Earlier this fall, FOX”s new action drama “24” received an incredible amount of pre-season buzz. Months before it was to set to debut, critics were hailing it as the best new show of the season. But after the tragic events of Sept. 11, the fate of the series lay in jeopardy. How would a grieving nation handle such a relevant topic in the midst of a national tragedy?
“24” revolves around the life of government agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), as he tries to stop an assassination attempt on an African-American Presidential candidate. Episode One begins at midnight on the day of the California Primary. Jack, who heads up the CIA”s fictional Counter Terrorist Unit, is suddenly called into the office to deal with the presidential threat. Pulled away from home just as his daughter disappears in the night, Jack must weed out a possible double agent while he attempts to solve his family problems over a cell phone.
While the actual premise of the show is a fairly typical thriller story, it”s the concept that”s the kicker. The idea to take one day in the lives of these characters and stretch it out over an entire season of television, makes use of this unique real-time element by spanning each episode over one hour of that day. Although the series does bear a striking similarity to the 1995 Johnny Depp film “Nick Of Time,” which used a similar assassination/real-time concept, the idea is wholly original to network television. The real-time device, along with the gimmicky split-screen editing and purposefully uneven sound mix all allow the audience to follow multiple overarching subplots simultaneously.
Sutherland, who has been seen recently only in made for TV and straight-to-video titles, displays strong emotional subtlety in his first high-profile role in years. The supporting cast is solid as well, especially Elisha Cuthbert as Jack”s troubled daughter and Dennis Haysbert as Senator Palmer, the presidential candidate. However, the real excitement lies in watching Sutherland struggling to balance his family crisis with the emerging national one. His taut and tense portrayal of Jack”s wounded family man and expert agent may be seeing a few Emmy votes around this time next year.
But while awards and praise linger in the background, the true test will come tonight, when the series premieres after a slight delay and minus a possibly offensive exploding airplane sequence. Playing out like a mini- action movie each week, there is no question that “24” is a precedent setting television show. And while this sleek new thriller may redefine the television landscape in the years to come, more immediately it will assess the strength of the American people in this newly content-conscious era.