24: The Clock Stops Here

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.

You don’t mess with Jack, and you don’t mess with Season 3.

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).

All smiles, Mia Kirshner’s evil Mandy gives President Palmer a handshake dosage of a flesh-eating virus at the end of Season 2.

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.

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10 comments on “24: The Clock Stops Here

  1. Jake Cole says:

    I don’t want to comment on a show I haven’t seen, but I heard it became too arch-conservative and torture-happy, even though it was beloved by all when it first started (Cahiers du Cinéma even put it on a Ten Best list when it started). I’m curious to try it out, but I need to finish both The West Wing and The Shield (which is the second best American show of the decade after The Wire) and my buddy’s copy of Daria (which I identify with a little too strongly) before moving on.

    Jake, I liked the concept of The Shield (and the 1st season was great) but I quickly lost interest after the second season. I was never able to get into the other two dramas you mention. I’m not a big fan of going back and watching (or re-watching) TV dramas (unless it’s Twin Peaks) so I’m not sure how well 24 would play on DVD. There really was something special about watching it live in “real-time” with commercial breaks to take a breather and grab another drink. –DHS

  2. Dave, unfortunately, I fell off the 24 bandwagon this year. I still remember watching the premiere way back in 2001 and I was hooked. This year, however, a number of things combined to keep me from following it this season, mainly working extra late on Mondays, the Hulu web site constantly crapping out on me while trying to watch the episodes, and, overall, a disinterest in where this season went.

    As far as I’m concerned, nothing can top the first two seasons. Both were the very definition of must-see TV for me. Both seasons were incredibly taut and rarely had any lags in their pace. Season 3 was good, especially after the powder is released in the hotel, but too many of the earlier episodes in that season didn’t do much for me. I never got into Chase and I just couldn’t buy Kim working at CTU. And Jack’s going too deep undercover was a bit convulted. “Forget it, Chris, it’s 24.”

    Outside of that, every season after that had their ups and downs, but each season worked on the law of diminishing returns. I agree with the majority of your “Best/Worst” list, though I wouldn’t list President Logan as the worst president. The 24 writers and producers have totally wasted Cherry Jones by making her President one of the blandest of the series. This has more to do with what little of Season 9 I’ve seen, since it just seemed like all of her scenes involved her, the “Slumdog Millionaire” guy, and the “Shawshank” warden sitting around a table arguing about something I didn’t care about.

    The one opportunity that 24 never followed up on—and this may just be me—but after Lou Diamond Phillips appeared in Season 1, I was hoping to see more of Kiefer’s “Young Guns” co-stars in the series. I mean, why not get Emilio Estevez as a bad guy or a CTU higher-up? What the hell’s he doing these days?

    Guess I’ll just have to settle for 24 using no less than 4 actors from the original “Robocop.”

    Chris, wow! I forgot about Lou Diamond Phillips…and Peter Weller! I agree the Cherry Jones presidency has been rather lackluster. I just really really hate the Logan character. –DHS

  3. Dre says:

    Good summary of the show Dave. I disagree with your rankings regarding Season 5 stuff only because for me Season 5 was my 2nd favorite season close behind Season 1.

    Dre, thanks for visiting. I don’t recall much about Season 5, but I know I was tiring of it all by then…and god did I hate Logan. Season 1 took awhile to get going…they were a little shaky and not too comfortable with the format yet and I recall a lot of boring stuff surrounding Kim sneaking out at night with the friends who turned out to be kidnappers. Season 2, of course, was almost sunk by Kim again and that bear trap…but Season 3 everything just seemed to work and they were in their wheelhouse by that time with the mechanics of the format. Seasons 1 and 2 did have the best cliffhangers though. –DHS

  4. Phillip says:

    I liked ALL the 24 seasons. Yes, I drank ALL the kool-aid! 🙂 I will miss 24 terribly and am still trying to figure out why it has to end. Oh well, hopefully this will be just the beginning of a movie series. Don’t know what I’m going to do without my weekly fix!!

    Phillip, it will be strange not having it on TV any more. –DHS

  5. Soon to be famous last line: “Whatever just happened here, didn’t happen. Understand? SHUT IT DOWN.”

    And that, my friends, was 8 years of Dubya and 8 years of 24 in a nutshell.

    The series finale. Discuss….

  6. Horse Apples says:

    Excellent finale to end the series. They could have filled it with cameos and over the top twists. This ending was strong. Logan’s demise was poetic justice to the kind of man he was……………and the tearful good bye of Jack Bauer to Chloe, well done. The show redefined television, and so many shows have to pump up their action just to match 24. Most of these shows fail. No 24 to look forward to each season is going to be hard to adjust. It’s by far my favorite show of all time. It wasn’t perfect, but it made my heart race like no other show ever. Clutch moments of shock value and moments of pure action bliss. And that sir, is ENTERTAINMENT.

    Whoa, Horsie. Well said. Not sure if it was my favorite show of all time… but yeah, I agree will all of your points. –DHS

  7. Sam Juliano says:

    I watched this show in the early-going, but I’m afraid I haven’t musc to say of any value in egards to its concluding seasons. Yet I thought the high-quality submissions on this thread (as well as the original post of course) make a terrific testimony. I’d like to belive that the first two seasons (as Mr. Tait maintains) were the pinnacle.

    Sam, it seems a lot of people are in the same boat as you…used to watch it, but didn’t stick through for all the seasons. It was, overall, a fitting (albeit delayed) end…and I look forward to them attempting to translate the format to film. –DHS

  8. BookSellerNJ says:

    I especially liked the fact that Kiefer Sutherland made a personal appearance at the beginning of the Series Finale to thank the 24 audience and reflect on how much the series meant to him. That’s a “Class Act”.

  9. Sam Juliano says:

    Congrats David!

    A perfect game for your prime thoroughbread!!!!

    Sam, Halladay is now literaly a perfect pitcher. Can’t beat that. Now if the Flyers could just win the Stanley Cup… –DHS

  10. Nickey Black says:

    I just watched the entire series on Netflix and man I am HOOKED! I wish they make a movie, but how will they pull it off?

    Jack Bauer is 1 of the best tv characters ever!
    David Palmer was cool as hell and I love how Sherry use to speak at times. Her voice was soothing and convincing.
    Logan……,I hated his character but thought his wife was sexy….lol

    24 RULED!

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