Monday, May 24, 2010

24's FINAL COUNTDOWN: The End of Twenty-Four and the Final Jack Bauer Hour of Power!

- And so it ends. After eight seasons of action, of intensity, of twists and turns and countless cries of "DAMMIT!", 24 has finally had its final countdown. In a week of television filled with huge finales and much-hyped events, the end of 24 is perhaps the biggest story of all. Because 24 changed TV. It changed pop-culture. It made serialized storytelling on American television viable again. It made Jack Bauer into an icon. And, at the end of the day, it was just plain awesome. 24 was the best TV show of the last decade. It had its ups and downs, sure, but no show, ever, was more exciting, more must-see, or more fun. Lost was a show to analyze, to dissect. But 24 was a show to lose yourself in, to get caught up in the heightened reality of it all, to call your friends about with exclamations of "did you SEE what Jack did?" 24 was the most fun I've ever had watching TV, and oh man, it's sad to see it end. Sure, some will say it got stale, and sometimes, that seemed true. But every year brought with it the promise of a new day, a new adventure. Discovering just what craziness the show had in store for Jack *this* time was half the fun. Over the years, 24 became politicized. It became overanalyzed. But 24 was, really, escapist entertainment at its finest. It was the story of a new kind of badass hero of and for our times. A man who didn't eat, didn't sleep, didn't waste words. A man who spent every waking second in a given day kicking ass and taking names and doing whatever he had to to get the job done. That man was JACK F'N BAUER, and I'm here to salute one of the all-time kickass fictional heroes. Maybe 24 wasn't for everyone, but 24 was a show that separated the men from the boys. This was a show that continually strived to kick ass. To bring the pain. To make our jaws drop and our heads explode from sensory overload. 24 was a take-no-prisoners, no-holds-barred, thrill-a-minute adventure, and there won't ever be another show quite like it again.

For me, 24 has been THE must-see TV show of the last ten years. It debuted in 2001, just as my then-favorite show, The X-Files, was headed towards its conclusion. Immediately, 24 became my new go-to show. I had already been anticipating its arrival prior to the pilot. I was a huge fan of creator Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran's previous action serial, La Femme Nikita, and eagerly sought out any news about what their next project would be. I was psyched for 24, curious about its unusual real-time format, and eager to see how Kiefer Sutherland would fare as an action hero. I clearly remember gathering with roommates and friends in our dorm at BU's Shelton Hall to watch that first episode. It was such a rush of adrenaline, such an intriguing setup, that we were all immediately hooked. From that point on, 24 was the show that everyone gathered together to watch. When new episodes aired, we put aside our school work, dimmed the lights, and sat enthralled for the duration of what would come to be known affectionately by fans as the Jack Bauer Power Hour. 24 was the best show to watch with buddies - there were always those moments where you just had to look over at your friend and exclaim "daaaaaaaamn!" Even when I watched the show alone, I'd immediately pick up the phone and call a friend and fellow fan and go over all the crazy stuff that went down on a given week's episode. Hell, when I spent a semester studying abroad in London, circa 2003, I was so intent on not missing an episode that I dutifully downloaded each new episode from various file-sharing sites as soon as humanly possible. Keep in mind, this was 2003 - the episodes were NOT easy to find, and downloading one via our slow British connection would often take several hours, if not more. But man, I vividly remember my friend Chris coming to visit me in London from Oxford where he was studying. When he found out I had the latest 24 episodes on my computer, his eyes lit up. There we were, in London, huddled around my laptop watching Jack Bauer kick ass. What can I say? 24 was the TV version of crack. Ask anyone who watched the show via DVD, and tried telling themselves they'd watch "just one more episode." 24 was a show that didn't even thrive commercially until it took off on DVD, just as the medium was blossoming in the early 00's. It was a game-changer. It set the precedent for how shows were marketed off-air, how DVD's were released to promote upcoming seasons of shows. It changed the way people watched TV forever.

In college, I got my friends and roommates hooked on 24, and 24 gatherings and parties were a regular occurance. I got my brother hooked, even my dad. In fact, it was, for a while, one of the few shows I can ever remember him making a point to watch with any regularity. Here in LA, I've continued to enjoy 24 with friends who shared an appreciation for the show's innate awesomeness. It sounds funny, but 24 was one of those shows that acted as a common bond. Meet someone who's a fellow fan, and you instantly have something in common. As geeky as it sounds, 24 has long been one of the most fun shows to read and talk about. I loved going online and reading as all the crazed fanboys went nuts for the latest episode. I loved all the little catchphrases that us fans tossed around - the more absurd the better. We joked about the JACK SACK, the power of ZOMBIE ALMEIDA and his SOULPATCH, popularized the POTUS, made fun of the infamous COUGAR TRAP, christened the likes of BLACK BAUER and RACK BAUER and NAKED MANDY and AARON PIERCE: AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D, uploaded data in REAL TIME to our PDA's, unleashed many a "DAMMIT!", and never got tired of using Kiefer Sutherland's favorite word (that being GRAVITAS~!) as much as humanly possible. In times of trouble we simply asked ourselves "What Would Jack Bauer Do?", and came up with enough examples of Jack Bauer's awesomeness so as to make Chuck Norris cry himself to sleep.

