Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Final Countdown: Time Runs Out on '24'

While there seemed to be much more hoopla and press regarding the last episode of 'Lost' on Sunday night, Monday night brought an end to the television series that was my favorite of the past decade: 24.

The around-the-clock adventures of Jack Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland, may have been better during some of 24's eight seasons than others, and the last two seemed somewhat spotty, but even at its worst, 24 never made me not want to watch.

And that's saying a whole lot.

There have been a total of 193 episodes, including a 2-hour television movie prior to Season 7, and I have seen every one, almost always either on the night it aired or within a day or two.

Sometimes 24 had plot lines, or characters, that pushed credulity.  Sometimes Jack blurred the line between "doing what needs to be done" and outright criminality, either in torturing suspects to reveal needed information or in shooting those who got in his way, even if they were just following orders at times when he was disobeying them. Occasionally things became a bit formulaic and you kind of knew what was going to happen. And in several season, there were subplots that just wasted time without really going anywhere (most vivid in my mind is this past season's strain about Dana Walsh's past).

But 24 was never boring.

And while there were often clear delineations between good and bad characters, others, including most notably Jack Bauer himself, provided interesting character studies in the midst of crisis.

In fact, while it was probably a necessity of the show, rather than a weakness, that most supporting characters came or went within a season or two, and none except Chloe O'Brian (played by Mary Lynn Rajskub) lasted all eight seasons, some of the secondary roles were so well-characterized that I wished they didn't disappear.

But at the end of the day, Jack really was a lone wolf, and to complicate the show or his life with too much baggage probably wouldn't have worked.

While I'll miss seeing Jack saving the world 24 Mondays a year, and will assuredly see the 24 movie that is said to be in the works despite being unsure of its necessity, I have to say that ending now seems right. I think 24 had run its course, to the point that it sometimes felt like a parody of itself.

Yet beyond being a visceral thrill, I think the show did add something to the art form of television by working in real time (even if people often changed settings with unrealistic expediency) and heightening the idea that "every moment counts."

Of course, 24 will live on forever in reruns, on and on DVD. And with the film slated for 2012 (according to IMDB), Jack will be back.

But for now he's heading out of the country, hopefully for a well-deserved rest. I wish him well.

Time's up, but it's been quite a ride.

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