Your next box set: 24

Jack Bauer's real-time heroics were intense, addictive and occasionally absurd, but like nothing we had ever seen before

He gets shot, tortured, addicted to heroin, imprisoned and even, on one memorable occasion, pronounced dead, all the time singlehandedly fending off the threat of a terrorist atrocity on US soil. But Jack Bauer gave as good as he got – killing a whopping 267 people (yes, we counted) and torturing scores more on his way to becoming a poster boy for the "by any means necessary" approach to anti-terrorism that prevailed in the US when 24 first aired, a mere two months after 9/11.

As Homeland draws to a thrilling climax, anyone mourning its absence should turn to its twisting, turning predecessor 24, where writers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa cut their teeth, putting our counter-terrorism agent through the worst days of his life. The show revolved around Kiefer Sutherland, brought in from the wilderness to play Bauer. Across eight really bad days, each one a season of 24 episodes, our heroic hardman faces down threat after threat, the first an assassination attempt on a black presidential candidate (a black president? never!) masterminded by Dennis Hopper. Later seasons saw him tackling everything from dirty bombs to super viruses – not to mention the countdown clock that became the show's calling card.

The clock reminded us that the action was presented in real time: each hour was an hour in the lives of those on screen, meaning the box set has a whopping 192 episodes. It was a gimmick that quickly became the show's raison d'etre, providing an intensity never before seen on TV. In 24, you didn't know what lurked around the corner: story arcs you'd expect to rumble on for an entire season would be sewn up in a couple of episodes. Major characters were offed with alarming frequency.

The series wasn't without its problems, occasionally all but collapsing under its own absurdity, most amusingly when Bauer's daughter almost gets eaten by a cougar. Then there was the revolving door of enemy agents operating at the highest levels of US government. And just when did Bauer go to the toilet? I wrote a dissertation on 24 and even I don't know.

Eventually, we came to expect the unexpected events that 24 was so adept at peddling. There are only so many times you can kill the president before the audience starts to see it coming. So it had to come up with increasingly bombastic ways to engage its audience. At one point in the final series, everything hinges on a swallowed phone memory card – guess how Bauer recovers it. Still, rewatching 24, it's hard not to get caught up in this addictive froth of real-time histrionics.

Contributor

Daniel Bettridge

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
24 - Live Another Day review: Kiefer Sutherland is a mesmeric presence
Jack Bauer's on the run, again, but this time he's in London. And it's still as exciting and addictive as ever, writes Sam Wollaston

Sam Wollaston

07, May, 2014 @10:00 PM

Article image
Your next box set: Boomtown

Original and offbeat police drama that explored cases from the differing perspectives of its seven main characters

Paul Brown

14, Feb, 2012 @2:30 PM

Article image
Your next box set: Generation Kill
Hilarious, horrifying and unashamedly boorish, the most shocking thing about Generation Kill, which follows US marines in Iraq, is that it's true

Kate Abbott

03, Jun, 2011 @7:01 AM

Article image
Your next box set: The Walking Dead

With Andrew Lincoln leading the fight for survival, The Walking Dead is more than just a horribly gory zombie saga, writes Maxton Walker

Maxton Walker

06, Mar, 2012 @3:09 PM

Article image
Your next box set: Six Feet Under

Six Feet Under is a kooky elegy on death and vulnerability, cut through with black humour and some truly horrifying moments, writes Kate Abbott

Kate Abbott

01, Apr, 2011 @7:00 AM

Article image
Your next box set: Dallas Season 14
JR Ewing is a narrow-eyed vulture in a stetson, at the heart of an ultra-macho soap opera

Julia Raeside

18, Feb, 2011 @8:00 AM

Article image
24: Live Another Day – just another cliche-ridden portrayal of London?

Mark Lawson: British viewers tend to find US film-makers' portrayals of London hard to take seriously. How will they cope with an entire season set in the British capital?

Mark Lawson

07, May, 2014 @10:22 AM

Article image
24 comes to London as tax break lures big-budget television shows to Britain

Money injected into the UK economy by big-budget television shows is almost outstripping films after introduction of tax relief

Hannah Ellis-Petersen

02, May, 2014 @6:07 PM

Article image
When good TV goes bad: how 24 became torturous viewing
Kiefer Sutherland’s action show was ahead of its time, tackling terrorism on telly in the aftermath of 9/11. But by series six it had become obsolete

Andy Welch

31, Jul, 2017 @12:00 PM

Article image
Designated Survivor: where’s Jack Bauer when you need him?
After an attack on Capitol Hill, Kiefer Sutherland’s meek housing secretary finds himself president after the rest of government are killed. We’re not in CTU any more ...

Julia Raeside

30, Sep, 2016 @6:30 AM