5 Reasons ’24’ Still Rocks, 20 Years After It Changed TV Forever

The clock keeps ticking...

20th Television

Fatherly continues our look at shows that are turning 20 years old this year, and on the heels of Alias and Smallville, there’s 24. Alias generated some heat and established J.J. Abrams as a talent to be reckoned with and Jennifer Garner as a freshly minted star. Smallville succeeded where so many superhero TV shows failed and, though never a blockbuster, it ran for a decade and helped set the stage for the wall-to-wall DC and Marvel entertainment currently pervading our theaters and TV screens. As for 24, well, that show utterly and completely exploded into the zeitgeist and achieved true hit status. The series, which debuted in November of 2001 on FOX and ran for eight seasons (plus a 2008 TV movie and a limited series return in 2014) — got people talking the next day, and we’re still talking about it now.

Here are the 5 reasons why 24 clicked… and endures.

5. Beep, Beep, Beep

Episodes of 24 unfolded in what amounted to real-time. So, one hour of running time equaled one hour of Jack Bauer’s life, though he didn’t experience the commercials. Season one, for example, started at midnight and a season consisted of 24 episodes. The action would build to a crescendo or conflicts between characters would come to a head and… up flickered a digital countdown clock with its beep, beep, beep sound, as the show cut to a commercial. And then we got the beeping again when the show was about to return. People screamed at the screen for the former and raced back to their seats at the latter. That countdown became iconic, and even now just hearing it can raise fans’ pulses.

4. Co-stars and Guest Stars

Much like the producers took a gamble on Sutherland, they went for the right people over the biggest names when it came to casting supporting roles and guest actors. Dennis Haysbert was great as a candidate and then President David Palmer. Leslie Hope played Bauer’s estranged wife, Teri, and she made you feel the character’s plight: she loved him, but couldn’t live with him (and his secrets) anymore. Teri’s death powered the show forward. Mary Lynn Rajskub killed it as Chloe, Jack’s close friend, loyal office ally and ace intelligence analyst. And check out just some of the ridiculously talented actors who stayed a season, recurred or popped up for one-offs: Gregory Itzin, Jean Smart, William Devane, Lana Parilla, Bob Gunton, Regina King, Tate Donovan, Shohreh Agdashloo, Dennis Hopper, Kim Raver, Julian Sands, Penny Johnson, Powers Booth, James Cromwell, Rami Malek, and the great Cherry Jones.

3. The Split-Screens

Every episode crammed in so much – sometimes too much (Jack’s daughter, for example) – that the show’s producers implemented a split-screen device depicting multiple events occurring simultaneously, with it sometimes directly connected to the action and sometimes not. Viewers loved/hated that they couldn’t absorb two, three or more moments at a time, which led people to record and re-watching episodes in order to catch what they’d missed. 24 often/usually went to split-screen just in time for a commercial break, which meant… beep, beep, beep!

2. Timing Is Everything

24 premiered just a few weeks after the horrific events of 9-11. Though some people probably avoided the show because it hit too close to home, and a shot of an exploding plane seen in the trailer didn’t make it to the finished first episode, the vast majority of viewers were ready to watch Jack Bauer save the day and bring terrorists to justice… or kill them. That’s a hard truth, but an honest truth. Bauer did his job to the best of his abilities, often straying into moral gray zones to do what others couldn’t or wouldn’t do. Was he an anti-hero? We’d say no. He was an imperfect hero. Either way, 24 was cathartic.

1. Kiefer, Kiefer Kiefer

Kiefer Sutherland, whose career had been sputtering in the 90’s, despite his appearing in such memorable films as A Few Good Men, Freeway, and Dark City – reemerged as a leading man of the first order with 24. He commanded the screen as Jack Bauer, a counter-terrorist agent carrying the world on his shoulders. Bauer, over the show’s run, protected a presidential candidate (who later won the presidency) from assassination, thwarted terrorist bombings, faked his own death, and lost too many friends, co-workers, and loved ones to count. Sutherland made you feel for Bauer and challenged viewers to put themselves in his character’s shoes. What would you do for your country? For your president? For your family? And no could wince – in anger or pain – more emotively than Sutherland.

24 is available now to stream on Amazon Prime Video. Most of it is free with ads via the IMDB app, which is embedded within Amazon Prime. You can also watch it on Hulu or rent or purchase on Google Play, Vudu, and in the iTunes Store. The clock is still ticking!