A Look Back at 24: Ranking the Seasons

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The following article takes place between the moment you start to read it and the moment you finish. Words are read in real time. Tick….tick….tick….tick….tickticktickticktick…..

“Jack is back! Yes!”

Those were the words of a text message I received from a friend not long ago. Right away I knew that it meant one of two things. Either Jack Morris had come out of retirement to solve the Detroit Tigers bullpen issues, or fictional terrorists were once again about to be taken down, BAUER STYLE. Full disclosure: I would have been more than happy with either scenario.

Like so many others, I had heard the rumors that Fox was thinking of bring back 24. With Keifer Sutherland’s show Touch being cancelled, it didn’t take long before my Facebook news feed (which I will now refer to as my EXCLUSIVE HOLLYWOOD SOURCE) began to spread the news. Pictures, links, statuses: apparently I wasn’t the only Jack Bauer fan left.

Not long after rumors started swirling, it became official. Fox announced plans to bring back 24 for a 9th season. It will only be 12 episodes (no, they are not changing the name of the show to 12) and will continue to use the “real time” storytelling model it has in previous years, only this time skipping over a few hours, and pick up several years after the end of Season 8. As of right now, it will be a one time return and not a full re-launch of the series, but one can hope.

When 24 debuted in 2001, just 8 weeks after the terrorist attacks of 9-11, it struck a chord with American culture. In a time when our nation was still dealing with a lot of fear and worry, the idea of a show about a counter-terrorist group may have completely failed. It could have very well been slammed for poor timing and poor taste in the wake of the recent tragedy.  Instead, it became a huge hit, with over 8 million people watching that first season and the show only growing from there.

So what made 24 so special? Why did it stand out from other TV dramas? Was it the fact that it wasn’t a typical “cop” show and instead focused on terrorists and national threats? I believe that played a part, but I think there were several other factors that really made 24 stand out.

First, the acting. Keifer Sutherland was a well-known name prior to taking on the role of Jack Bauer. A huge movie star in the 1980’s, people would probably associate him most with his roles in Young Guns or The Lost Boys. If you’re weird, maybe The Three Musketeers. But thanks to his excellent portrayal of the character, Sutherland is now most known for the role of Jack Bauer, a role he played magnificently, winning an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in 2006. The Jack Bauer character is a lot of what makes 24 so compelling, and Sutherland brought it to life, but it wasn’t a solo job. Dennis Haysbert took on the role of David Palmer, a character who would be linked with Bauer from the start of the show until his death in Season 5. Both Haysbert and Sutherland did such a phenomenal job in the first season of the show that I think it really helped 24 build momentum.

Maybe more than the acting though, was the aspect of real time. When 24 debuted as a show that you were watching in “real time”, it was an interesting concept that could have either done really well or failed spectacularly. Luckily it was the former. With each episode being a single hour in a day, it lended itself well to end of episode cliffhangers, something 24 became great at as the show went on. It also meant that almost every scene was important which added to your interest as you watched.

Perhaps the biggest reason that 24 was a success in the first season though was the sheer unpredictability of it. I was going to say SPOILER ALERT here as I gave away the ending of Season 1, but if you’re upset that I ruin the ending of a show that’s 12 years old, well tough. With most shows, when a season ends the bad guy has been vanquished, the heroes rejoice and maybe a new villain emerges for the next season, but not before a little bit of celebration. 24 took that and flipped it on it’s head. After successfully taking down the terrorist threat, Jack Bauer had no time to celebrate as two major twists unfold as the season wears down. First, his go-to contact Nina Meyers was revealed to be a mole all along, and then the death of Teri Bauer, Jack’s wife. I think this moment specifically changed 24 from a good show to a CAN’T MISS show.

But hey, if you’re reading this, chances are you already know all about it: You know some Presidents die, some Presidents are evil, the White House is invaded, people are double agents, Jack does heroin and Chloe gets sassy. None of this is new to any 24 fan. So why write about it? Simple. With the news that the show was coming back, and summer starting (which means all good shows are in rerun mode) I thought it would be a perfect time to re-watch the series. And as I thought about it, there’s definitely some stuff I’m excited to watch again, and certainly some stuff I won’t mind fast forwarding through. As with any show, some episodes are better than others, some characters better, and some seasons. But which day is the best day in the history of 24? If you’re new to the show and want to give it a shot, but don’t have time for all 8 seasons, I’ve decided to rank them for you, from worst to first.

Before I go into my rankings, I have to say-I’m a sucker for this show. I can find enjoyment in ALL of the seasons. Much like Homer Simpson as a food critic, even the BAD stuff I love. My advice would be to watch all of them from start to finish, but if you simply can’t, check out this list and see the best that 24 has to offer!