How 24 has changed TV forever
Some of you might remember how I analyzed Lost the other day, and the recent passing of 24 has caused me to realize why this show was as successful as it was.
1) Edge of your seat suspense
The first episode of 24 had more suspense than most television shows have in their entire span. In the first hour (that is, the first episode), things were set in motion that could not be stopped, and the ride was quite awesome.
2) Invisible commentary
An early episode of 24 almost didn’t air because it depicted a plane blowing up. It aired right after 9/11, at which point the U.S. seemed incredibly paranoid about televising events that would remind us of it. Needless to say, the episode aired, and the controversy probably fueled the show’s audience.
A common issue of 24 was that torture seemed a necessary element of the plot. It was never shown as fun, and the show seemed to question its necessity in the face of tormenting one person for the sake of saving many. In season two, Jack Bauer went so far as to threatening to kill a man’s family to have him give information. Of course, it turned out that he was pulling a ruse, and there is not.
It sort of was there to get us to think about how good the Patriot Act really is. We really began to wonder if torture is the way to get information, even if it is for a “greater good”.
3) The deconstruction of Jack Bauer
In every season, Jack Bauer puts his life on the line. How is he thanked? He isn’t. Usually, he ends up going rogue against his own bosses to get the job done, and he does succeed. However, he pays the price. As a result, he is unable to maintain a good relationship, especially with his own daughter.
Like Dennis Leary’s character on Rescue Me, the main character is flawed to the point that he could be irredeemable, but the fact that he seems dedicated to give his life for the job. Most people don’t have jobs that they would be willing to give like that. Jack Bauer shows us that there are people who do thankless tasks in order to preserve the safety of others. In that way, he makes the ultimate sacrifice.
How it will not affect television: The realtime.
The conceit of 24 was that “events occur in realtime”, and that certainly removed the element of time out of it. Unfortunately, there were events that seemed to take a longer time than actually happened on the show. I mean, Jack Bauer seems to drive through LA without being stuck in traffic.
After a while, the aspect of “the day from hell” was waning. We couldn’t believe that all these bad things could happen in the space of a day, the characters wouldn’t tire, and villains had incredible back-up plans.
I noticed that no other show tried to imitate the realtime element of 24, and that was probably wise. It would come across as a knock-off.
It’s going to be a while before we see a show with the suspense power of 24, with a character people can get into. I suppose Prison Break is one good example, and Human Target may be another, assuming it gets another season.