Clocking off

After seven nights of catching up with the plot, a square-eyed 24 fan gets a chance to rest.

Rob Lyons

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So all my friends start watching this new TV series about a day in the life of an anti-terrorist agent. Each episode covers one hour in the agent’s eventful day. There are, therefore, 24 episodes.

That means the series goes on for nearly six months. I refused to be drawn in for so long. So by the time I did check it out (a couple of weeks ago), I realised that I’d missed a lot of convoluted plot.

Thank God for BBC Choice, which repeated the whole series in one week in the run-up to the final episode on 18 August. At last I had a chance to catch up.

I watched the whole lot. Monday was easy – just three episodes. After that, it was four per night. Friday night was the worst, with five episodes running until 1.20am on Saturday morning. My girlfriend wants to know if I’ll be normal again this week. Yes, I will – I’m all 24‘d out.

But it was all very enjoyable – in a ludicrous kind of way. Here’s the plot: the head of the Counter Terrorism Unit, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), discovers there’s a plot to kill black presidential candidate Senator David Palmer. He is told that there is a mole within his agency assisting with the plot.

To make matters worse, Bauer’s daughter is kidnapped by the same people so that he will go along with a plan to get the shooter close to Palmer but take the rap for the killing. Meanwhile, his wife goes looking for their daughter and ends up being captured by the baddies too.

Bauer foils the plot – but only temporarily. It transpires that the whole thing is revenge for an attack on some very nasty Serbs led by Bauer and ordered by Palmer two years previously. Got all that?

As for the possibility of murder charges against Senator Palmer’s son who accidentally killed his sister’s rapist seven years earlier only to have it covered up by his manipulative, power-hungry mother….don’t even go there.

The rest of the series is basically more kidnappings, shootings, intrigue and dissociative amnesia. The only thing it lacked was an alien invasion (and plausibility). Maybe the aliens turn up in season two.

So on 18 August we in Britain got the final episode. Palmer wins the candidacy. The mole is uncovered. Bauer kills all the bad guys apart from the mole, who kills Bauer’s wife. In other words, it all ends on a bit of a downer. Very post-11 September.

24 is pretty much Dallas or Dynasty but with terrorists and secret agents. What it lacks in character development, it makes up for with lots and lots of plot.

It’s got cardboard cut-out bad guys (the Serbs sneaking it this time only because the series was clearly planned pre-11 September). It’s got a hefty body count of unfortunates all trying to keep the central characters alive or dying try to kill them. It’s got Dennis Hopper doing the worst faux East European accent ever.

It won’t win many awards (leave those to The West Wing, Sopranos and Six Feet Under) – but it’s mindless fun amid a sudden welter of heavyweight TV drama.

24 adds more grist to the mill that TV is the new film – even though many of the cast are famous film actors going through a bad patch, like Sutherland, Hopper and Lou Diamond Phillips.

But despite all this, Fox was so uncertain about the show that it only commissioned the first 12 episodes in case it bombed (were they going to repeat it later on as 12?) – which helps to explain some of the contrived plot devices in the second half of the series.

Of course, the great thing about implausible plots is you can join in the fun by making up your own. One wag suggested that the next series feature the painfully thin Calista Flockhart (aka Ally McBeal) as Sutherland’s love interest, with the series to be called ’24-22-24′.

Apparently, the next series starts at 8am and features a threatened nuclear attack on Los Angeles. This time, I’ll remember to watch it.

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