Note: Here's something a bit different. The four episode two night premiere of 24 Day 7 reviewed (It's a bit on the lengthier side)
And on the seventh day, God put Jack Bauer on trail.
I don't understand 24. It's odd that I find myself confessing this fact, what with having watched every episode of every season and all, but there's something inherently flawed in the design of the series. I dare say that 24 pioneered prime time television dramas that require a vested time and emotional commitment since viewing every episode of every season is absolutely necessary in order to understand the whole experience. Comparing 24 and Cheers seems stupid for a lot of well founded reasons, but there is one key difference that I would like to illustrate: you can drop in and out of Cheers as you wish, but never feel out of the loop because the way the show is designed accommodates a viewer who might not be able to set aside the same hour the same day of the week for six months straight. Frankly, you miss one episode of 24 and you might as well not bother anymore.
If you're unfamiliar with 24, here are the core details: every season (or "day") contains 24 episodes (or "hours") chronicling a very bad day for former Counter Terrorist Unit agent Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland). The series started in 2001 and is currently in its seventh year (this season was pushed back due to last year's WGA strike). The show is grounded in realism, but the current season usually occurs a few years in the future to adjust for its own continuity's sake.
Day 7 begins with a bang: a computer security expert is kidnapped by a group of terrorists who are interested in gaining control of America's technological networks for their own dastardly schemes. They require the man's talents in order to create a device that will allow them to hack into the highly secured networks, and he's the only one who knows how to build it (presumably). Meanwhile, Jack Bauer is put on trial for his "crimes" at the US Senate when the FBI interrupts the proceedings in order to enlist his help. Why does the FBI need Jack? Because the terrorist mastermind is none other than Tony Almeida, a former colleague of Jack's who everyone thought died during Day 5.
If you find the above paragraph confusing, then perhaps 24 isn't the show for you. This is only the core thread of Day 7. There are also the lesser threads including the mysterious suicide of the President's son, an international conflict in Sangala, a supposedly widely spread corruption in the White House, and a host of other far less interesting plot points that would occupy a modest novel if I were to write them out for you.
I suppose 24 has always been a relatively exclusive thrill ride. There are people who have absolutely no idea what the hell all the hubbub is about, and there are people who swear by the series as if Jack Bauer will lead us to the Promised Land of primetime action/dramas. If you are completely new to the series, then Day 7 isn't the best jumping off point for you. I'd recommend devoting a couple of months to watching the first six days in order to catch up, or at the very least Day 1 and Day 5 in order to appreciate the humble beginnings of the series, and since the context of Tony's "death" is fairly necessary.
What's most appreciable of 24 (and this is indeed the strongest and most endearing aspect of the series) is how addictive it is. Hunkering down with a box set and watching an entire season over a weekend is far and away the best way to enjoy the show. Every episode ties into the next so well that you need to be able to watch them consecutively without interruption. This is why airing a single episode in weekly intervals is such a failure: the anticipation that one episode builds up is strong enough to hold the attention of the viewer overnight, but not strong enough to last an entire week. This is somewhat alleviated when most networks rerun the previous episode before the new one, but the momentum is far too stilted and your attention begins to waver as the year drifts on.
I watched the first five seasons of 24 on DVD, usually plowing through a season a week. This was in time for the four hour premiere of Day 6 in January 2007 with my intention being to watch that season as it airs. I watched the first nine episodes, became disinterested waiting for the next one to air, and dropped it altogether in favour of waiting for the Day 6 DVD set. This will probably be what happens with Day 7 as well.
A lot of new faces in this lot, and not a single one of them worth their salt
24, especially in recent years, has always been about a tight narrative with a twitchy air of urgency about it. While this keeps things brisk, it often raises questions of continuity as you begin to tear under the surface. Watching Jack Bauer drive 20 miles from an office space to a terrorist hideout isn't exactly pulse-pounding action, but in previous seasons a long drive actually felt like a long drive. If a character had to make that kind of journey in season 1, the character would drop out for however long it takes them to make the trip. In recent seasons, locations and timings are deliberately vague to disguise these persistent little errors. Instead of a character saying, "The destination is 20 miles away," they would say, "ETA is three minutes" in order to keep things moving. While this is more tolerable it does little to hide the fact that in the world of 24, everywhere in Washington or California is within five minutes drive of each other.
Another peculiar bit of continuity is the way commercial breaks are inserted into the episodes. An episode of 24 occupies one hour of the story, but really provides ~40 minutes of actual screen time for the audience. To compensate, a commercial usually eats up ~5 minutes of time, and there are time jumps of between 20 to 60 seconds during the programme in order to even everything out. This wouldn't be a problem if station breaks were intelligently spaced. Most people understand commercials are used to increase tension before a conflict takes place, but this presents a problem for a show like 24 when you consider that events in real time rely on the sort of immediacy commercials often destroy. A great example is a scene in the third episode of the four episode premiere on Monday night: Jack Bauer and an accomplice (spoiler omitted) are in a perilous position pinned down in the stairwell of the FBI headquarters with security combing the building searching for them. Just as they might or might not be discovered, an advertisement rears its ugly head. We return after five minutes in the show's world have elapsed, and they're still sitting in the stairwell playing checkers waiting for instructions while security is hot on their tail. So much for a plausible and streamlined narrative...
The new characters in the show also seem to have been dumbed down a bit. In the second episode of the premiere, Jack Bauer and FBI agent Renee Walker are off to interrogate a suspect in the terrorist plot. Before the suspect can be of any use, a rooftop sniper takes him out. If you watched the premiere, you might have found yourself thinking that there's no way a sniper could be activated and set up so quickly. This turns out to be exactly the case, but would you believe that absolutely no one in the FBI is able to arrive at that conclusion? An FBI special agent also has the sort of zealous audacity to scoff at the idea that there might just be a mole inside the FBI or White House. 24 characters aren't likable, but at least they use to be smart. Thankfully, a few familiar faces return in the fourth episode, so it might not all be bad news.
Day 7 is off to a rocky start so far. Four episodes in and there's very little semblance of a cohesive story coming together through the thick mud of boring plot threads. It feels ambitious, but it's a low-key ambition that's hard for newcomers to appreciate and difficult for veterans to understand. Day 6's four episode premiere ended with a nuclear explosion in Los Angeles, so perhaps it's for the better that Day 7 hasn't tried to wage war on the moon or something similar in a bid to top it.
I may update this thread with reviews of the new episodes as they air.