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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

TV Rewind | 24: Cracking the code of creating binge-worthy content

Starring Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer, 24 is perfect binge-worthy content that will simply not allow you to get distracted.

Written by Sampada Sharma | New Delhi |
Updated: October 18, 2020 8:49:13 am
Jack Bauer single-handedly saved America in all the seasons of 24.

Binge-worthy television shows were already quite a big part of our lives, but with the extended time that we have spent at home this year, it has somewhat taken over our lives. What we need as the perfect binge-companion is a show that is almost impossible to step away from and where the storyline is just complicated enough yet not tiresome. And 24 fulfils these criteria like nobody’s business.

Starring Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer, 24 started in 2001 and ran for eight seasons, with a few spin-offs.

What is 24 all about?

Every season of 24 follows federal agent Jack Bauer over the course of 24 hours as he fights terrorists to avert a national crisis. The 24 episodes of the season are broken down as 24 hours in a day, and that makes for some gripping action drama.

Threats of biological weapons, nuclear bombs, terrorists fleeing the country, Presidential assassinations were just some of the things that Jack handled single-handedly.

What works for 24?

When 24 started airing in 2001, it was the era of television and movies that focused on the good guys catching the terrorists, much in line with what was going on in the world. 24 kept those heroic stories at the centre, and even though much of the show was popcorn entertainment that was Islamophobic, it gained a loyal following among the masses.

The best thing that worked for 24 was Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. As the show began, we learnt that CTU agent Bauer has a lot of personal as well as professional baggage, but no matter what happens, this guy knows how to get his job done. Sutherland’s ability to hold the attention of the audience for an extended time, considering much of the show revolved around him, was fantastic to watch in those earlier seasons.

Any particular season of 24 was usually divided into multiple tracks that ran parallel to each other. Most seasons were also divided with different deadlines, so the audience did not depend on the last hour of the day, or the last episode of the season, to find the resolution. Every 7-8 episodes solved one big problem, but another problem cropped up soon after.

While binge-watching wasn’t a phenomenon back then, the storytelling of each episode of the series was so phenomenal in those early seasons that one couldn’t help but come back for the next episode.

The storytelling format and the looming threat of a crisis also reduced the capacity for plot points that served no purpose in the larger picture. After some high-action drama, there were moments where the main characters put their guard down, but that was usually to provide an emotional break.

For at least the first five seasons of the show, the formula worked perfectly, but it was the sixth season of 24 which made it obvious that there were only that many plays in the makers’ books.

What does not work for 24?

After watching the first couple of seasons of 24, it becomes evident that the show is quite predictable. In most scenarios, things fell into place, and when they did not, there was comfort in knowing who from the main characters was expendable.

Even though this show lasted for eight seasons, the biggest drawback it had was in the form of Jack’s daughter Kim Bauer. While she only became a recurring character after the third season, her subplots for the first three seasons were always the most bizarre ones.

The sixth season of 24 was the weakest link in its eight-season journey. While the season opened well with Jack returning from China after imprisonment, it was clear that the show was getting affected as it had lost most of its recurring supporting cast members. Mary Lynn Rajskub’s Chloe O’Brian and James Morrison’s Bill Buchanan were the only two familiar faces left at CTU by this point and the overall conflict of the season felt very convoluted, especially with the Bauer family getting more involved.

But these problems were taken care of in the subsequent two seasons, and the spin-off Live Another Day that reminded the viewers why they were still rooting for Bauer.

Another problem with 24 that bothered viewers season after season was the lack of consequences for its lead character. Of course, we all want to enjoy a great story, but it would have just made more sense for the lead character to actually suffer for his mistakes rather than him getting awarded every single time, no matter how much he tortures people.

The performances

Kiefer Sutherland eventually played POTUS in Designated Survivor, but he received all his training during his Jack Bauer days. Giving a convincing performance season after season, Kiefer won the critics and the audience over with his act. In the years since, Sutherland has often shared that the work on this series was quite strenuous as the crew shot for six days a week and it lasted for nine months in a year, which is way more than any other prime time show.

jack bauer 24 Kiefer Sutherland won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his performance as Jack Bauer. (Photo: 20th Century Fox)

Sarah Clarke, Dennis Haysbert, Carlos Bernard, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Gregory Itzin, Jean Smart were some of the best performers on the show.

The future of 24

After ending its American run, the show was adapted in India with Anil Kapoor in the lead role but was never revived after the first season. Kapoor also appeared in the final season of the US version.

In a recent interview with Forbes, Kiefer Sutherland said that he would be open to doing the show for a film/series if a great idea comes along. “I’ve always left the door slightly ajar for 24 if someone comes up with a great idea,” he said.

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24 is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.

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