Two shows that revolutionized my television watching experience are coming to an end at the end of this season. I thought this would be a good time to memorialize one of them: 24.
Spoilers ahead: reader beware
I started watching 24 in 2004, three years after it premiered on Fox. I watched the first three seasons on DVD and was blown away. The concept was so novel, a TV series that occurs in real time, as the shows opening line states, "The following events take place between 8:00 am and 9:00 am. Events occur in real time." This line starts every episode, only the time changes. What is interesting, is that watching other shows I sometimes tend to expect things to be happening in real time. Nevertheless, the concept was brilliant, one season, one day, 24 hours. The only real problem for "real time" viewing is that sometimes the events could not possibly happen in real time. For example, Jack can drive clear across LA county in about 10 minutes. Ask anyone who has even been to LA and they will tell you know that is an impossibility.
In 2007 my girlfriend (now my wife) decided to take what we called the 24 challenge. That is, watch a full season of 24 in 24 hours. We decided to watch season 2 which begins at 8:00 am. So, we got up early on a Saturday morning and popped in the DVD and started along with the show at 8:00 am. We proceeded to start every episode in real time, corresponding to the show. This meant that we had about 15 minutes for break between each episode (the DVD's don't account for the commercials). By the middle of the night after about 18 hours of 24, we were considering skipping our 15 minute breaks and just watching straight through. That would have got us to bed about an hour and a half earlier. As it was, we stayed strong, kept our schedule and finished the season at about 7:45 on Sunday morning. The last few episodes were a blur and the breaks now consisted of calisthenics to stay awake. In the end, a great experience, but one that I am not eager to repeat. So, what makes 24 so great? It is a formula show. It is not complicated. Follow the formula and keep the audience happy. So, what is the formula?
First rule of 24: Jack is always right. Jack has an infallible moral compass. Everyone else gets conflicted from time to time, but Jack is steady and never has to debate a decision. He just knows what to do. So, you can determine the relative goodness or badness of any character on 24 based upon their current relation to and opinion of Jack.
Rule number two, don't ever disagree with Jack. If Jack says it needs to be done, do it.
Third rule of 24, there will always be at least one mole at CTU (counter terrorism unit), and somehow, they always manage to shock the audience.
Fourth rule of 24, there are always two and only two plot lines in 24 (with one exception, see below on how to ruin a season of 24) There is always a bait and switch. The show begins with a terrorism attack or credible threat of one. The first part of the show consists of stop this imminent terrorist attack. This plot line usually comes to a climax somewhere near the 12th hour. For example, the nuclear bomb that Jack has been chasing for the entire season in season 2 is harmlessly detonated in the desert at the end of hour 12. Then, the switch. The plot then moves to the conspiracy behind the attack, as Jack investigates deeper and deeper into this conspiracy usually finding members of the US or other major governments that are ultimately responsible for the attack.
Fifth rule of 24: if the terrorists are Islamic, they are ultimately either too stupid to have really planned it, or they lacked the resources to do so themselves. There is always some other less politically incorrect entity pulling the strings. I think this is the way that the show has walked the PC tightrope of not shying away from Islamic terrorism, while at the same time not making them ultimately responsible.
Sixth rule of 24, with only a couple of exceptions, all women are either stupid or evil. Season 1: Jack's wife and daughter are so dumb that it is at times hilarious, and at other times downright annoying. Also season one, the only smart girl is Nina, who turns out to be evil. Possible exceptions to this rule: Michelle Dessler, but, once you got to really like her, they killed her off. Same goes for Renee Walker, she rocks, so she gets dead. President Taylor in seasons six and seven but now she is possibly turning evil. The best exception: Chloe O'Brien, one of the best characters on 24.
Seventh rule of 24: dead people stay dead, or should. If someone dies in 24, and we actually see them die, they stay dead, no matter how much we loved them. There is one exception, which I will discuss later in my section of how to ruin a 24 season.
Eighth rule of 24: Jack, I would guess in support of George W. Bush, will always stubbornly refuse to pronounce nuclear correctly. He always says Nu-Q-Lar instead of Nu-Clee-Ar
How to ruin a season of 24: break some of the rules. For some reason we just like the rules and to break them goes way over the line. So, by far the worst season of 24 is season seven. It broke two major rules. First, it did not follow the two and only two plot line rule. Instead, I think in an attempt to top its previous seasons, it just included every plot line available. There was a air traffic control terrorist threat, followed by an assassination plot, followed by a presidential kidnapping, followed by another assassination attempt, followed by a biological threat, followed by, followed by, etc., ad infinitum. This led the overall plot to fall apart and the audience had no idea what was going on. Second, they brought Tony Almeda back to life. Remember the rule on dead people staying dead. Yeah, we saw Tony die in season 5. It sucked to see him die, he had become a fan favorite, but to bring him back was a big mistake. Moreover, it works in 24 to turn someone from evil to good, or from good to evil, ONCE! Instead, Tony ping-ponged back and forth in season 7 so many times that I cannot even remember where he ended up. At the end of the episode was he good, evil? Don't know. By that time, I was through caring.