Clock still ticking on an action stalwart
HERE’S a television trivia titbit courtesy of Wikipedia: about this time next year, 24 , now in its seventh season, will become the longest running espionage series in TV history, overtaking the original Mission: Impossible and The Avengers . That sort of snuck up on us, didn’t it?
I’m not surprised, though: this Fox network series, with super spy Jack Bauer ( Kiefer Sutherland) as its implacable centre, is my favourite hour of TV escapism. I put Dexter and House in the same category, separate from big-brained shows such as Mad Men, a bit like Graham Greene divided his entertainments from his serious novels.
These escapist entertainments require a substantial suspension of disbelief. It’s unbelievable that Dr Gregory House can do what he does and not be fired or that Dexter Morgan can do what he does and not be fried, Florida still having working electric chairs.
But Jack Bauer stretches our disbelief to breaking point. It’s unbelievable, for starters, that he can pretend to be working for the bad guys, the basic plot device of the past few seasons, without them knowing that he’s really a good guy. The bad guys have the technological sophistication to eavesdrop on Kim Jong-il’s dinner parties. They have so infiltrated the US government that they know the truth about JFK. Yet no one has told them that Jack’s pulled this bad-guy trick a few times before.
Which is just as well because 24 is ripped from the headlines we never want to read.
An African strongman, assisted by evil Americans, has obtained a device that allows him to control the US’s infrastructure network.
He demonstrates its effectiveness
Good and bad: Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer stretches audience disbelief by crashing two planes outside the White House.
Chemical plants and nuclear facilities are next, unless president Allison Taylor backs down from plans to invade the strongman’s country to restore the elected prime minister.
Working to foil him are Jack and his old colleagues Tony Almeida ( of course he didn’t die), Bill Buchanan and Chloe O’Brian.
It’s good to have them back. The fact they are pretending to be bad guys ( and girls) means they also have to battle the FBI, CIA and other agencies, which are riddled with real bad guys. Australia’s Cameron Daddo pops up in a few weeks playing the vice-president and I wouldn’t mind betting he’s a bad guy, too.
24 brilliantly taps the anxieties and uncertainties of the post-September 11 world. But the show itself is something we can count on: seven seasons in, the action still unfolds in real time, the clock still ticks and it’s still thrilling to watch.