All right, so no one can say I’m not a big enough fan of “24.” After watching the first three seasons in about five days freshman year, I’ve tuned in every season since to watch how the wrath of Jack Bauer saves the world from imminent destruction. He now protects my apartment from terrorist attacks as a monstrous 8-foot-tall poster in my living room, which makes all male visitors bow down in reverence and all females move toward the exit.
That said, this season my enthusiasm is waning. After last year’s Emmy award-winning plot involving the arrest of the president as a war criminal, this time the show lacks the punch that made me clear my Monday nights permanently. Let me catch you up.
Jack’s back from being tortured in China for two years, and after about 40 minutes of silence, he jumps right back into his ass-kicking ways as he bites the tendon out of a terrorist’s neck. Now that’s how you start a season of “24.” Soon after, Jack is forced to shoot and kill longtime cast member Curtis as he threatens the life of an important lead in the case. As Jack falls on the ground and begins to lose his shit after executing his friend, a mushroom cloud erupts in the background. Terrorists have completed a successful nuclear strike on downtown Los Angeles.
The good news is that these events were some of the most intense and memorable scenes in “24” history. The bad news is that this was just the four-hour season premiere. Since then, it’s pretty much been downhill. “24” is now doing something it should stay far away from: social commentary.
In the search for the remaining four nukes, the show is trying to tackle issues like stereotyping Muslims, civil rights violations and, most notably, the dangers of a cowboy as commander in chief. While these issues are ripe in today’s United States, “24” takes them on in such a blatantly obvious way that the end result is laughable.
Take the Muslim internment camp set up by the government to round up anyone who looks Middle Eastern. An entire eight-episode subplot was devoted to this, attempting to be a deep exploration of civil rights that ultimately led nowhere. It became clear it was the show’s attempt at an exceptionally awkward apology to the Muslim community who have been upset for years about being stereotyped on the show.
That’s just the beginning. The atom bomb that broke the camel’s back this season has brought the introduction of the very abrasive, very southern Vice President Noah Daniels. The president is comatose after an attempt on his life, and the vice president assumes command. Not only does he try to frame the only Middle Eastern man in the room for the assassination attempt, he also orders a nuclear “warning strike” on the Middle Eastern country where the rampaging terrorist was born, despite the fact it’s clear the country had nothing to do with the actual attacks.
Surely you see the exceptionally obvious analogy relating to a certain war here, so I’m not going to spell it out. Although the country about to be annihilated is never named explicitly (although “24” seems to have no problem calling out co-conspirators Russia and China), it’s clear the show is trying to do something way over its head: satire. “24” is not “South Park,” and people do not watch to see the foolishness of our foreign policy laid out. They watch to see which body part of a terrorist Jack will cut off this week. (And if you still think that leads to stereotypes, keep in mind the masterminds of nearly all the threats have been revealed to be American, including the president and Jack’s own brother and father.)
“24” just needs to find its roots again: Jack Bauer killing terrorists regardless of skin color while “breaking protocol” and being informed of objectives he needs to complete within the hour. If the producers want “24” to remain to the best action show on television, they’ll turn off the news and come up with their own storylines.