Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

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Kiefer Sutherland on 24: Live Another Day

Of all the tidbits of show business trivia I know, one of my favorites is the fact that The Da Vinci Code was nearly optioned to serve as the basis for the third season of 24. (More accurately, producer Joel Surnow read the book, thought the plot would work well for the show, and approached Brian Grazer about the possibility of acquiring the rights. By then, the book had taken off enough to price them out of the market, although Grazer did, in fact, later end up producing the film version for Ron Howard.) I love this story because it serves as a reminder that 24 was never really conceived as a political series. The first season centered on terrorism because it was a convenient framework for the show’s real-time conceit: when you’re structuring a series on cliffhanger after cliffhanger, it helps to have a premise that provides a neat succession of ticking clocks. Movies have long turned to terrorism plots as engines for stories that are really about something else—or even just an excuse for a string of action scenes—and if Jack Bauer was routinely called upon to save the world rather than, say, solve a mystery at a secluded country house in Hertfordshire, it’s only as an extreme way of raising the stakes.

But at its heart, the show could have been about anything, and it probably would have been, if it weren’t for the fact that its premiere episode aired on November 6, 2001. What had originally been intended as a tense, competent piece of escapism suddenly became burdened with greater meaning, evidently to the surprise of its creators. I’ve noted before that attempts to read 24 as Bush-era propaganda are overblown: each season almost invariably concluded with the exposure of a vast right-wing conspiracy, and its use of torture was less an ideological statement than a cynical but effective way of advancing the plot within the constraints of its premise. Assuming that the story about The Da Vinci Code is true, as late as the second season, Surnow was still thinking of the show as a fundamentally old-fashioned serial, one that could just as easily be about the Holy Grail as a nuclear bomb going off in Pasadena. In many ways, part of me would have liked to see the show take that direction, which might have helped avoid the deadening sameness of its last few seasons. Ultimately, however, a series that should have been about time ended up being about its times, and it found itself increasingly trapped by the precedents it had created.

Mary Lynn Rajskub on 24: Live Another Day

And now we have 24: Live Another Day, which brings back much of the principal cast and creative team of the show for a reboot that confusingly only spans twelve episodes, although it still covers a full twenty-four-hour period with occasional time jumps. Watching the premiere last night, I was struck by how solid the basic visual scheme of the show remains: the split screens, the gunmetal palette of the sets, the ominous appearance of that digital clock. If the original run of 24 was often the most compelling show on the air—its fifth season, in particular, is one of my favorites of any series—it’s largely because that underlying framework was so robust. Unfortunately, this latest version doesn’t seem to have thought beyond recreating the show’s look and feel into channeling it toward more interesting ends. It’s a throwback, not a step forward, and although the plot of this season tosses in references to drone warfare and Wikileaks, it still falls back on all its old tricks, even if Jack is now working outside the system. I don’t entirely blame them: these are good tricks. But they’re so flexible and effective at telling all kinds of stories that I can’t help but wish that the show’s creators had used the intervening four years to think about how else they could be employed.

As it happens, I watched 24: Live Another Day on the same night I caught up with the Lego installment of The Simpsons, which marks the first time I’ve watched a new episode in maybe three or four years. (The last one would have been the crossword episode, which just goes to show that gimmicks still work to pull in reluctant viewers like me.) As a result, it was an unexpectedly nostalgic night of television, and I found myself thinking of how one show commented on the other. The Simpsons sees the world of Lego as one in which “everything fits with everything else and nobody ever gets hurt,” while 24 remains a series in which everything fits with everything else and everybody gets hurt. And both, in their own way, are oddly reassuring. 24 aimed to unsettle us, and it became even more unsettling in the light of historical events, but it was always a deeply conservative show, less in its politics than in its storytelling. Its monsters always had a practical motivation: every act of apparently random terrorism was a mislead, a red herring, or a move in a larger game of chess. The world it envisioned, for all its violence, was a fundamentally rational one, which is far less frightening than reality. Perhaps a show that was all about plot and structure never could have allowed for the possibility of terror that existed only for its own sake. Which only means that even if 24 never strayed into Dan Brown territory, it was still always a fantasy.

Written by nevalalee

May 6, 2014 at 9:46 am

2 Responses

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  1. Nice one… and I agree with you…

    pratheekreddy68

    May 6, 2014 at 12:08 pm

  2. btw you might wanna read some inspirational and thought provoking articles and poems in my blog http://pratheekreddy68.wordpress.com/ jus take a look… hope you’d like it

    pratheekreddy68

    May 6, 2014 at 12:11 pm


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