It's difficult to imagine now, but 24 could easily have been a dismal failure - the show's unique season-long story arcs were once considered a huge risk. What's more, originally launching less than two months after the 9/11 attacks in New York, the show tackled controversial topics like terrorism, government corruption and torture...
But everything about 24 worked. Some have criticised the show's portrayal of torture or its apparently right-wing politics, but the key was to never take Jack Bauer's antics too seriously. 24 was a fun escape from the harsh realities of the real world - there were sinister villains, noble heroes, plenty of explosions and deaths by the dozen!
24: Originally broadcast from November 6, 2001 to May 24, 2010
Though each season or 'Day' had its own themes and central plot, the core of 24 is Jack Bauer - a member of the fictional Counter Terrorist Unit. Each episode spanned an hour (with ad breaks) and each season spanned a day in Bauer's unusually eventful life. Alongside Bauer and his colleagues at CTU, the show also followed US government officials - including several different Presidents - and the villains conspiring to commit terrorist acts on American soil...
In addition to Bauer and the stoic Palmer, we meet a number of other key figures - gravel-voiced CTU operative Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard), the treacherous Nina Myers (Sarah Clarke) and loyal government agent Aaron Pierce (Glenn Morshower).
In its second season, 24 is more recognisably the show we know and love - we're treated to unlikely character twists, slow-ticking nuclear devices, a tragic death (Xander Berkeley's sour-faced George Mason) and Jack Bauer shouting, "Where is the bomb?!" a good hundred times.
Many fans might remember 'Day Two' chiefly for the unfortunate sequence in which Jack's perennially unlucky daughter Kim (Elisha Cuthbert) is menaced by a cougar, but this more action-packed take on the 24 format is still thoroughly entertaining.
One of the show's strongest seasons, 'Day Three' sees Jack battle both heroin addiction and suave James-Bond-gone-wrong terrorist Stephen Saunders (Paul Blackthorne). Saunders's attempts to unleash a deadly disease on the American people ("Where is the virus?!") lead to a number of shocking scenes, most notably the sequence in which Bauer is forced to execute CTU boss Ryan Chappelle (Paul Schulze) to appease his terrorist foe.
'Day Four' - which saw Jack pursue Turkish terrorist Habib Marwan (Arnold Vosloo) - marked a bold departure for 24. The season begins with Jack fired from CTU for his drug abuse, without any of the show's familiar characters to assist him.
Slowly though, the pieces began to fall back into place - the likes of David Palmer, Tony Almeida and Michelle Dessler (Reiko Aylesworth) all return to help out Jack in his (fourth) hour of need. It's a slight dip in quality from the superb season three, but 'Day Four' is top-notch unplug-your-brain entertainment nevertheless.
Another highlight in this show's eight-year run, 'Day Five' follows a plot by a band of powerful conspirators to use toxic nerve gas on US soil - with the President of the United States himself, Charles Logan (the brilliant Gregory Itizin), ultimately revealed as the head of the terrorist snake! In the opening episode alone, we bid farewell to two fan favourites - RIP David Palmer and Michelle Dessler...
This season boasts some of the most memorable and thrilling scenes in the history of 24, including a sequence in which CTU itself comes under siege from the nerve agent. The show always killed off its characters with aplomb, but there's perhaps no death more poignant than that of the hapless Edgar (Louis Lombardi) - trapped in the gas cloud and cut off from his safely-isolated friends...
After such a terrific season, it was perhaps inevitable that 'Day Six' would be something of a letdown. Arguably the weakest of 24's eight seasons, these 24 episodes tread overly familiar ground - nuclear bombs, Arab terrorists, yadda yadda yadda - and stretch credibility a little too far. When a nuclear bomb detonates in central LA and yet is largely forgotten a few episodes later, it's perhaps time to head back to the writers' room...
Previously killed off in a rather abrupt fashion during 'Day Five', Tony Almeida also made a triumphant return, serving as Jack's nemesis / friend / nemesis. We sort of lost track, to be honest. But Carlos Bernard was brilliant regardless.
The final season of 24 was something of a mixed bag. There were undoubted highlights - Logan's return, Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) finally taking charge at CTU - but also some real low-points - pretty much anything involving Dana Walsh (Katie Sackhoff).
Still, the show ended on a strong note - the final few hours saw 24 hit its stride once more, as Jack Bauer's story reached a suitably tragic ending. Pursued by both Russian and US authorities, Jack is forced to bid an emotional final farewell to the faithful Chloe and to the country he has served so loyally...
But is that really the last we'll see of Jack? Ever since the show ended, there's been rumblings of a 24 movie, with Kiefer Sutherland recently claiming that a script for the film spinoff has almost been completed.
Whether or not Jack Bauer ever actually reaches the multiplexes, we'll always have his TV exploits to enjoy. The longest-running espionage-themed television drama ever, all 192 hours of 24 (plus that TV movie!) are now available on DVD and Blu-Ray - both separately and as a mammoth box-set. Never seen the show and fancy sampling an episode? Or watching an entire season in real-time over a single day? Or playing the 24 drinking game (drink when Jack says 'Damn it')? Now is the time!
*beep* *beep* *beep* *beep*
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