I've been writing about 24 for as long as I've been writing this blog, and 24 was always my favorite show to write about over all these years. Other shows demanded in-depth analysis and careful critiques. 24, more often than not, allowed me to let loose and just go with my gut. Many times, I had no desire to overanalyze 24. I'd just log into my blog, still on an adrenaline high from the Hour of Power, and just let my enthusiasm run wild. Sometimes, there'd be a lull in the show that lent itself to a more serious critical write-up. For most of this most recent season, in fact, it was hard to muster up that old feeling of excitement. But 24 could always surprise you. Just last week, I logged on and that old-school energy was pouring from my brain down to my fingertips. I was in full-on rant n' rave mode, and I was once again feelin' the 24 love. And that, to me, is what 24 has always been about - getting yourself into that emotional state of pure escapism, where your rational brain shuts down and your inner thirteen-year-old fanboy kicks in. It's about getting your heart-pounding, about raising your fist in glory, about being ready to rock n' roll. It's about being ready to kick ass and take names, and about getting your ass kicked by Jack Bauer's awesomeness and saying "thank you Sir, may I have another?"

24 was Jack Bauer. It was Tony SOUL PATCH Almeida. It was AARON F'ING PIERCE. It was Nina Myers, the first mole, Teri Bauer, the first evidence of the show's dark brutality, it was Chloe O'Brien, Jack's goofy but loyal pal. It was Edgar and Curtis and Naked Mandy and Peter Weller, aka ROBOCOP, and Jon Voight as Jonas Hodges. It was Salazar and BILL BUCHANAN and Kim Bauer and the Cougar Trap o' Doom. It was Chapelle shot in the head and Xander Berkley taking that plane down into the heart of the nuclear reactor. It was PRESIDENT PALMER, aka President Gravitas, and his Lady MacBeth of a wife Sherry, and his brother Wayne, and their whole messed-up, dysfunctional family. It was BERRROOOOOZ and his mother and the terrorist threat next door. It was Morris and Milo and one-armed CHASE and the hacksaw, aka the moment when Jack was shown to be truly hardcore. It was MICHELLE DESSLER, who I still wish they hadn't killed, who stole many scenes and maybe even a few hearts. It was Graham (Graem?) Bauer and MORE CC's! It was Daddy Bauer and that kid who was just maybe Jack's son. It was LOGAN and his sleazy, snake-like scheming, and MRS. LOGAN, she who ended up in the arms of Aaron. It was Renee Walker and those Russian gangsters and yes, even Cole, who in the end wasn't all that bad. It was nukes and more nukes and a single tear from Jack's eye. It was Dennis Hopper with his "Mister Bow-er ..." and Tobin Bell and Kurtwood "bitches leave" Smith and POWERS BOOTHE and Operations from La Femme Nikita, who we never really found out what he was up to. The Bluetooth Mafia and the neverending conspiracies of white guys who were really behind everything. It was PDA's and real-time SAT tracking and perimeters that never, EVER worked. It was Jack shooting that one guy's wife and cutting off that one guy's finger. It was awesome music that went from badass John Carpenter-style synth to sweeping orchestral scoring. It was split-screen chaos and real-time chatter. It was silent clocks and stunning cliffhangers. That "beep-beep-beep" noise and that trademark CTU ringtone - "doo doo, do-do." It was lots of characters, mostly Tony, saying "yeah" a lot in monotone, and huge finales and premieres and event television at its finest. It was Kiefer Sutherland and more Kiefer Sutherland and man, we thank you Kiefer Sutherland, for you truly did ROCK for eight-plus years as Jack Bauer.

It was 24, and it was one hell of a show. One of the best shows. So let's all have a moment of silence, as the Jack Bauer Power Hour finally and sadly runs out of time.

TWENTY BY-GOD FOUR (24!) - Series Finale Review:

- Well, it may have been a rough season for 24, but dammit all, the show pulled through in the end, reminding us one mo' time why it's the best in the biz at what it does. 24 may have gotten off-track for a while, but as the show reached the big finale, it pulled itself together, dusted itself off, stitched up its wounds and put on its combat gear. 24 came out firing tonight, and hells yeah, it went out with a bang.

