January 15, 2006

Making a Commitment... to 24

Over the last four years, Jack Bauer has been the baddest dude on prime-time television. Portrayed by veteran actor Keifer Sutherland, Bauer is a government agent tasked with saving the world. It may not be his official job description, but he's done it enough to be recognized for it. Bauer has and will do anything for his country; abandon his daughter, maintain a debilitating drug addiction, even kill his supervisor.

The show in question is 24. But you already knew that, right? 24 has been one of those rare shows that has maintained both critical and popular success over the course of its entire run. While the show has been criticized at times for being unrealistic and perhaps overly dramatic, it's hard to find a show that better enthralls the viewers, toying with their emotions all the while. Don't get too attached to a character; there's no guarantee they're even a "good guy."

The backbone of this series is its "real-time" presentation. Each season contains twenty-four episodes, which add up to be one complete day (sleep deprivation, anyone?). Thus, each episode contains a full hour of action (commercial breaks cause roughly 15 minutes to take place off-camera). Initially seen as a gimmick, this style of presentation has become vitally important, as it allows for several plot lines to co-exist within the span of the hour. If Jack's not doing anything interesting for ten minutes, the show details the activities of one of the supporting characters.

Each episode is filled to the brim with plot twists and betrayals, which, while ultimately interesting, require the viewer to take in damn near every single minute. Or else. Miss an episode and you'll be lost. Miss two or three and you might as well give up. I watched the majority of the first season and was rewarded with an excellent, mind-numbing narrative that never let up. Unfortunately, as a young college student with work commitments, I didn't catch the whole second season. The third and fourth are largely a mystery to me. I wanted to pick it up again last year, but missed the two-night, four-hour premiere and knew it was pointless.

But it's 2006! It's a new era! It's the era of the digital video recorder, a.k.a. the DVR. The DVR allows me to record an entire series with the click of a button and not think twice about it. Yeah, Tivo's been around for years, but I'm poor, and I moved so much between home and campus that it wasn't worth the commitment. But now that I have a permanent home, I ordered the Comcast HD-DVR box and my television life has changed completely.

The critical buzz leading up to the fifth season of 24 was amazing. Tracking website Metacritic classified the average review score of the premiere as "universal acclaim." Yet, I wasn't sure that I wanted to get into it. Another hour-long weekly serial? Do I want this in my life? I've recently found pleasure in reading, the sanctity of which I wish not to violate. And yet, as I catch a glimpse of familiar characters, I cannot resist.

24 has featured so many plot twists over the years that it's nearly rendered the concept cliche. Still, season five goes for the shock and awe effect by killing off two main characters in less than fifteen minutes. Consider me interested. Where's Jack Bauer? Certainly he can save the day! To the best of the government's knowledge, Bauer has been dead for eighteen months. But Jack faked it, dropping off of the radar to protect himself and the ones he loves.

Jack Bauer now works day-to-day on an oil rig, living in a rented room amongst ancillary characters (who may or may not become important later on). But when the violence continues and Jack is pegged for one of the murders, he must rescind his newly simple life and discover the almighty truth. What results is an action-packed, high-tech, roller-coaster ride (about those cliches...) that never fails to leave you breathless. Or speechless. Either/or.

Jack Bauer is the James Bond of our generation; he freely kills to achieve his goals, he handles enemies with physical ease, and he's quite resourceful and intelligent. The main difference is that Bauer has heavy baggage (the aforementioned family and drug issues), and that's what makes him a more believable character. He rarely gets off the hook without some type of personal termoil. While most aspects of the show are alien to our daily lives, the personability of Jack Bauer gives us a hero we can relate to.

24 is eminently compelling viewing. DVR or not, this show should be part of your weekly routine. The next two episodes air tomorrow night at 7pm CST on Fox. After that, it goes weekly on Monday nights at 8pm. If you missed the premiere... find a way to see it before the series gets into full swing. Find a friend who recorded it or locate a download (it shouldn't be hard). If you did catch it, keep on with it. The ultimate reward should be well worth your commitment.