Friday, 30 May 2014

9 Days In The Life Of Jack Bauer

Inspired by the new London based season, which I’m yet to watch any of so don’t worry about spoilers, I’ve started to re-watch the entire of 24.

I own the first 5 seasons on DVD, but I don’t think I’ve watched any of them since the first time through several years ago. I’m already onto season 3 after only a couple of weeks, so that gives you an idea of the addictive quality that has entertained so many people.

I’ve often seen people criticise the show for being ridiculous, over-wrought and hamstrung by it’s own real time set up. These people are missing the point. It’s those very features, especially the first two that most fans enjoy about the show.

It’s certainly the case for me. If I wanted to watch a hard-hitting, grounded and deep drama I’d watch something like the indisputably far superior The Wire. That’s not what I’m looking for when I watch 24. I watch the show for the melodrama, the brutal action and the sheer amount of chaos they manage to cram into a single day.

24, unlike Jack Bauer, it’s gravel voiced, permanently annoyed central hero, is not a show that stands up to too much questioning.

Characters switch sides and betray each other with such frequency that it’s amazing the U.S government doesn’t collapse between seasons due to the surely crippling trust issues everyone must have. Incidentally that’s been one of the enjoyable things about going through the show again; I largely remember who goes bad, but not always when or why, so I’m constantly suspicious of most of the characters, trying to work out when they’re going to turn on Jack.

Jack himself should have died about 15 times over by the midpoint of season 3, in one episode alone he was tased, cut with a scalpel that had been dipped in acid, beaten and injected with a chemical that stopped his heart. To Jack this is a slightly rough hour but other than stubbornly refusing to have a heart attack in later episodes, it’s treated as a temporary inconvenience. What’s impressive is that through a combination of almost everyone else being expendable and the likelihood of being stabbed in the back (literally and figuratively) the writers manage to maintain a high degree of tension despite the fact that it’s clear no one could actually kill Jack. Even when he tries to sacrifice himself he survives. You do start to question why the mere mention of his name doesn’t just see the terrorists abandon their plans and go home by around season 6, word must have spread by then.

It has proved controversial for it’s regular use of torture, seen by many to be condoning the practices that have been so fiercely debated in the post 9/11 world. It’s a fair criticism; torture is shown to get results the majority of time and is often the go to method of getting information.

You can make an argument that the time constraints of the show rule out a lot of other methods and it certainly doesn’t glamorise the scenes, never shying away from the brutal, horrific reality of forcing a confession from someone, but there is a genuine issue around the ubiquity of those methods in the show.
Some critics have also argued that the torture scenes are part of a wider neo-liberal wet dream atmosphere to the show. It’s understandable and to be expected that the show has become a target on this front. It began airing in late November 2001 and has run almost parallel to the real world War on Terror that has dominated so much of 21st century politics.

I’d argue that this particular criticism is unfair on a show that has been a lot more progressive and balanced than it’s often been given credit for. This is a show that had an eloquent, principled black president, long before anyone had even heard of Obama and has been credited by some with actually helping the latter’s rise to prominence by normalising the idea of a black president by having him on one of the most popular TV shows. 

Then there’s the plot that revolved around oil interests and war hungry politicians trying to drag America into a foreign conflict, which began while the Iraq war was only just appearing on the horizon for most Americans. Or you could look at the shadiest of the men 24 has put into the presidency, a man who’s actions include a fair few parallels with President Nixon (there’s even a physical similarity).

It’s one of the few shows to capture the over the top action & drama of the best action movies (Die Hard, Heat, the Bourne trilogy) in a weekly T.V show format. It’s never dull and does a remarkable job of making the 24 hour format work to it’s advantage, even if you might sometimes wonder when Jack eats anything or why every dramatic showdown takes place near the turn of the hour.

If this latest season of 24 set in the U.K is as simultaneously ridiculous and exciting as the previous 8, I’ll be very happy. I suspect we won’t get many more, because while Jack may be indestructible, Kiefer Sutherland is merely human and won’t be able to convincingly save the world that many more times.

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