“24” has been off the air for four years now, but after some time apart, Fox has decided to breathe some new life back into the once brilliant franchise by awarding it a 12 episode mini-season beginning this May. Generally, moves like this are met with drooling anticipation from fans, but skepticism from critics. The most recent high profile example was the decision by Netflix to bring back “Arrested Development” last year, after the sitcom had been canceled 7 years prior. Though I enjoyed the new “Arrested” episodes, I can certainly understand why some people were underwhelmed by its awkward return. It’s not easy to get back into a rhythm when you’ve been away so long, and that dynamic is compounded when you have a show like “24” that was so clearly a product of its time. Originally debuting less than two months after the September 11th attacks, “24” had something that a damaged United States was yearning for: a true American hero in Jack Bauer.
The show initially had a bit of an underground following, but thanks in part to the then-brand new advent of “Complete Season” sets on DVD, word of mouth quickly turned “24” into one of the most successful television shows of all time. The fact that you could not afford to miss a single episode of the “real-time” formatted series became an asset, rather than a hindrance, to its viewership, and the concept of a soap opera for men was born. Season Five garnered a dozen Emmy nominations and five Emmy wins, including Best Drama. But with that success came more scrutiny, and by the time “24” was nearing the end of its run, its unapologetic look at Islamic terror (and frequent reliance on torture as a means to an end) was beginning to wear thin on a war-weary populace. There seemed to be no need for Jack Bauer anymore. The scripts themselves were even starting to have our hero question whether his torture tactics were appropriate. American attitudes were changing. Barack Obama was elected president. The show’s writers were clearly running in circles trying to come up with new threats and challenges for Bauer to face. They were constantly overusing the concept of “moles” embedded in the American government for the purpose of episode-ending cliffhangers…and also to deflect claims of anti-Islamism from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Kiefer Sutherland himself even began to appear in PSA’s airing during the show that were produced by CAIR, assuring the American public that Muslims are indeed nice people. In short, after 192 episodes, a television movie, and countless twists and turns, it was time to take a break from Agent Bauer and his string of very bad, very long days.
Yet here we are, 6 years removed from President Bush, and someone over at 20th Century Fox has decided that we need a Jack Attack once again. In essence, they’ve decided that we need our hero back. Sure, they’ve only had to produce half as many episodes this time as they normally would have, but that’s believed to free the writers from the shackles of their former routine, where they’ve seemingly had to stretch themselves too thin (and slump into repetitive beats) in order to fill 24 hours of plot. Clearly, there’s an audience for it no matter how many hours are being offered up, and Fox is hedging its bets that it can own Monday nights once again for three months as this summer begins. The thirst for more “24” is palpable, just as it has been ever since there were plans for a theatrical version of the show–an idea which was scrapped in favor of this new “limited series” concept. Will there be more limited series runs for “24” (and other shows) in the future? It’s quite likely, though that may depend on the success of this one. NBC has already announced plans to bring back “Heroes” for a limited run, despite its cancellation in 2010, and the demand for that has been far more dormant than the demand for more “24.” The FX cable network even has its own limited series coming up in April, based on the Coen Brothers “Fargo” film. So, perhaps limited series will be the next big trend in the current “golden age” of television. After all, it can be argued that the binge-worthy “24” was instrumental in changing how we watch TV in the 21st century; is it so hard to fathom that it just might do it again?
Share your thoughts about the return of Jack Bauer (and the new trailer above) in the comments section. Are you anxious to see the return of Chloe? How about Kim Raver as Audrey? Are you excited about the prospect of William Devane playing President James Heller, or would you rather he just sell you gold from Rosland Capital? Sound off below.
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