“24” was the perfect post-9/11 television show and a staple of the Palakurthi household while I was growing up. Starring Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer, a rogue, take-no-prisoners white American counter-terrorism agent, the series offered loads of action, suspense and entertainment for its viewers, all under the premise that each episode took place over the course of an hour, with 24 episodes per season.
Sutherland’s “great, undersung performance” per USA Today writer Robert Bianco, elevated his character from a typical embodiment of stoic masculinity to this All-American icon. Every time Bauer speaks, we know that his word is practically gospel, whether to his daughter, a fellow counter-terrorism officer, or even the president. It’s totally unrealistic and often times we will frustratedly scream at other characters who don’t listen to Jack – not because their thought process is flawed, but because we are all part of the cult of Bauer. Sure, we know that his way of doing things involves significantly more cut throats, head shots and torture scenes, but it’s all in the defense of America, right?
For a show mainly about Bauer stopping numerous government conspiracies, terrorist schemes and save American lives, “24” offers a significant number of supporting characters with surprisingly powerful and tear-jerking deaths. For example, President David Palmer, played by Dennis Haysbert, is one of the series’ finest characters, with his commanding presence and calm demeanor as a strange type of foreshadowing for President Obama today. The weirdly charismatic Mary Lynn Rajskub plays hacker extraordinaire and fiercely loyal Chloe O’Brian, who embraces a level-headed sidekick to Bauer’s guns-blazing, John Wayne-esque hero.
Despite the show’s exciting series of plot twists, character development and strong visual directing, retrospectively, it has eye roll-worthy moments of cringe and cheesiness. Especially in the later seasons, when Bauer’s “trust me’s” starts to become cornier and a rite of passage. Moreover, though early season-long plots are well written and intricate with memorable villains, the later seasons start to become almost hackneyed, if notfor the occasional deaths of major characters.
However, the biggest issue comes from the casual depiction – perhaps even a validation – of torture and American interventionism within “24.” Through the massive amount of times that we see Muslims as villains, we also see the show’s seemingly moralistic black-and-white messages. It can be really exhausting to sit through 14 years later when we don’t have the same amount of fear and hysteria around terrorism as we did while massively involved in a war.
14 years later, I’m still unsure if the series remains simply a product of its era, or if it’s something I’m not too embarrassed to enjoy. That said, “24” is still pretty good, for blatant right-wing propaganda.