Articles Square Eyes Television USA

24-hour plot people – 24 reviewed

Sunday, April 28, 2002

It?s 8am in 24, and we?re a third of the way through the day. How?s it working out for you?

On the plus side, the plot?s gripping and has more twists and turns than Robert Pires on the dodgems. And there?s some good use of technology to drive the story along – closed circuilt cameras, mobile phones and a large number of beautifully lit Macintosh computers.

Some of the set pieces have been good too – we?ve had lesbian assasins escaping from exploding aircraft, spook pseudo-dads murdering their offspring and surprised slackers getting shot in the head.

Of course the biggest draw is the basic premise – 24 hours of drama each taking place over an hour (allowing for US ad breaks). Back to at least one of the Aristotelian unities.

But the writers have failed to take advantage of this framework, confusing action for intensity, and forgetting about characterisation.

Everything takes place at the same helter skelter pace – when nothing?s happening with one storyline, we just concentrate on another. Or rather, they make sure that there?s never nothing happening. So when Jack?s driving along, he?s also on the phone, or scanning fingerprints, or talking to Gaines.

This means that we get no real sense of the passing of time because all the characters are in their own little world. For example, there?s never any connection made between the events of the drama and real activites that take a set amount of time. We never see a kettle boiling, or have the action measured in the time it takes to play a song on the soundtrack.

And where?s the classic thriller device of the countdown to disaster? A simple ?if you don?t get here in five minutes, I?m killing your daughter,? would work wonders, as we?d see exactly five minutes played out on the screen. The plot is clever, but there?s no playing with the form, which is a real waste.

Senator Palmer?s breakfast was supposed to be the big hit that Jack and the boys were trying to stop, but because we?re not halfway through the series, Palmer couldn?t die, and there was so much other stuff happening that there was little enough tension anyway.

And with no pauses for breath, there?s little room for characterisation.  Kiefer Sutherland keeps looking unkempt and slightly desperate, young Kim is trying to avoid popping out of her red top, and the Senator is too good to be true. But we don?t really care enough about any of them.  Why is the CTU trying to kill Palmer in the first place? Why did Jamie turn bad, and why is soul patch Tony suddenly cuddling with Nina?

With another sixteen hours to go, I?m not sure I?ve got the necessary commitment to last the course. I propose the main figures all head off for a long breakfast (has anyone eaten anything yet?) so we can get to know them better. Otherwise it?ll be a race to see whether the characters or the audience run out of energy first.

Posted by David in • Square EyesUSATelevision