Due to a political conspiracy an innocent man is sent to death row and his only hope is his brother who makes it his mission to deliberately get himself sent to the same prison in order to break the both of them out from the inside out.
When Marine Nicolas Brody is hailed as a hero after he returns home from eight years of captivity in Iraq, intelligence officer Carrie Mathison is the only one who suspects that he may have been "turned".
In this concept drama, each season takes place within one 24 hour period. Day 1: Jack Bauer is the head of field ops for an elite team of CTU agents who uncover an assassination plot targeting Presidential nominee David Palmer. Meanwhile, Jack's strained marriage to his wife, Teri, is pushed to the brink by the sudden disappearance of their troubled teenage daughter. What will the next 24 hours hold? Written by
Network: Fox; Genre: Action, Drama; Content Rating: TV-14 (language, brutal violence, some gore and occasionally strong sexual content); Available: DVD, Syndication; Perspective: Modern Classic (star range: 1
Season Reviewed: 5+ seasons
Sometime in the next 24 hours, a devastating terrorist attack is set to take place on American soil. It is up to the L.A. Counter Terrorist Unit, with the help of renegade agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland, rejuvenating his career), to do anything and everything to stop it. In "24", Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran deliver the ultimate serial series, give it an innovative twist and then slam it into the rafters. Playing out in real time with a ticking clock woven into the show like a character itself, each 1-hour episode depicts an hour in the lives of the characters. Each self-contained season of 24 episodes encompasses a full action-packed day filled with moles, political power-plays, knock-out twists and tragic sacrifices.
Debuting in the middle of the Reality craze, "24" demands a lot of the viewer and, so, is a finger in the eye to the network's conventional idea of audience viewing habits. Yes, the show requires you to watch each week, but how could you not? From the moment a season starts it straps us in for a wild roller-coaster ride, unsure if the safety bar is locked down up until the always-satisfying finale. It's hard to write about something like "24" and avoid falling into a giddy stringing together of over-the-top commercial-ready adjectives, but I'll try.
"24" may be the very best show on TV today. A lofty claim, with more methodical, character-rich series like "The Sopranos" and "Lost" around and even more so considering the monumental chasms in logic that the show requires us to leap. That includes a ridiculous bout with amnesia in season 1, an absurd politically correct villain in season 2 and a story re-inventing twist in season 3 that makes no sense. A good show is one that simply makes sense, a great show inspires a loyalty in its audience to make the leaps with it.
Nothing pulls me to the edge of my seat like this show. "24" raises the bar for small screen suspense by breaking a few tried-and-true rules. Key elements here are brutal, intelligent and not easily coerced villains, a post-9/11 consciousness that plays out headline speculation with frightening surrealism and a nasty pension for un-heroically killing off what any other show would consider the "safe" characters. Very often in "24" the death of a core character has no purpose, which makes it all the more existentially tragic. It even manages an unheard of feat, making the stress that our big-name Hollywood lead might actually not make it to the next season as real as it comes.
A slick assemblage of gritty visuals and Sean Callery's wonderfully versatile original score create an atmosphere of tension and the emotional wallop of a movie. In a time when cinema quality dramas are becoming more common, "24" still manages to drop the jaw each week. The entire city of Los Angeles (and sometimes beyond) is its playground and with the fate of the world often at stake the show delivers on an epic scale. Like any great action romp, "24" is just as much about boys and their toys: machine guns, Hummers, helicopters and F-18s screaming through the city. It is a real treat.
With all the running, shooting and tersely spouted, purely expository dialog, is "24" really the best drama on TV? Absolutely. It, more than any other network show today (with the exception of maybe "The Shield" and "The Sopranos"), regularly forces us to confront impossible ethical dilemmas that make for quintessentially compelling drama. How far are we willing to go with Jack? Does breaking a bureaucratic rule justify the end? Is the death of 1 innocent person worth saving a million lives? How about 500 people? And what if the threat is as abstract as the integrity of national foreign policy?
While it may not be as detailed as other serial shows in terms of character depth, it does have exactly what it needs and nothing it doesn't. Bolstered by performances that are always on (including Dennis Haysbert as TV's most charming president, gruff Carlos Bernard, dry Xander Berkley, perennially imperiled Elisha Cuthbert and oddly funny scene-stealer Mary Lynn Rajskub), "24" doesn't flag the action for any pandering character exposition. Subtle character bits are woven efficiently into the action and the audience is trusted to pick it up in the snap-shot of their lives we are seeing.
"24" reaps all the benefits of the serial series' long form narrative format which lets them wring every last drop of intensity out of the action - and also makes it a satisfying watch each week. The show-runners structure the episodes like the levels of a video game, giving us mini-challenges and climaxes inside the larger story so that each week we don't feel like we wasted our time (hello "Lost").
And the glue that brings it all together is Kiefer Sutherland. By the end of the first season "24" becomes less about a gimmick and more about Jack. Able to wipe out a compound of terrorists single-handedly Jack is a one-man army and Sutherland embodies him with a fire-breathing abandon, cementing himself as the most credible action star of the new millennium. The show steps up to address the reality of post-9/11 terrorist villains and gives us a cathartic patriotic modern day superhero to get down in the muck with them and kick some ass.
At times there is an undeniable level of camp to the show, but it can't be under-stressed that "24" does not look or feel like any TV show you've seen before. It is one of the most brutal, nail-biting, white-knuckle, edge-of-your-seat, pure unadulterated, cheer-the-heroes pieces of entertainment ever.
* * * * * / 5
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