“JACK BAUER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY OF THE CALIFORNIA PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY”
24 is a groundbreaking and important television series. Beyond the thrills, kills, twists and tragedies is a show that reached a new level of serialized storytelling and set the bar for action and suspense on network television. Lasting for 8 full seasons–192 Episodes plus a TV movie–24 is one of the longest-running shows of the past 15 years. Others, like Grey’s Anatomy, NCIS, Smallville, all three CSIs and three of four Law & Orders, may have run longer, but the argument can be made that none of those shows are equally as worthy of contributing to the debatably labeled and vaguely-defined “Third Golden Age of Television Drama” that began with The Sopranos in 1999 and is now fading with the impending finales of Breaking Bad and Mad Men. Perhaps 24 doesn’t quite reach the dramatic heights of those shows, or others like The Wire and Deadwood, or even The Shield, Lost or Battlestar Galactica, but it was always a strong awards and ratings contender and it was just so addicting and fun to watch.
Please join us—Patches, Zach, Jeff and MegaMix—as we take a look back at this series, discussing one season every month until the premiere of the new 12-episode miniseries 24: Live Another Day in May 2014.
This month’s discussion is focused on season one of 24, which premiered in November of 2001.
It contains SPOILERS for the entire series of 24, and strong language. Parental discretion is advised.
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24 was my TV series. It was the very first show I discovered on my own and watched as it aired from the first episode to the last. I took pride in the fact that I “found” it and could loan my season one DVD set to all of my friends.
The biggest selling point for the show is its real-time format. The one-episode-equals-one-hour / one-season-equals-one-day gimmick is brilliant. Real-time wasn’t exactly new to film and TV when 24 came along with several movies and TV episodes condensing time and using long takes (see the X-Files episode “Triangle” for a fun example). Even so, no 2-hour film or TV series was ever this ambitious with the real-time premise. 24 takes serialized storytelling to its logical extreme. This was what hooked me from season one, and this—along with the heavy use of stylized split screens—is the unique signature and legacy for the series.
I have long been a supporter of season one as the best season of 24 (or at least top 2). Upon rewatching, I’m willing to admit that it’s not nearly as slick as I remembered, and as it would become. Things start slowly. Action scenes are spread out. The shocks aren’t as big and the ass isn’t nearly as bad. But I kind of like that. Season one is more grounded in reality and smaller in scope and scale than subsequent seasons, to its benefit.
Season one takes time to consider Jack Bauer’s investigation process. We hear every important phone call and we have the steps laid out for us, like points on a timeline. We can feel the minutes go by as Jack roams a police station planning to set free guest star John Hawkes, as Kim and Janet run through a warehouse district and encounter a cranky male prostitute, or as Teri and “Alan York” go on their endless search for their missing daughters. It borders on boring (Teri) or silly (Kim) at times, but with one big exception (ladies and gentlemen, amnesia), the facepalm/head-shaking moments of the season are never worse than what we’d get from later seasons.
As in any “first season,” the 24 team needed time to figure out what they were doing and what the tone of series was going to be. It took until episodes 8 and 9 (the first attempt to kill Palmer and Bauer’s subsequent escape from Secret Service custody) for the show to begin to gel. As season one progresses, the pace increases, driving the action in service of the unstoppable ticking clock. Jack only kills 2 people in the show’s first ten hours, but he grows more lethal until he has achieved action hero status by episode 24’s climactic gunfight, giving us a taste of what was to come. It’s clear that the faster pace, questionable interrogation tactics (see Ted Cofell in the limo) and the bigger action scenes–all things that would become the series’ bread and butter–won this show more viewers and a second season.
I have to mention the gut-punch ending of season one, as it’s probably my favorite finale of the series because it was so shocking and because it would affect Jack Bauer so deeply. Mileage may vary on Teri Bauer (and her haircut), but by killing her off in the closing moments of the finale after the major threat was neutralized, the show opened the door for more death, darkness and unexpected surprises to come.
