Somehow or other FOX let the word out that this would be the last season of their award-winning show 24, but I only heard about it this morning on the radio. Apparently, this news was released on Friday, but I managed to miss it. No matter how it happened, it is official: this will be the last season of 24.
I checked the show’s web site to corroborate this news, and it is true, but the so-called good news is that a script for a 24 movie has been approved. I guess that is supposed to make us feel better, but it is no solace for the loss of the weekly dose of Keifer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer.
In the hands of a lesser actor, Jack Bauer may have come off as a comic book hero, a guy who gets tortured, shot, and beaten, but somehow manages to pick himself up and carry on the good fight. Make no mistake, that is exactly what Jack Bauer has done for eight seasons, but Sutherland has managed to infuse this character with a humanity that makes Bauer much more than he even should be.
While in movies like Batman and Spider-Man the villains prove more interesting than the hero, that has not been the case in 24. This is not to say that there haven’t been great villains throughout the eight seasons. Some of the best bad guys have been seen on 24, most notably played by Dennis Hopper, Tobin Bell (Jigsaw from the Saw film series), and Arnold Vosloo (The Mummy). Perhaps an even better bad guy was Jack’s former friend, Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard), who turned to the dark side after his wife Michelle was murdered.
Through it all, Jack Bauer emerged as a hero with a soul, tortured as it may be, a guy we wanted to see win despite the fact that sometimes he had to become as bad, or even worse, than the bad guys he was after. Jack descended to some dark levels, perhaps his own version of purgatory, to win the battle even though it sometimes seemed like he was losing his personal war with an old self that long vanished.
Remembering the first season, Jack was a happily married man who played chess with his daughter Kim. That brief view of domestic bliss quickly spiraled out of Jack’s control, as his daughter and wife became endangered as he tried to protect presidential candidate David Palmer (the incomparable Dennis Haysbert). The first season ended with his wife’s murder, and Jack was left to pick up pieces that had no way to be glued together.
Over eight seasons Jack Bauer has become more grizzled, more angry, and yet there is always a hint of the man we first glimpsed playing chess, the guy who really wants to have his life back, but he can’t seem to find a way to do that and not help his country. Jack is always willing to sacrifice and, because of that, he earns our respect but also we empathize with him as he becomes increasingly distanced from the person he used to be.
Season eight started with the notion that Jack was ready to move on to the next stage of his life. He was leaving CTU behind to move back to California to spend time with his daughter Kim and his granddaughter Terri (named for his late wife), but this planned return to domesticity is once again put on hold as Jack learns of a new threat and has no choice but to get involved to help his country.
Over the years I have heard plenty of people say that 24 isn’t as good as it used to be. While those critics have some valid points, 24 still remains one of the best things to be seen on TV. Much of that has to do with Sutherland’s portrayal of Jack Bauer, and we have invested enough in him that we want to see him through to the end. In this case, it is to a two-hour series finale on May 24.
A few years ago I proposed that 24 should give up the “real time” format and employ a different type of dramatic tension, which would allow Jack more freedom and the writers too. Being locked into a 24-hour premise was what made the show originally so compelling, but now it seems as if it has become a hindrance, or even sometimes a contrivance. Where a show like Lost can utilize multiple characters well and flashbacks (or flash forwards), 24 is locked into the notion that each season would happen on one day.
The purists hit me on trying to tamper with the show’s format that brought it success in the first place, and I understood their feelings about that; however, I’ll bet that the 24 movie will not be in real time. It will be impossible to do in a feature film, unless they do something like they did in the TV movie Redemption, but I think it will be a different format for Jack Bauer and company that will make it easier to market to worldwide audiences.
Still, there is no denying that 24 set the stage for television drama and was groundbreaking in a number of ways. Besides its unprecedented real time format, it presented us with split-screen views of the action taking place, gave us a black and later on a female President of the United States, and showed us that our greatest vulnerability was not our adversaries but ourselves.
Jack Bauer has fought the good fight for eight seasons now. Sadly, this will be the last one, and now I will watch the remaining episodes with a deeper reverence than I might have before knowing this. It will be intriguing to see how this season ends, with the notion that Jack’s story comes to a close but will somehow move on in a film version. I think we all want to see Jack Bauer find some happiness, but we wonder if it will come on May 24 or be put off indefinitely, at least until Jack has another bad day, or series of days, on film.
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