Truth be told, 24 took us to somewhat unfamiliar narrative territory in this final episode. The focus, in many ways, was squarely on President Taylor and her moral quandary over the depths of depravity she had to sink to in order to get her precious peace treaty signed. Look, I've been as frustrated as anyone else with Taylor over the course of the season. She was made into such a cypher that it was hard to know *what* she was thinking from one episode to the next. She was so easily manipulated by Logan that it was laughable, and she kept digging a deeper hole for herself even as her ability to justify her actions got weaker and weaker. But, screw all that, because in this episode, Cherry Jones was 100% kickass. I'm sure there are still some haters out there, but I thought this episode proved what Jones as Taylor could do given the right material. Sure, all the moral conflict that got us to this point was pretty absurd, but it all came to a head here in the finale, and here, in this episode, it paid off beautifully thanks to Jones and her dynamic acting. Her scenes with Logan, with Dahlia Hassan, and with Jack Bauer were all superbly done, and her ultimate moment of moral clarity was truly intense and ultra-dramatic. In its own way, everything ultimately made sense and came together well. Taylor was a fallen warrior who had compromised her own morals beyond repair, and she recognized that so too was Jack. By episode's end, she realized that Jack truly was a kindred spirit, and suddenly, saving him and giving him one more chance at redemption became the most important thing in the world. Was the episode a little heavy-handed in how it once again made Jack a sympathetic hero, when just last week he was a full-on murderous psychopath? Yeah, probably. But, Jack's fateful face-off with Chloe, combined with the President seeing in Jack a mirror image of her own downward spiral, was just enough to turn the tables and make us once again root for Jack Bauer. Upon reflection, Jack's actions might be deemed irredeemable, but then again, Jack Bauer has always been a sacrificial lamb of sorts - always willing to give up his own life, his own soul, in the name of Justice.

That said, had Jack killed the Russian premiere and started World War III, he really would have been acting recklessly. Luckily, Chloe was there to pull him back from the brink, just in the nick of time. The confrontation between the two old friends was brimming with intensity. Who knew how Jack would react to his only remaining friend coming between him and unholy vengeance? But Chloe injected a dose of sanity into Jack's tortured psyche, and convinced him to do things her way, by exposing the conspiracy via his data disk rather than more murder and violence. It was a fitting climax for 24, a show that's always been about a man, in Jack, who walked a line between justice and brutality, between righteousness and sadism. Ultimately, Jack's final message to Chloe was moving, fitting, and a long-time-coming. Any loyal 24 viewer had to get a little choked up when Jack said his final thank-you to Chloe. It was a great moment, dammit.

In fact, this episode had more than a few vintage 24 moments of awesome. Logan stole many scenes yet again with his weaselly ways. While his squirming at Jack's persistance and resilliancy was amusing, his ultiamte end was shocking and tragic. It made sense though -- Logan's involvement this season was essentially his last, best chance at reviving his good name. When he realized his failure, you could see why he felt there was no choice but to simply end it all. Here's to Logan though, one of 24's all-time greatest villains who you couldn't help but love to hate. And here's to Gregory Itzin, who was a ton of fun to watch whenever he appeared on 24. While Logan being not-quite-dead felt like a slight cheat, part of me is pleased to know that the ex-president is still out there somewhere in the 24-verse, coming up with the ultimate scheme to off Jack Bauer once and for all. We also got a couple more hardcore Jack Bauer moments for old-time's sake. Jack biting off the ear of Logan's stooge was a particular highlight. Jack was bloody, barely concious, and strapped to a stretcher, but sonofabitch, he still was a man not to be messed with.

Seriously though, what can be said about Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer? Kiefer made the role iconic, legendary even. He gave it his all week in and week out. His intensity level was ALWAYS off-the-charts, and he always brought the pain. He brought his A-game once again for this final episode, and you can tell that for Kiefer, 24 was a true labor of love. His intro at the beginning of the episode was a nice touch, too. You can tell that Kiefer poured his heart and soul into Jack Bauer, and for that, you've got to give the man his props. For eight seasons, Jack Bauer has quite simply been ... THE MAN.

And huge props to the rest of the supporting cast for stepping up and delivering the goods. Everyone showed up with their game face on, and this episode contained some of the finest work we've yet seen from many of the show's key role players. Suffice it to say, characters like President Taylor, Charles Logan, and Chloe O'Brien went out with style. Yes, my inner fanboy was hoping for at least a cameo from the likes of Aaron Pierce or even Tony, but hey, I get it, they were never really scheduled to be a part of this season. And you never know, there's always the movie ...

24 may live on in movie form, and I look forward to a big-screen adventure of Jack Bauer and friends. But 24 will always be best-known as a show that changed the TV landscape, that redefinied serialized television for the modern era, that played off the fears of our time, that captured the zeitgeist of the digital-age 00's like no other show of its time. And I was happy to see 24 regain some of its old mojo before all was said and done. From BU to Burbank, 24 has been my favorite show for a long time now. I was a diehard fan. I had the poster on my wall in college. One year, I even dressed as Jack Bauer for Halloween. It's been so much fun watching 24 every week, and almost as fun writing about it here on the blog. So thank you to the cast and crew of 24, and thank you to everyone who I've watched and discussed the show with and who I've called or texted or IM'd immediately following an episode so as to deliver my usual hyperactive reaction.

The final countdown is here. The clock has reached its zero hour. The adventure is over, the ride has come to a stop. But if there's one thing I've learned from 24, it's that you can't keep JACK BY-GOD BAUER down! May we each aspire to kick ass as Jack did, to follow his ways of intensity, of righteousness, and yes, of gravitas. Long live 24!

My 24 Series Finale Grade: A-


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