People have been bugging me to give "24" a try for five years now, but I've resisted, not wanting to risk liking it and having to commit to 24 episodes of something in a row. This year I gave in, watching the two-part, four-hour season premiere Sunday and Monday nights. My fears were justified -- it is compelling television, and I'm probably hooked for the rest of the season. How can you not be caught up in a show whose first two episodes start with a bus blowing up and death by biting out of the carotid artery and end up with a nuclear bomb going off in Los Angeles?
I don't know what the earlier seasons were like, but the show does not seem like the conservative love fest some have said it is. It is refreshing to see mass entertainment willing to actually acknowledge that there are muslim extremists who want to kill us in our own country, but the series doesn't seem to be merely gung-ho, kill-the-terrorists escapism. People have to make terrible choices in response to the terrorism, and they suffer because of those choices. It looks to me like there is plenty to make liberals and conservatives and everybody in between squirm. This assessment seems about right:
Then there's Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), who has seen his wife killed, executed an innocent man to stop an attack, tortured people (sometimes mistakenly), been tortured and spent two years in a Chinese prison. Unlike James Bond, who just gets younger and tougher, by the new season Bauer is tired, disillusioned and wondering how much longer he can fight the Long War. His scars are not only physical; his work has cost him relationships and perhaps some part of his humanity. He has been changed and damaged by every compromise he has had to make. By extension, he forces us to ask if we have too.
He keeps fighting, of course (he has 24 episodes to fill), but for people, not politics. 24's ideology--Jack Bauerism, if you will--is not so much in between left and right as it is outside them, impatient with both A.C.L.U. niceties and Bushian moral absolutes.
"24" is a rare combination of compelling entertainment and thought-provoking story lines and characters. I'm glad I finally gave in.