The cast is solid, particularly once the regular actors start to find their characters mid-season. I won’t argue the cast pedigree here, but I will say that I think it’s impressive that they deliver so well when I recognized so few of them initially. The smaller scale and slower pace of the season allowed not only the audience, but also the writers to spend more time with the characters, laying the groundwork for strong relationships which would sadly disappear as older characters went away and new characters failed to register on the same level.
The series is notable for tackling the issues of terrorism and torture in a post-9/11 world. Season one, while temporally closest to the actual attacks, is probably furthest from them in its narrative. By the end of the season we get the somewhat ethnic Drazen family, including the oddly cast and atrociously accented Dennis Hopper, but they come off more like rich white dudes bent on revenge than Middle Eastern/Arab/Islamic fundamentalists plotting to shake a nation. You may see it differently, but I think that discussion starts in earnest with season two.
Overall, I’m inclined to repeat that season one of 24 is among the best seasons of the show, despite the growing pains and slower pace. I’ve hardly even mentioned the actual plot of the season, and what works for me (pretty much everything Jack and CTU) and what doesn’t (some of Teri and Kim as well as Keith, Patty and Alexis/Elizabeth Nash) but I’ll turn it over to you. What is your take on season one?
Maybe I just like limousines.
After heavy convincing from yours truly, a good friend of mine and I started going through 24 together this last year. On this re-watching of 24 (this was, what, the fourth time through?) I was struck by an odd feeling: one of my all-time favorite shows not only wasn’t living up to my memory of it but maybe, um, kinda… sucked.
Could I have hyped it up too much in my mind? Had it just aged poorly? What happened?
And then Jack decides to be a limo driver.
When we hit episode 11, I finally remembered why I watched the show the first time around (and the second, and third). For better or for worse, when I think of Jack Bauer, I think of three scenes: the finales to seasons one and three… and the limo scene in episode 11.
Setup: After Jamey [seems to have] had a bit too much coffee, the gang pulls a name off her computer (was it an effing post-it note? quick work, gang). The name is that of area businessman Ted Cofell — so he’s gots to be a terrorist, right? Well, Jack dons some kickass shadage and voilla! he’s a limo driver. The viewer gets what, to my mind, is the first taste of JB: interrogator, one of the most notorious and debatable roles and, I think, the one for which the series is known.
The moment that sticks for me is Jack’s description of the towel torture used in the Russian Gulag. In one moment he transforms from mild-mannered family man / government agent to stone-cold “this dude’s seen some SERIOUS shit, gang” badass.
“You probably don’t think I could force this towel down your throat, but trust me: I can.”
In fact, that same episode ends with “Alan York” hopping in that same limo. Realizing who is behind the wheel, he immediately fires a few rounds into the divider window, and Jack doesn’t even flinch. You can shoot all you want, “Alan.” You’re effed.
This is all to say, simply, that I agree with what you said above, Jeff: the show starts off slow — painfully so at times — but once the writers and actors have a better grasp on who they are and what the show is, it really starts taking off. The product is a show that sticks with you long after you’re done watching.
Sorry, everyone. Time to interrupt all this praise for some real talk: I don’t like season one very much (Skip Bayliss loves my STRONG TAKES). It’s not that it’s bad. It isn’t. It’s solid television. But that’s it. Season one failed to “wow” me in any way. It never presented me with evidence that 24 would become one of my all-time favorite shows.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that nearly everything 24 did well in season one, it did better in some later season. Jack’s assault on George Mason in the pilot was great in establishing Jack’s willingness to buck the chain of command, but it was far more compelling when he came into conflict with superiors he knew and trusted, particularly Bill Buchanan in season five. Mason’s “You’re a loose cannon, Bauer!” act was done better by Larry Moss in season seven. As Zach pointed out, Jack’s towel line was nothing short of iconic and helped establish Jack’s willingness to do whatever he thought was necessary. However, Bauer went to far greater lengths with his torture of Paul Raines in season four and in risking war with Russia to avenge Renee Walker’s death in season eight. Jack blasting through the doors of the Drazen Compound was pretty boss, but every season except six had an action scene I thought was better. Bauer himself spent most of the season as a Taken prototype before transforming into “Jack Motherfucking Bauer” when he ran up a wall during the climax of season two, turning a headlock into a snapped neck.
