Does The 24 Pilot Hold Up Over 20 Years Later?

Kiefer

24 has etched itself in the books of television history. Arguably the first series to bring high-concept action onto the small screen, the popular show was created by Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran. The show ran for eight seasons and had one spin-off featuring a different set of cast members. Though 24 diminished in its later seasons, the action, spy drama was always an exciting hour that first started on November 6, 2001. The first eight seasons are about Jack Bauer who works in Los Angeles for the Counter-Terrorist Unit; He’s an agent that goes against the grain to make sure that justice is served. With the world in a different place in 2022, does the first episode of 24 hold up in today’s society?

24 starts off chaotic as it tries to tackle so much ground within the span of five minutes. In some ways, it would’ve been better to get acquainted with David Palmer. He’s the presidential candidate and he comes across as a nice guy, but the audience isn’t truly invested in him yet. Now, the story didn’t need to spend five episodes until it finally jumped into the arc of a planned assassination on Palmer. This is Jack Bauer’s story, not Palmer’s, but considering he’s a key component of this story then it would’ve been better served if the spotlight was given to him more than the Kim subplot. On one hand, it’s nice that 24 showcased the family life of Mr. Bauer. It’s a crucial element throughout the series, especially since his wife is pretty much a dead woman by the end of season one. It helps humanize Jack as a normal being, plus it introduces an interesting layer that can play with the show’s central conflict down the line. Given the fact that Terri seems to be meeting her doom by the end of the episode, it was wise to give them some screentime. However, the dating subplot wasn’t particularly interesting. Kim hasn’t come across as the most likable person on the planet and though it creates some nice tension once she leaves the house, it would’ve been better served to not show her arc. Why not play up the mystery of where Kim is? Her moment with that guy didn’t exactly make her more likeable, and it just felt like wasted minutes. Granted, it’s clear that the subplot is going somewhere, but watching horny teenagers being horny teenagers isn’t as much fun as the political/action aspects of 24.

That negative complains aside, when 24 focuses on the actual job of Jack Bauer, that’s when the series is at its best. It’s not just Jack Bauer himself, but the moving parts that revolve around the David Palmer angle. Martin’s story was a nice little twist in the end. The show purposely made it seem like he was likely the traitor behind the assassination attempt, but the twist of the female passenger was nicely played. The dynamic between Jack, Nina, Tony is also intriguing. Is Jack cheating on his wife with Nina? After all, Jack wasn’t exactly on the best terms with his wife. Obviously, we already know the answer to that question, but the seeds planted throughout makes the relationship in the show that more interesting. Plus, it helps giving the world of Jack Bauer more dimension and gravitas following a group of people who generally have the right intentions, but their motivations and actions may sway them to switch alliances in the future. Nobody’s perfect, and it’s great that Jack Bauer or any of the good guys aren’t portrayed that way because they’re the heroes looking to save the day.

Could 24 used more action? Yes, but that’s not actually an issue when the central plot is generally engaging. The pilot of 24 may not be in the same league as Homeland, but the Fox series still holds up well despite the advancement of television. Given how evolved the landscape has become in the current media, 24 would’ve likely been ignored, however. The advantage 24 had was that it felt fresh and new when it came out in 2001, but the content has become much more complex since that time that it feels simple when looking back at the beginning. So while the pilot still holds up from a story standpoint, 24 would likely get lost in the shuffle because it’s just not that original anymore. On the bright side, at least Keifer Sutherland remains a charismatic presence every time he’s onscreen. All-in-all, there’s more good than bad about the 24 pilot, but if it came out today, it would likely drown in the sea of other television shows.

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