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Feature: 24

24 heroes

Three days of 24 hours, three threats to Los Angeles. But could Jack Bauer be past his prime for dealing with threats to national security?

For the last three years, we have been given the chance to witness the LA branch of America’s Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) as it protects the public from all kinds of threats to national security. 24, the show that put Kiefer Sutherland firmly back in the Hollywood spotlight, has grown from an ambitious idea into one of the Fox channel’s hottest commodities (even to the point of advertising the third season with a two-minute trailer shown in cinemas), but how long will it be before interest wanes?

At the moment, 24 has a lot going for it. In an effort to bring the right amount of sex appeal to the show, there is a wide range of actors to cater to the various demographics of the audience. Jack, Tony, David, Chase, Nina, Michelle and Kim all represent a certain look, so people are assured some eye candy to watch each week. Kiefer is still the star, of course, and can pull in the ratings with his participation alone. The real-time aspect of 24 still sets it apart from other programmes and provides a way to crank up the tension, with the trademark cliffhanger endings guaranteeing that when that clock stops, so does your heart. All in all, 24 is real ‘water-cooler’ entertainment, something that people talk about on a weekly basis and follow through until the end. The audience wants to know how Jack will deal with the ridiculous odds piled up against him each episode and the way 24 episodes dovetail into one another means that to miss any individual part of a season is like not seeing a piece of the overall picture.

Part of what makes it easy to fall into the fantasy is the attention to detail regarding continuity. Being a producer on the show too, Kiefer Sutherland takes his role very seriously and he often considers new ways to keep a high level of realism on set. An accidental cut on his head in the first season turned into extra hours in make-up when the actor suggested it should be written into the plot. Similarly, in the third season, where Jack is required to have a tattoo on his wrist, he opted to have the inking done as opposed to a forgery applied each day.

The flip side to that realism, however, is that it is obvious that certain things are neglected. It’s understandable that under the adrenaline rush of trying to stop an impending terrorist attack sleep could be put on hold, but other things are certainly necessary. When was the last time we saw an agent going to the toilet, or for that matter eat or drink anything? Such simple actions in another programme could be omitted, but in 24, where every decision is important, the fact that Jack Bauer is driving his four by four after, say, a 15-hour shift, without even the thought of a strong coffee and a chocolate bar to keep him going is a little unlikely.

by Ian Hockley

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Image © Visual Imagination, 24 © 20th Century Fox
Feature © Visual Imagination 2004. Not for reproduction

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Cult Times #103
April 2004
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