Monday, May 24th 2010 at 8PM EST Fox will air the two-hour series finale of the most groundbreaking network television show of the past decade. The ticking clock, which at times seemed eternal, will stop once and for all on Jack Bauer and 24. It’s time to look back and share your favorite 24 memories as The Schleicher Spin bids a bittersweet and fond farewell to an old favorite.
Take yourself back, if you will, to the fall of 2001. Fox had a daring idea to create an action-thriller that took place in real-time over the course of an entire day where each one hour episode would be one hour in the crisis-filled life of counter-terrorism guru Jack Bauer. The premier was delayed, however, when the ultimate act of terrorism occurred in real life on 9/11. Wanting to remain sympathetic to a mourning populace still in a state of shock, Fox chose not to air the first episode until November. And thus the most groundbreaking network television show since Twin Peaks debuted quietly under subdued hoopla with a sequence featuring an uber-hot terrorist (played by Mia Kirshner, whose character would become the greatest reoccurring villain on the series) casually leaping from an airplane in mid-flight and setting off a bomb that would kill everyone onboard. It was a sobering moment of fiction that eerily mirrored an even more imaginative and horrific act of mass murder still too fresh on people’s minds. And it was this moment that set off a spiraling series of events that would shape the television landscape and American pop-culture psyche for the next decade.
24 plowed on from there with feverish intensity…and it caught on eventually with all its split-screen formatting, cell-phone dialing, satellite re-tasking, bomb defusing, and cliffhanging fun. Jack Bauer would live another day…and another…and another…as the series went on ad-infinitum for what has seemed like an eternity. The character would enter pop-culture mythology and political debate…a name uttered in the same breath with James Bond and Jason Bourne and ballyhooed on everything from Entertainment Tonight to Fox News. During the eight grueling years under the Bush Administration in a world of wars, constant terrorist threats, rendition and torture, 24 gave America a hero in Jack Bauer who on any given day, under any circumstances would kick ass, take names and leave no prisoners. But there was a tumultuous psychology to Bauer — he was a man on a mission, but his heart had been torn apart, his soul crushed, his will driven only by an innate sense that he must survive and the bad guys must die. He was a tortured hero in a world of gray, of shadows and spies, of fallen friends, dead wives, estranged daughters, distant lovers, corrupt governments…a world shaped by an ever-evolving technology that brought danger closer and drove people farther apart. His was a hellish landscape…a post-modern GreeneLand.
Oh, but it was only television, and it was oh so entertaining — full of soap opera theatrics, labyrinthine subplots that were often ridiculous and unnecessary, guest stars and cameos (remember Dennis Hopper at the end of Season 1?). It was a show that ran longer than it should have, though it rebounded nicely in Season 7 after having seemingly “jumped the shark” in Season 6. Meanwhile, this final Season 8 has been a roller-coaster ride — a microcosm of all the good and all the bad past seasons have had to offer as every old trick in the book (Political assassinations! A spy in CTU! Bauer going rouge! Chloe taking on more responsibility! Evil Russians!) has been rolled out one last time.As 24 comes to an end (will there be a move spin-off?) let’s take a walk down memory lane.
Best Season: Season 3. The season of the virus (and Jack’s drug addiction) — this thing was a taut, white-knuckle piece of cracker-jack entertainment through and through. The writers were operating on all cylinders and all of the great characters from the first two seasons were reaching the ends of their catastrophic story arcs (oh, the Palmers…oh, the humanity!). 24 at its peak was a breathtaking thing to watch, and this season provided the best subplot (see below) of the series.
Worst Season: Season 6. Reading over the synopsis of this season, it doesn’t sound as bad as I remember, but I just know I felt fatigued and thinking “enough is enough” during this one where we find out it’s “all in the family” when we meet Jack’s Dad and brother, among other far-fetched shenanigans. Maybe this one seemed so bad because Season 5 had also been sub par.
Best President: The original, the best, the one and only…David Palmer, whose name had to have been inspired by Twin Peaks (David Lynch, Laura Palmer). As played so perfectly by Dennis Haysbert, he is the only 24 president I would’ve voted for in real life. In the cool, calm, collected Palmer, the creators of 24 gave us a glimpse of what was to come in the real world in 2008 — an African-American President who wouldn’t buckle under pressure. You can’t tell me that a little something didn’t enter the conscious of some uncertain Americans who when seeing David Palmer, finally thought, “yeah, okay…I could accept that.” Sometimes we need to see it in popular fiction before it can become populist fact. Sadly Palmer was assassinated, but not until after giving us a prescient view of hope.
Worst President: President Logan (Gregory Itzin), who I really hope finally gets it in the series finale. I hated his character from the start when he showed up in Season 5 like a weasel, though there has been some entertainingly cry-baby moments from him this season.
Best First Lady: As the seething, duplicitous, self-righteous Sherry Palmer, Penny Johnson Jerald proved the old adage that behind every great man was a maniacal bitch. Penny’s performance provided the series with its best soap opera moments across the span of the first three seasons.
Worst First Lady: Mrs. Logan (Jean Smart). With her goofy theme music and ridiculous actions, her character represented the writers “jumping the shark” and running out of plausible ideas. The subplots dealing with her psychiatric problems in Seasons 5 & 6 were among the worst (though not THE worst as you can read below).
Best Villain: Mia Kirshner’s smokin’-hot, super-duper evil assassin, I-ain’t-no-Barry-Manilow-song, Mandy. She’s the only killer to have successfully gone toe-to-toe with Bauer and gotten away scot-free. I’ve been waiting for a return cameo ever since she left us (under immunity) in Season 4.
Worst Villain: Jack’s Dad (James Cromwell). This seemed like a borrowed plot from Alias. I mean, c’mon. Jack can’t even trust old pops?
Best Subplot: The burgeoning romance between Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) and Michelle Dessler (Reiko Aylesworth) reached an emotional peak in Season 3 when the virus was released and Michelle had to be quarantined inside an office-building with others who were infected. Would he have to watch her die? Would they ever kiss again?
Worst Subplot(s): (Tie) – Kim Bauer (Elisha Cuthbert) getting caught in a bear-trap in the woods in Season 2 and Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) having to hide the fact she was babysitting an infant while at CTU in Season 6.
And, of course, over the years, there’s been the popular 24 Drinking Game.
And here’s a comprehensive listing of all 8 Seasons (or 8 Days if you will) with an hour by hour breakdown in case you need to refresh your memory on all that happened. Thanks IMDB!
Written by David H. Schleicher
What are some of your favorite moments or characters from 24? Share them in the comment form.