Although cougars and CTU babies would dominate discussion of 24’s low points, season one has a lot to contribute to that discussion as well. Kim Bauer became a perpetual captivity machine. The terrible or disinteresting (or terribly disinteresting) political subplots of season one soon spawned ritual invocation of the 25th Amendment and eventually culminated in the disaster known as season six. And if the hilariously unnecessary plot complication of Teri’s amnesia didn’t prepare us for safari time with Kim Bauer, nothing would.
At the end of the day, season one’s highs weren’t as high as later seasons, but the lows were pretty equivalent. 24’s first season holds up a lot better when compared to other programs in 2001 than it does compared to its own later seasons.
Fuck that Dark Knight guy.
The hero we deserve, but not the one we need? I don’t buy it.
Jack Bauer is everything any one of us could EVER hope to be. Kiefer Sutherland, (spoiler alert) the actor that plays Bauer, is on record as saying that “Jack Bauer is on one level what we should expect of ourselves, and on another level what we should expect of others.”
Take a moment. Think about those two ideas. Now think about the possibility of them describing one person. Personally, it took me several reads just to feel like I understood the sentiment.
Season one of 24 is the groundwork, it is the infrastructure, and, potentially most importantly, it is the first impression of Jack Bauer that we get. Not the pilot. Not the first 13 episodes. The entirety of season one sets the tone for the series as a whole. Why? Because it’s only one damn day.
The dynamics and intricacies of the first season are honestly too many to fully delve into, but in the case of the show’s main character, the man and the myth, it’s really quite simple. At least according to Sutherland, who thinks that Bauer is “someone for whom everything comes at a price.”
Unfortunately for Bauer, the price always seems to match the level to which he is ever willing to go for the safety of the country he loves. He can save the life of a soon-to-be president, but at the end of the day (HEYO!), that life debt has to be paid by somebody, and “today” that tit-for-tat meant his one true love (and unborn child) had to be taken from him just as easily.
There’s no denying just how wicked awesome Jack Bauer really is, but 24 makes you wonder whether or not it’s actually worth it for him in the end. And by “the end,” I mean of each episode. Or of each season? Or ultimately, the entire series? And none of this is more legitimized than at the end of season one, the worst day of Jack Bauer’s life.
So, yeah. Fuck the “Bat”-man. I’ll take Bauer in this Battle Royale. JACK BAUER FOR PRESIDENT!!!
Full disclosure, I finished my re-watch of season one between my first post and this one. I found the back-11 episodes to be shakier than the first 13, calling into question my claim that things improved as they went along. I’ll give up a little ground there, but damn it™ if the show didn’t deliver two of the series’ finest hours in episodes 23 and 24, Dennis Hopper’s accent aside.
Patches. You cast yourself as the dissenter, but I’m not sure we’re in complete disagreement. I’m mostly on board with your “later seasons did things better/the bad parts stayed bad” claim. I’m just not entirely certain that this makes season one a “lesser” season of 24.
To modify your claim, and be very reductive, I’d suggest that subsequent seasons of 24 did everything BIGGER than season one. This was, of course, in an effort to top what had come before and do something different. We could argue the finer points of scale vs. quality, but for the action scenes on this show, bigger usually meant better. For twists and shocks though, it could sometimes feel forced or manipulative (The depth of Logan’s evil, Curtis’ demise, Jack’s family, “Bad Tony” and his flip-flopping, etc…), and of course for bad stuff, well, it could only get worse.
Often, a TV series needs to build to big moments for them to make narrative sense. I’m not saying season one was rife with tight plotting and logically sound payoffs. Obviously, there has to be some give and take if you’re going to be a fan of 24. You need to accept that certain rules do or do not apply in Jack Bauer’s world and that certain leaps of logic are required to propel you over plot holes of various sizes. However, perhaps since the first season was smaller in scale, and unburdened by the need to live up to previous seasons, the seams didn’t stretch nearly as much or show quite as readily.
