As we approach the final episodes of 24: Live Another Day, I cannot help but feel that the series has been hoisted by its own petard. Despite the ever-increasing high-standard of television drama, 24 has been a guilty-pleasure for many during the last decade. Initially, a fun minute-by-minute “real-time” television show, it has become a farce. Heroic Jack Bauer seemed to become the unluckiest man to live, demanding our trust, as America (and now the UK) are bombed each year (for each series). Eight series, an awful television special (24: Redemption) and now a new 12-part run proves the formula works. But this is not down to Kiefer Sutherland’s sometimes-rogue, sometimes-ally CTU agent. Here are five reasons 24 doesn’t need Jack Bauer…
Jack Bauer has become a joke
Chronologically, Bauer is a widow, an ex-druggie, an international criminal with enemies in China, Russia and virtually every emerging superpower. He killed Ryan Chappelle for god’s sake! He is a torturer who has lost his mind a teeny bit, and seems to find it perfectly acceptable to make demands to the President of the United States. I thought “we don’t make deals with terrorists”? President Heller, though conflicted, makes a deal with a man who, hours before was holding people hostage – let alone his actions over the past fifteen years. None of this makes sense and it’s difficult to root for a broken man who simply needs a rest. A new lead would give the plots more credence.
Clearly, owing a debt to James Bond and Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer is modelled on characters that hold a 2-hour film on their own. But the current season is 12-episodes long. It worked in the first season perhaps, and in fairness, the whole of CTU is his “team”, but as Tony Almeida and Chase Edmunds proved it’s fun when he has others and every time we begin a season it’s all “Jack is Back”, when in fact a decent team has much more space to play with the narrative. How about, stop killing off other cool characters and let a few of them take a little ownership of the show?
New actors will rejuvenate the series
Consider the introduction of an agent who is younger, fresh-faced and, heaven forbid, less patriotic. Maybe steal Michael Pitt from Boardwalk Empire or Kit Harrington from Game of Thrones? And simply pass the baton. A younger lead (and please, not an unknown “Son” from Bauer’s past) could introduce a new government agency, new dynamics and set-up a new tone to the show. In fact, maybe if the lead role was a little less holier-than-thou, it might make the whole “You have to trust me!” conversations much more interesting as we shout at the screen to not trust him! Opposed to knowing that they “don’t have a choice” anyway.
Jack Bauer could become a cameo role for special episodes
I don’t want to forget Jack of course. He’s paid his dues. But a surprise return would be all that is needed. Maybe Bauer actually becomes the President’s bodyguard and we only see him in passing. I’m sure Kiefer Sutherland could still take his percentage of the profits as Executive Producer, but a four-episode arc whereby our new lead teams up with Jack would be welcomed. Or if a villain returns – the long-lost relative of Salazar or Nina Myer’s twin sister, like Hannibal Lector, our new lead seeks advice from “an old friend…”
24 is ultimately about real-time action
I enjoy 24 for this. The right-wing, Murdoch-politics, granted, is a stretch – but it fits the series. I love the scale of the series – the moment at the start of Season 6 when the bomb actually does explode in LA killing so many people – and we see the fall-out of it was inspired. Though Bauer is interesting, I don’t believe he is integral to the story. The “Unique Selling Point” of 24 is the real-time, President-and-agency, explosive action (and, strangely, Sean Callery’s strangely dated score) – everything else is switchable.
Relying on Jack Bauer stops 24 from growing and improving, and until his central role becomes supportive, 24 will always feel a little too ridiculous. And it’s a shame, become there is nothing else like 24 on TV and this crucial change will mean the end of 24 forever …
Originally written for Flickering Myth on 15th June 2014