Has time run out for the 24 phenomenon?

Show looks tired with hollow characters and repetitive plots

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Jack Bauer

IF YOU DON’T (insert line here), MILLIONS OF PEOPLE WILL DIE, DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME? Jack Bauer may have uttered that line one too many times on 24, a show that seems to be running out of ideas.

Who is Jack Bauer?

You know, don’t you? He’s the ultimate patriot, breaking rules and sacrificing his soul for the greater good of America, even if it means torturing people mercilessly. He’s the star of 24, the FOX television phenomenon spiking viewers’ heart rates since 2001.

But what kind of music does he like? Does he enjoy sports? Was he popular in high school? Is he funny?

No one knows. Hell, we haven’t seen Jack eat, sleep, urinate or laugh in five and a half seasons. That’s over 100 episodes.

“Of course we don’t know anything about Jack,” you and Kiefer Sutherland say. “This is 24, baby. That’s the hook. The show’s about putting the fate of the world before yourself. So kinetic. So addictive.”

You’re right. 24 revolutionized TV drama with its relentless weekly assault of explosions, twists and cliffhangers.

But after six years, I’ve realized something I never thought I would: the formula is getting old. The gimmick worked brilliantly for several years, but a show can only go so far with no character development before the plot becomes repetitive and viewers stop caring about the characters.

When 24 killed Jack’s wife, Teri, in the season-one finale, it established a no-holds-barred plotline that put every character in the line of fire and secured an obsessive fanbase. Knowing your favourite character could die at any moment gave 24 an unprecedented realism; Jack himself has been clinically dead twice in the series.

Fans ate the format up and, loving the response, 24’s creators went mad with power. Like the Counter-Terrorism Unit, the writers sacrificed countless characters for a “greater good.” Killing Tony Almeida, David Palmer and Edgar Stiles was worth giving fans the “realism” they’d come to crave.

But the deaths became so common they lost all meaning. Viewers mourned Teri’s death in season one, but did anyone shed a tear for Curtis Manning this season?

As a result, desperation ensued. With no familiar characters left for viewers to care about, the writers resorted to tossing in random siblings. This season welcomed President Wayne Palmer, his sister Sandra, and a pile o’ Bauers including father Phillip and brother Graem.

At this point, it wouldn’t matter if Jack’s evil one-armed twin showed up. The horribly underdeveloped characters have no emotional value anymore, nor do the “twists.” Like any recent M. Night Shyamalan flick, 24 has us watching for shockers so intently that they cease to shock us when they arrive.

With few surprises or characters to care about, we’re left with tired story patterns. See Jack disobey orders; see Jack lead assault on terrorist; see Jack wound terrorist, then torture him; see terrorist utter one vital sentence before dying; see Jack find and diffuse bomb.

24 was a brilliant, successful experiment, but its format has no shelf life. It’s time for Jack Bauer to retire, eat a hearty meal, drop a deuce and enjoy some tiddlywinks, or whatever the hell he does in his free time.

Share this article on:

Facebook | DiggDigg |

Copyright © 2008 The Gazette