Open Mic

The Following Takes Place Between the Third Man and the Fourth Protocol: A Tribute to '24,' TV's Best Thriller Ever

Chuck Ross Posted March 10, 2010 at 6:57 AM

With word in Variety this morning that, as expected, “24” will most likely end its run on Fox at the end of this season, I wanted to say a few words about this extraordinary, landmark TV show.

It took a genre that is best done in books and movies—the thriller—and gave us heart-pounding, adrenaline-fueled action week-in and week-out, for 24 hours, each season for eight years.

The main conceit of the show was simple and yet almost impossible to pull off well—and yet they did it, season after season.

The idea each season was to tell a thriller in real time, each hour, for 24 hours. And show creators Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran set their sights high—each hour was to be like a chapter in a good thriller novel, full of twists and turns, suspense and surprise, and end with a hook so you couldn’t wait to turn the page to read the next chapter. Yeah, right. Great to aspire to that, guys, and if you’re able to achieve it once or twice a season, good on you, as my friends down under would say.

But, son-of-a gun, Surnow and Cochran and showrunner Howard Gordon and their team of extraordinarily talented writers over the years actually reached the heights they set out to achieve.

Yes, there were bumps—and sometimes potholes—along the way. But even when I was frustrated with the show, screaming at the top of my lungs at the TV screen that no, that wouldn’t happen, or yelling at it “to give me a break, that’s stupid and ridiculous,” I almost always remained engaged, excited and couldn’t wait for the next hour.

And at its best—which has been often—“24” has been just spectacular. It’s a show that’s paid attention to the craft that makes great TV: faultless casting, sharp editing, visceral scoring, gritty cinematography, transfixing set design.

With all of this going for it behind-the-camera, all that’s been left is for “24” to deliver in front of the camera, and that it’s done in spades.

Taking their cue from Kiefer Sutherland’s intensity as Jack Bauer, the actors on the show have been Dustin Hoffman character-correct. By that I mean the acting has been so spot-on that almost every actor on the show has been totally believable as their character. Besides the actors themselves, credit the care in casting and the terrific way the show has been directed.

Not enough can be said about Sutherland. His value to the show? He’s Archie, Peyton and Eli all rolled-up in one. He’s Mantle, Maris and Mays. He’s Baryshnikov, Astaire and Rogers. He’s Beyonce, Gaga and Madonna.

 He can sing AND dance, both forwards and backwards. He can skate on ice, thick or thin. He can handle the large heavy-duty excavator and the small sub-compact tractor. He’s big city and he’s small town. He’s as calculating as Harry Lime in “The Third Man,” and as smart and resourceful as those agents Michael Caine used to play all the time in movies such as “The Ipcress File” and “The Fourth Protocol.”

To those of you who have never seen the show, I recommend you buy or rent Season 4. It’s my favorite of the series. You don’t have to have seen any of the series to fall right into it. Watch it over a weekend or two and I defy you not to come out of the experience singing the praises of “24.”

All of this being said, I’m not sad to see the series end. I am still enjoying the series, and I told Gordon just that the other day. Kudos for another terrific season.

I have some friends who say that the show has jumped the shark. I don’t agree with that assessment.

But, to be honest, there are just so many nuclear disasters from which Jack can save us. There are just so many schematics Chloe can look-up and send to Jack’s cell phone. And damnit, there are just so many “Damnits” Jack can utter.

The show is still an adrenaline rush like no other show on TV, but it’s no longer like the first time I was strapped into the ride on Space Mountain. Nor like the third time. It’s more like the 103rd time. Still a great ride, but I’m ready for the next thrill.

Sutherland still continues to involve me and amaze me. Each season he delivers an Emmy-worthy performance, and his evolution of Bauer’s character this year, with its yin-and-yang conflicts barely under the surface, is transfixing.

But I’m ready for the “24” movie. Or maybe movies. Probably like most big fans of the show, I’ve got some ideas about how Jack’s character can grow in a film. The plot I have in mind would keep the conceit of the action happening in real time, as it did in “High Noon.”

But that’s for the future. For now, the clock is still ticking on this season’s “24.” And I think during this year’s finale I’ll invite a few friends over who also have been fans of the show and I’ll open up that great vintage of Gravelly Meadow cabernet sauvignon I’ve been saving to savor on a special occasion: To the cast and crew of “24”—Thank You.#