John ArmstrongFilm

OK, I broke down an decided to watch the popular television series 24. (I watch very little television, though I love movies of various sorts.) I have so many good friends who are avid viewers of 24, and when I call them they tell me to call back later when the show is over, that I became intrigued by the rage. I decided to do the rational thing, I think, and rent the videos of the first season. I saw the entire season one the last ten days. (I think the program is in its sixth, or maybe seventh, season now but avid fans can inform me.) I watched the final episodes of season one last evening. The suspenseful ending just blew me away. This is not your father’s happy ending stuff. These writers want you to believe that almost anything can happen and it quite often does on 24. I can almost see office pools forming to wager on who the next "mole" is in CTU or what odd turn will impact the nation next?

The series is built around the work of agent Jack Bauer, a Los Angeles leader of the CTU (Counter Terrorism Unit). Bauer is played by lead actor Kiefer Sutherland. What makes the series so unique is its approach to time, always a fasscinating form for drawing us into a process and story. Each season has 24 episodes and each episode (one week’s show) is one hour in a day with the total of 24 episodes making only one day of real time. The season begins at midnight and ends at midnight, thus a one-day cycle. This requires compressing every single action, or visual frame, into an unfolding sequence that keeps you riveted to the plot. The writers are plainly brilliant. Rarely has television done this well in the modern era. The actors are good and in many ways this series is much better than most popular movie thrillers, though it has a bit of a soap-opera effect on the viewer since it keeps drawing you back each time. The difference is that there is resolution at the end of the 24-hour day, or the season, but it is not what you would expect out of popular television at all. (By the way, by using a Tivo, or by watching it the way I did, you miss all the commericals, a total waste of time.)

The Daily News appropriately says of 24: "It’s a thrill ride—so intense and fast-paced that it ought to come with guardrails attached." Whew, that about sums it up. I confess I liked it. Some will be put off by the violence but this is not child’s play we are dealing with as subject matter, but terrorism in a time since 9/11. Some will suggest 24 follows real life too closely, or perhaps defines it too carefully. I disagree. It is certainly fanstasy, in the most modern sense, but it is really a good action thrill ride. So, I admit, I am now a fan of 24. But please, do not tell me how the second, third and fourth seasons develop until I get further along. I am enjoying this little pop-culture ride and would be most unhappy if you tell me too much. Someone already told me this week what happens to presidential candidate David Palmer. I wish I had not been told. This is one way I unwind from the pressures of my 24-hour day. Please, let me enjoy it. If you are of the mind to try 24 be sure to begin with season one. It is easy to get from a local video rental store.