/11 world reacting to different villain types.
Much like Prison Break and CSI: New York, this show had lost the support of some of its fans and critics but still wanted to please its portion of the fanbase that was still with it, while gaining new followers. I’d say that it overall gave us quite the bang for our buck.
Set 18 months later, begins at 4 PM, Jack is brought in by CTU’s New York division to uncover a Russian plot to assassinate Islamic leader Omar Hassan (Anil Kapoor, Pukar) during peace negotiations with U.S. President Taylor. Russia’s contingency plan involves engineering a dirty bomb, which Islamic extremists threaten to detonate unless Hassan is handed over. Jack seeks retribution for personal losses suffered after another shady figure from past seasons reemerges and convinces Taylor to cover up these crimes to protect the peace agreement. Now, Jack finds himself at odds with both the Russian and American governments.
This is the regarded by some fans and critics as one of the best seasons but honestly it truly belongs beneath even Seasons 3 and 6, and to compare it to the likes of Seasons 5 and 7, especially when it underutilizes the returning characters from those, would be an insult. The show had some cool key plot twists figured out early on but for the first part it ends up being rather well-worn, formulaic stuff that has already been done to death in every even numbered season (does every villain have to be a generic Muslim sleeper cell member?).
Fortunately, the show truly makes sense of what fans are truly here to see and puts Jack on another cliche ridden revenge story. The Dana Walsh (Katee Sackhoff, Battlestar Galactica) character isn’t relevant at first until the insane plot twist surrounding her comes into play. The supporting CTU Agent Ortiz (Freddy Prinze Jr., Brooklyn Rules) was not only an annoying wannabe version of Tony Almeida but every previous buddy of Bauer’s. It also didn’t help that he sorely miscast and that the show had to switch gears midway when it got word that FOX had pressed the cancel button, forcing it to wrap everything up. Overall, bad 24 is still better than no 24 at all, and this show is one of the few that will still make you watch each episode once no matter how it divides you politically, emotionally or plotwise.
The show is still a landmark of television for being a fully geared up Action/Mystery/Drama hybrid. And when it doesn’t have all its ducks in a row, it still has one talking about it days after you’ve seen it because its creators have successfully engineered multiple talking points. It is truly easy after viewing it all as to why it left a huge impression to where even movie franchises like Taken and Olympus Has Fallen owed their sheer existences to it.