Let’s look at it thusly: if every episode of season one earns a B+, does that make it better as a whole than a season that ranges from A+ to D but maintains a B+ average? I feel like your answer, Patches, would be “no” whereas I’d likely answer “yes.” I’m a sucker for consistency on TV, especially consistently “good” TV. How would the rest of you answer this one?
Between when I wrote my first part and now I have watched several episodes of season 3 (my favorite). I can’t yet make a claim about season three’s over-all consistency, BUT… I do think it is more consistently exciting than season one. From season two up until four, maybe five, I expect that’s probably the case as well. In terms of consistency of plot? I don’t know.
I think the dichotomy between consistency and highlights is a great one, and I will only weigh in on it shortly while letting Patches handle more completely if he chooses. Simply: I’m a bigger sucker for the highlights — I mean, when you ask me what I love about season one I’ll talk about scenes, right? Some of these scenes (Nina’s reveal, Palmer telling off
Satan Sherry) required series consistency to have the payoff they did; some (the limo scene, storming the compound pts. 1 and 2, Kim’s shirt) would have worked in any of the seasons. I might go so far as to claim that they dropped the former in favor of the easier and flashier latter in the seasons that followed.
What I would like to add, though, is that what makes this season better than several others (in my opinion) is what I’ll call darkness. In every season, Jack is a hero. In several seasons, he’s a tragic one. In only a few, he’s human. For season one, I’d like to point to the carJACKing / kidnapping of the waitress Lauren: the whole arc occupies only one episode, but in it we see:
Jack discuss how though he’s seen and done terrible things, “this” is the first time he’s ever been scared,
Jack showing enough weakness that Lauren can turn on him,
Jack starting to recognize that who he is and what he does may hurt those he loves, and
For the only time in the series, Jack falling asleep
These flashes of weakness are present in other seasons, sure; but I feel that there aren’t many seasons where it’s a focus. The SuperJack of seasons two and four, say, experiences loss and fears for Kim’s safety, but he’s really about blowing shit the eff up. season one Jack is afraid. Season one Jack gets tired. For me, 24 is at it’s best when it’s hero maybe isn’t.
Jeff, I think you’ve cut to the heart of it. Setting aside that I’d rate most of season one lower than a B+, I think your analysis of our differences is about spot on. I do like consistency from programs, however I tend to gravitate towards Zach’s end of the spectrum.
If a show wants me to remember it for consistency, it had better be The Wire-good. If not, it had better have some incredible moments that will stick with me for the rest of my life. That’s why I watch TV. For those moments. Sometimes they are twists or shootouts. Sometimes they are character development or a portrayal of moral issues. Sometimes it’s that moment where everything comes together. But it’s about moments for me.
Which brings me back to my original premise. Remember when I said, “I would go so far as to say that nearly everything 24 did well in Day 1, it did better in some later season?” I used “nearly” for two reasons.
First, Nina Myers was, by far, the show’s best mole. “But what about Dana Walsh?” you might ask? Just kidding. No one is asking that.
More importantly, no season ended better than Season 1. In case you forgot, Jack’s wife is fucking murdered!
Let’s break it down for a moment: A principal cast member is killed during the falling action at the end of the very last episode of the show’s first season. By another principal cast member. One playing a character who we liked for most of the season. And the victim was carrying Jack’s unborn child!
And why did this happen? Because the writers thought it would provide a greater emotional response than a successful rescue. They wanted to punch the audience in their souls. We are talking about Ned Stark-level cajones here. Some Vince McMahon-sized grapefruits. AC/DC big balls.
Farewell, Teri. We hardly knew thee. We’ll never forget you, unless we are suddenly affected by a lot of emotional trauma.
All of what Jeff, Zach, and Patches have said as of late is true, but when rating a show’s overall quality, I tend to lean more towards a show’s ability to create relationships as its main focus. For me, I’m not sure if there has ever been a show that had the time (Nailed It!) or quality of relationships, both good and bad, that 24 did during its run.
