Monday, May 24, 2010

The Best and Worst of 24

24-show-goes-carbon-neutral After eight seasons on TV, Fox's real-time drama 24 comes to a close tonight. There have been a lot of ups and downs over the years, some more egregious than others, but for every moment that made us vow to stop watching, there was another that hooked us again.

You've been reading our concise coverage of 24's eighth and final season since January - now, allow Craig and me to present some of our most (and least) favorite moments of the entire series.

The Good - Andrew

5342.gif Teri dies (Day 1): At the end of what was probably 24's best year creatively, Jack walks into a CTU back room to find his wife laid out on the floor.

This ending, after twenty-four hours of twists and turns and betrayals, set the tone for the series in a lot of ways. Jack gets no happy endings. 24 is a tragedy. This thread continues throughout the series, as everyone near to Jack is either alienated or killed, most recently Renee Walker a few episodes ago.

All the regulars die (Day 5): 24 has always struggled with its non-Jack characters. Day 4 was supposed to be a clean start for the series, but as the season wore on, more and more of the old supporting cast came back, bringing all their baggage with them.

The show's fifth season blew this out of the water, killing almost all of the old regulars in its opening half hour. This gave some of the best characters from the previous season (most notably the excellent Gregory Itzin) a chance to stretch their legs, and set the stage for 24's most successful year, both critically and in the ratings.

The Good - Craig

Nina's Evil (Day 1): Reinforcing the notion that Season One is hands-down the best season of 24, the reveal of Nina Myers as a mole remains one of the best twists the writers ever managed.  

Not only did it come super late, but it came after hours upon hours of speculation about Tony and other CTU idiots.  A lesser mole had already been found and promptly ended by Nina herself.  And the fact that Jack's wife was one of the people to figure it out made it all the better.  Season One stands tall because of the carefully crafted collision of Jack's personal and professional lives.

Also, Nina being evil more than made up for Dennis Hopper's terrible accent.  I still don't know what the hell that was supposed to be.

0000034516_20061021002017 Logan's Run (Days 4, 5, 6, and 8): Charles Logan is one of the weirdest, most entertaining characters ever to cross Jack's path.  When he first assumed the presidency in Season Four, it appeared to be an excuse to bring back David Palmer.  Logan couldn't make a single decision without nearly wetting himself, and Palmer stepped in to show him some tough love.  Turns out, the incompetence was all a cover.  In Season Five, we find him complicit in Palmer's assassination and a widespread conspiracy to bring chemical weapons into the country just so he could stop them and prove his strength.  Fucked up, right?

What sold me on Logan was how perfectly the writers deflected attention and suspicion away from him.  Everything from his crazy wife to suicide-committing cabinet members combined to prevent us from ever thinking he could be behind the day's tragedies.  Plus, he somehow convinced Jack not to kill him, lest Logan be immortalized like Lincoln or JFK.  What a little weasel!  Oh yeah, then they showed up to arrest him while he was eulogizing David Palmer.  Nice touch, guys.

It's no coincidence that Season Eight finally stepped on the gas right around Logan's arrival.  He and his jowls have been out of control this last time out.  Secretly negotiating with Russians, upending protocol at CTU, offering President Taylor Mephistophelean bargains.  He's a monster - and a completely neurotic, self-serving one at that.  Too many of 24's antagonists were bland, ethnic stereotypes.  Logan was the real deal: an actual villain.

The Bad - Andrew

cougar Cougar Kim (Day 2): In the first season, Jack's daughter Kim played a central role to the story - her kidnapping made the events of the California presidential primary personal for Jack, and 24 was at its best when Jack was involved personally, not just professionally.

In subsequent seasons, Kim became a nagging distraction that the writers had no idea how to use. One of the lower points was about midway through the second season, when a fugitive Kim had run off into the wilderness to avoid capture. Before one commercial break, she ran into a wild cougar. After the commercial break, the cougar wandered off without incident. This was as unnecessary as it was boring - a perfect description for Kim Bauer.

Like, all of (Day 6): I was actually out in season six - I watched the first four episodes of the season, and once I found out that it was Muslims and nukes all the way down (again!) I washed my hands of the series for the season. In a fit of boredom, I came back and watched it that summer, and for the life of me I can barely remember anything that happens. I know Zefram Cochrane was there. That's it.

The fact that the producers are willing to back me up on this one just proves my point.

The Bad - Craig

kimchase2_3A_250h The Rest of Kim's Life (every Day past Day 1): Early seasons of 24 tricked you into making you care about Kim Bauer.  "Oh, poor Kim, her mom's dead and her dad's crazy."  "Oh, Kim, you can totally be a CTU agent!  I believe in you!"  At the end of each day, I just felt like a fool investing in a character with the worst plotlines ever.

The divergence of Kim from the main plot heralded a sort of sea change for 24: the inclusion of preposterous, annoying subplots.  Why was she running around with that dude's kid in Season Two?  And I can't forgive her for Chase, the worst B-list CTU agent ever - well, until Freddie Prinze, Jr. 

In the latter half of 24, Kim's been used almost exclusively as a tool to make Jack cry.  He's busy, trying to organize an operation, and Kim comes in with a new psychiatrist boyfriend, poking old wounds.  Or Jack gets nerve-gassed and Kim walks around all teary-eyed before agreeing to give him her stem cells.  This is much better than pumas in the woods, but I've consistently longed for the days (okay, day) when what happened to Kim actually mattered.

cy_tolliver The 25th Amendment (Days 2, 4, 5, and 6): That I have multiple days listed under the Amendment for presidential succession should tell you something about 24's recycled plotlines.  In no less than four seasons, conniving cabinet members, vice presidents, and congressmen invoked the 25th Amendment to remove a president from office.

Season Two saw the Amendment stretched to its limits as cabinet members conspired to remove David Palmer from office for being unable to fulfill his duties.  In this case, "unable" meant unwilling to go along with popular opinion.  Later seasons were simply instances of presidents either getting messed up (Keeler and Wayne Palmer in Days 4 and 6) or messing up (Logan in Day 5). 

24 White House intrigue was always at its best when it wasn't about who's in the chair, but how that person navigates the day's trials (see Cherry Jones as President Taylor). 

All that said, I did love the mustache-twirling moment in Season Six when President Cy Tolliver (does anyone remember his character's name?) shadily watched Wayne Palmer expire.  Thanks, 25th Amendment.