On the 24 TV Watch, where every plot twist and Kiefer Sutherland facial twitch this season has been analyzed at microscopic length by both yours truly and the —well, how to put this? — highly invested fan base, it’s safe to say that by our combined measure, 24 day 6 ain’t cuttin’ the mustard. So far, Sutherland’s Jack Bauer has killed colleague Curtis Manning; he’s learned that his brother and father have done very bad things; he’s met his Bauer Mini-Me in the gung ho yo-yo Doyle (Ricky Schroder); he’s shut down a loooong crisis about rogue-state ”suitcase nukes” only to find that his assumed-dead beloved, Audrey (Kim Raver), is alive — barely. Yet with all these developments, it seems many of you and I agree on this:
Jack is back, but this Jack is wack.
In this review, I won’t go into TV Watch-style detail, but that’s good, because we need to step back, take a deep breath, and look at 24’s big picture. After being smothered in glory post-day 5 (Emmys and critical acclaim for a fantastic season that not only pumped up the suspense but gave fresh meaning to Jean Smart being a designing woman), our beloved series has misjudged its mojo. Over five seasons, Sutherland and co-creators Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran have taught us how to watch 24, and cracking the narrative code has decreased the pleasure. We’ve come to expect, for example, that the first few weeks will be spent setting up an overarching theme and putting some new characters in danger whom we’ll never see past, say, hour 5. We’ve learned that any government-position character who spends the first quarter-season looking evil will prove merely misguided if not downright heroic (in day 6, that may be Peter MacNicol’s Tom Lennox). We know from experience that the Big Theme will take a Big Twist about halfway through the ”day” — suitcase nukes, meet hostage Audrey — and that as the hours dwindle down, Jack will both go rogue and depend on CTU skill (read: Chloe) to help him save the, um, day.
And that’s why this season is both predictable and frustrating. We’re dismayed that characters and subplots drop away for weeks at a time, that day 6 has produced no people and conspiracy scenarios as nutty-pleasure complex as last season’s President and Martha Logan.
The great, endgame tragedy of this fine series has been that Jack Bauer will save the world and lose his soul, if not his life. But this season, saggy plotting and bombastic dialogue have reduced us to wondering if Kiefer Sutherland is bored and what’s happening over on NBC’s Heroes. These are truly the scariest and saddest moments 24 has ever ticked off.