January 11, 2005

Kiefer Sutherland begins another unbelievably bad day on fourth season of 24

Four years ago, television audiences were introduced to Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) and his motley counterterrorism crew, who, in each season, save the world (or do they?) over a 24-hour period. (Each episode is an hour in "real time" presented to the "chi-chick" chime of the show's signature digital clock). The past three "days"—generally separated by a year or so—have given us many unforgettable television moments. Like the time they dropped a nuclear bomb in the desert outside of L.A. Or the time the blonde girl got caught in a bear trap and stalked by a cougar. Or the time that that one guy was shot in the neck, went in for risky surgery, and was back at the office two hours later. And that's not even mentioning the time that Jack pretended to kill a terrorist's family. Or the time that Jack kicked a heroin problem in a matter of hours. Or the time that Jack (almost) died, or when Jack's amnesia-prone pregnant wife was killed by his double-agent ex-lover sidekick Nina (Sarah Clarke). Well, you get the idea.

Of course, one doesn't watch 24 for its connection to reality. No, one watches 24 because it is the synthesis of all of the absurdities of reality television mixed with classic, obvious potboilers. And let me be the first to say I've seen nearly every episode, though I haven't always been happy (or sober) about it. Despite the fact that 24 is Sutherland's show, two women—an ex-agent and an ex-first lady—were the reason to keep coming back. Sherry Palmer (Penny Johnson) and the aforementioned Nina Myers were as good television bitches as have existed on network TV since Melrose Place left us. We're talking first-rate, cold-blooded baby-eaters. Women who walked on screen and suddenly the absolute inanity of the show faded away as you watched talented grown women chew scenery. Unfortunately, they were both (very unsatisfactorily) killed in the last (very unsatisfactory) season, so as once again to surprise the audience and put the focus back to the indefatigable Jack.

And so, for better or worse, the fourth season of 24 is all about Jack. When we rejoin him, he's dating his boss's daughter and silently regretting that he's left the action-packed lifestyle of a counterterrorist agent. Lucky for us, the "chi-chink" counter already started minutes ago, and a train has already been blown up for the contents of a mysterious silver briefcase. Here we go again.

The new season of 24 seems to be a "best of" season. You liked the Mexican drug lord family? How about a terrorist family (with House of Sand and Fog's Shohreh Aghdashloo as the mother, no less)? You liked that blonde boy who may have been smuggling a virus (rather than cocaine) over the border? How about a brunette hacker who may have seen too much of some sort of doomsday code instead? Oh, I know! You like the forbidden office romance stuff? How about if Jack is sleeping with the daughter/assistant of his new boss? And, better yet, what if the boss is also at the center of the season's first story arc? But you miss the presidential stuff? Hmmm…what if we give you a new president? And what if he were more suitable to the Bush era? How about we cast the dad from the forgotten WB classic Unhappily Ever After as President? (A side note on presidents and 24: During the "Bush was wired at the debates" meme last year, did anyone notice that the same thing happened on 24 last season?)

Should you watch the new season of 24? Ask yourself three questions: Do you have the time on Monday nights to devote your full attention to a silly show? Have you been watching from the beginning? And do you care?

If you answered "yes" to all three questions, then by all means, watch the new season of 24. If you got hung up on one of the first two questions, follow my lead and just wait for the inevitable DVD box set that will come out in August.