If you’ve visited this site in the past, you’ve noticed me around, but with the slight shift that we’re taking away from news and toward opinion and commentary regarding series 7, I felt like I should reintroduce myself:
I’m Daniel Hardy, Liverpool fan, Web designer and TV addict.
I couldn’t tell you exactly what my tastes in TV are – they change and evolve, and I often have a hard time describing them beyond “I like good TV.” Just what is good? It’s simply too subjective a word.
Well, in 2001 I was given a helping hand: a new show started airing and I could point to it and say “That’s what I like”: 24.
Perhaps it’s a bit tedious to list the reasons I liked it. It’s been done by so many other people so many times before. But I will try anyway, in the off chance I might mention something new: it was fresh, it was cool, it made you think and it did truly break the mould for TV at the time, something which is very hard to do.
You mulled every episode over for a full week. Some people thought of that week as a curse; it was in fact a blessing. You needed seven days to recover and to fully play back all the key points in your head and analyse and plot possible future developments. When the new episode finally arrived you compared your projections against the actual happenings as the plot thickened. That was the ritual.
When series one finished, I wasn’t sure at first if there would be a second. Then I heard that there would be but they might not use the same characters. People thought that was crazy – after all, we’d just spent so much time getting to know these rich three dimensional characters. Viewers wanted to know what happened to them. What would Jack do after the death of Teri?
Personally, I would have perfectly understood them not using the same characters. After all what I truly enjoyed was the unique format, and the characters were a product of that format, not the other way around. This feeling meant I’ve never quite fallen into one of the “Jack is 24” or “Almeida is God” camps.
It’s not that I don’t love Jack and Tony as characters – I do. When they lose a loved one in a terrorist plot, it hurts, when they get betrayed, I’m angry. Yet I don’t need these characters to be the centre of attention to enjoy the show, I’m much happier when the show as a whole is stronger.
This is why I enjoyed series five, why I could view it as something other than a betrayal of the faithful audience. It had a lot of similarities to the original, often going for silent menace over loud bangs. Gregory Itzin’s President Logan was a joy to behold, Jean Smart as Martha perfectly cast and plus a well written central arc to the series which slowly boiled up, right to the finish. It’s true that it required too much of a sacrifice to get there, and Tony’s exit was botched, but on the whole it was good, very good, and so with a lump in my throat I’d accepted his death as a penance that had to be paid.
Of course I was angry at how he wasn’t honoured with the silent clock, with us getting only silence from the producers as we were left to guess why the clock was allowed to chime – the best guess I heard was that a first time editor did not know the traditions.
They blew that play, don’t ever let them convince you otherwise.
But I moved on, hoping that the show would continue in the better rhythm they found themselves in. And the first four episodes of series six looked very encouraging. Kiefer was in top form, taking Jack to darker depths never before seen. The writers seemed to have come up with an original twist on the now aging terrorist nuclear plot. Even when the big bangs came Kiefer ensured they weren’t just cheap thrills: Jack’s horrified and gut-wrenched expressions put the events in a truly grounded context. The line “Tell the President I’m sorry, I don’t think I can do this anymore” landed like a hammer blow at the end of the fourth episode. You believed him, certainly I did. I felt a watershed moment had arrived, or at least was coming.
Except it didn’t. Five minutes later Jack was back, compelled by the laws of American network TV to come back from the brink of the abyss. I don’t think series six ever truly recovered from that moment, when they turned their backs on what they’d been building for 4 hours to walk the safer, well-known path instead of exploring new territory. Sure, series 6 had a few more memorable moments when they dared, but it took another 20 episodes for it to get back to where it had been at the end of hour 4: Jack, looking out over the abyss, searching for a reason not to fall in.
And so, since then, they’ve been searching. For 18 months. They’ve been on a long journey of false starts, even through in an African adventure (24: Redemption) which, while good, wasn’t the triumphant return to form which I’m sure many had hoped for. So eventually they’ve decided to look back in order to look forward (Counter-intuitive possibly but thats 24).
Tony’s back. And he’s bad.
To be honest, I am not sure how strongly the return of a character I cared about has coloured my expectations for series 7. Certainly it does. But in truth after seeing the first 17 minutes of the season, Tony’s return is only one of many things that have changed for the better.
The first 17 minutes are everything I had hoped they would be, everything I had hoped 24: Redemption would be. This 24 is decisive, it knows what it wants to do, and it’s doing it. Previously, the show had become hopelessly constrained by rules and traditions that sprung up out of laziness and lack of will power. But this time it only follows the rules it wants to. Some rules it follows with a slight hint of cheek, and instantly those moments become fresh again.
By some magic this 24 does feel like a new show. It has that new car smell back. And so new characters don’t have to be introduced to us in some contrived awkward office banter that has to tell you the character’s personality in two lines. The world of 24 has grown up while we’ve been away. It’s wearing a sharp suit, it’s got a glint in it’s eye and most importantly it’s doesn’t ramble on at you. It tells you what you need to know, the rest you’ve got to figure out on your own.
Perhaps talk of it being a new show will scare away the old veteran fans, but it shouldn’t. Through all the freshness, Jack very cleverly acts as our way back into the show, as they introduce him around to the key members of the office they are introducing us. When they show him respect they are showing respect for the shows history.
He walks into the FBI office, and as he does so, he looks around, taking in both the familiar and the new.
And what’s familiar in this new version of 24 is everything we loved about the show in the first place: it’s fresh, It’s cool, it’ll make you think.
It is indeed hard for me to keep a lid on my enthusiasms when the first 17 minutes are the best first 17 minutes since the very first 17 minutes.