There are three specific relationships during the show that I will discuss in each of their “most important to me” days, and with season one I present you with Bauer v. Palmer. Jack Bauer and David Palmer. Jack and David sitting in a tree…Now, THAT would’ve been an interesting plot twist.
It isn’t until over halfway through the first season that we actually get to see the two men physically meet. When we do, the gravity of the characters’ budding relationship and the weight of the actors’ abilities feel like a chandelier hung from your nuts. And it’s heavy too.
The characters themselves are so very similar, and yet their approaches were, at least inherently, different. They both work for the government. They both care about their families a great deal and assumed that they would be able to protect them from their lines of work. They both have the country’s best interest at heart.
That last point is where the approach really begins to differ. The ends to which each of them will go seems to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, at least at first, from each other. David wants to do everything as close to the book as possible while knowing that sometimes you have to bend the rules for the safety of the country. Jack, on the other hand, knows that sometimes you have to break the rules and then tell your frightened daughter to shoot the rules…twice (more on that later), in order to get the results that he feels are best for the country.
Unfortunately for Palmer, but fortunately for the audience, he will continue a slide towards Jack’s way of life throughout the series. The give-and-take fluidity of Jack and David’s relationship make it a good one, but what ultimately makes it a great one is the respect, admiration, and, most importantly, trust that each has for the other.
Relationships, not highs and lows or consistency, is what makes TV great, and 24 has them in spades.
To Vote for the BAUER/PALMER ticket, press 1.
Jack Bauer’s Season 1 Kill Count: 10
Best Moment: The phone conversation between Jack and Teri in episode 23. Jack has just made the decision to trade his life for Kim’s and Teri calls him to tell him she’s pregnant with a child he knows he’ll never see. This is drama…
Parting Shot: …and this is why the Kief won the Golden Globe for best actor in a drama. Sure, he (and the show) would win an Emmy for season five, but as Zach mentions above, (almost) nowhere else in the series would we see our hero act so human. Golden Globes may be the inbred cousin of entertainment awards, but the performance is great. Also, the pilot episode earned a writing Emmy for Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran. Make your own conclusions (and consider the nature of the series), but it’s the only time the show would be nominated for something to do with writing outside of a WGA win for Evan Katz for season two, episode 12.
Best Moment: A bit of a cop-out, but I’m going to have to go with the aforementioned limo-scene. Stone cold JackAttack. A very close second is the scene between the Palmers in the ballroom. No matter how many times I see it, I still want to see Sheri get effing told.
Parting Shot: For many, this will be a “yeah… duh” comment, but it took me almost 10 years to put this together. In some card games there is a specific suit that is trump, and often the highest card in that suit is the jack. In Euchre (and maybe others?) this card (the jack of the trump suit) is called the Bower, from the German word for farmer (bauer). The Jack Bauer: the card that trumps them all.
Best Moment: Instead of rehashing my last contribution, I’ll just remind you that Lou Diamond Phillips showing up to get killed in his second episode was a thing that happened.
Parting Shot: The first villain introduced in the series was also the most successful. Over the course of the first four seasons, Mandy blows up an airplane and steals a man’s identification for an assassination attempt, incapacitates President Palmer for half a year, assassinates the Governor of California (24:The Game is canon, right?), and takes Tony Almeida hostage before being captured by Michelle Dessler’s competence and Curtis Manning’s badassitude. Then, she gets away scot-free in an immunity deal… FOR NOW!
Best Moment: For me, it has to be the introduction of one of 24’s most powerful weapons (other than Kim’s ability to be a nuisance), the silent clock. The first of it’s kind, and amazingly powerful, the silent clock will be used many times, some better than others, but its establishment of meaning after Teri’s death is unrivaled.
Parting Shot(s): I’m last, so I get two, right? One: Something you may not have noticed is that both Mac and PC format computers are used throughout the first season. What you may not have noticed is that the bad guys always use PC and the good guys use Mac. Love it! Two: An episode without Carlos Bernard (episode 16, “3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m”). HOW DARE YOU 24 WRITERS! Tony Almeida is subsequently in every other episode for the next three seasons.