24: Day 1 Review

Jack: "It's just been a really, really long day."

Back in November 2001, 24 came along with a brand new and compelling format for television action thrillers. Each season of 24 is a "day" consisting of 24 one-hour episodes, with the now iconic digital clock appearing periodically as events "take place in real time." This show came out before binge-watching took off, but its format makes it a perfect binge, if I do say so myself.

(Please note that this review includes massive spoilers!)

The first season, "Day 1," is set on the day of the California presidential primary. Lead character Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) is the head of the Los Angeles branch of a federal agency, CTU (Counter Terrorism Unit), and he comes in to work at midnight to help prevent an assassination attempt on Senator David Palmer, the first African American presidential candidate of a major political party.

The political

Senator David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) was pretty darned wonderful. Brilliant, dignified, tall and imposing with a gorgeous, gravelly voice, Palmer clearly cared about everyone and always tried to do the right thing, making him an impossibly perfect presidential candidate. As Day 1 progressed, it became more and more evident what a good, principled man David Palmer was, and what a tremendous loss it would be if something happened to him.


By the end of Day 1, Palmer learned the hard way that he could not trust his wife Sherry as events revealed that she was an ambitious snake (the wonderful Penny Johnson Jerald absolutely killed in this role). It was particularly upsetting when Sherry put politics ahead of Kim Bauer's life by telling the media that Palmer survived the assassination attempt. When Palmer broke up with Sherry in the final episode, it was so, so satisfying, even if we knew it might cost him the presidency.

Unfortunately, the most tiresome plot point in Day 1 was Keith Palmer's. (Okay, maybe the second most tiresome plot point, after Teri's amnesia.) Keith's constant complaints about how his father was never there for him and his insistence that Palmer do a number of things that would instantly throw away his chances at the presidency made Keith seem as selfish and manipulative as his mother. And why was Nicole Palmer's years-ago rape and its consequences all about Keith, and not Nicole?

The personal

Jack's teenage daughter Kim (Elisha Cuthbert), and later his wife Teri (Leslie Hope), with whom he had just reconciled after a separation, were kidnapped in order to force Jack to implicate himself in Palmer's assassination. Either Teri or Kim, and often both, were in danger throughout Day 1, affecting many of Jack's actions and choices.


While Kim's experiences were dire, her determination to believe in cute and young but morally flexible kidnapper Rick was so frustrating for the audience, since all it did was put her in terrible danger not once, but twice. The best thing about Kim during Day 1 was that she almost visibly grew up and eventually dropped her petulant teenage expression as she faced one perilous situation after another.

While I sort of liked Kim, I found it impossible to like Teri Bauer, even when she was making smart, survivor-type choices for herself and her daughter. Teri even kept Kim from being raped by Gaines' nasty henchman Eli (Silas Weir Mitchell) by courageously offering herself as an alternative. Much like my issues with Keith Palmer, I wonder if the fault was in the casting or the writing? I'll probably go with the writing, since the kidnapping plot just went on and on, getting more tiresome and improbable as it continued, especially when Teri learned that she was unexpectedly pregnant. And then there was the amnesia. Yes, I got that seeing that car explode when she thought Kim was inside would be too much for her after everything else that had already happened that day. But then they had to bring in the guy she dated while she was separated from Jack in order to have someone to explain her life to her, and then there was the attack on the Bauer house... it just went on too long.

That said, Teri's death in the last five minutes of the season broke some of the unspoken rules of television. It was so unexpected, especially since she was finally out of danger and had been stashed in a supposedly safe place – a CTU conference room – while waiting for Jack and Kim to return. It was risky storytelling. Would it turn off the audience, or would it bring them back for a second season?

Where it succeeded was in telling the audience that on 24, anything could happen and any character could die. It was a devastating surprise ending to the season.

Meanwhile at CTU

Many of the 24 producers were also part of the team that produced La Femme Nikita, and that was never more obvious than when the action shifted to CTU. The office was gray, industrial and impersonal, much like Section on LFN, right down to the boss's office in a "perch" at the top of a flight of stairs. There were even rumors that 24 was originally intended to be a spinoff starring Michael (Roy Dupuis), La Femme Nikita's very popular male lead. For what it's worth.

At the beginning of Day 1, Jack was the boss in the "perch." He'd had an affair with his second-in-command Nina Myers (Sarah Clarke) but only while he was separated from Teri, and she had since moved on to his third-in-command Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard), a fun character who started Day 1 acting suspiciously like he could be a bad guy, but who turned out to be very cool in the end.


(Please insert a "don't [blank] where you eat" warning about getting involved with your workmates here.)

Nina Myers repeatedly went to the wall for Jack all through Day 1 and kept coming through for him. She was such a spectacularly good agent and friend to him… until the last episode, when they hit us with the super dastardly triple twist reveal that she was the ultimate mole right before she murdered Teri Bauer in cold blood.

Throughout Day 1, control of CTU went from Jack, to Nina, to Alberta Green, to Dave Chappelle, to George Mason (Xander Berkeley), who was one of my favorite characters. George Mason was just so despicable that I thought he had to be a mole, but no; he was a patriot. He was just also a jerk. Not telling Jack that the safe house had been hit and Teri and Kim were missing – for hours – was outright criminal.

Big bads and casting goodness

One of the best things about 24 was the layers of bad guys. Day 1 began with Ira Gaines (Michael Massee) and varied assassins (Mia Kirshner, Rudolf Martin), but it turned out that the motive behind all of the action – the assassination of David Palmer, framing Jack for it, kidnapping and killing Teri and Kim – was strictly personal, revenge by the Drazen family for an operation authorized by Senator Palmer and carried out by Jack Bauer in Kosovo a couple of years earlier.

The Drazens acquired some villainy heft when Andre Drazen (Zeljko Ivanek) took over bad guy duties from Gaines, and Victor Drazen (Dennis Hopper) showed up to m'wa ha ha for the final four episodes. However, even with top tier actors like these, the Drazens didn't quite measure up to Nina Myers on the villainy scale.

This is probably a good place to talk about the fact that 24 got hit with the good casting fairy wand. Along with the actors previously mentioned, the first season of 24 included Tanya Wright, Jude Ciccolella, Eric Balfour, Glenn Morshower, Navi Rawat and Lou Diamond Phillips. I watched the entire run of 24 when it aired but I haven't rewatched until now, so I was surprised and pleased when a long-haired, leather-jacketed Misha Collins (Supernatural's Castiel) showed up as Alexis Drazen for half the season.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't praise Kiefer Sutherland, who played Jack Bauer for a lot of years. Sutherland always had an excellent grasp of his character, even in this first season where his actions were a lot less controversial and violent than they later became. It's difficult to be the lead in a series full of excellent character actors and complicated plots and still dominate, but he did. What always worked best was Jack's willingness to go dark if he had to, something he did even in Day 1 – mostly in the season finale.

Notable episodes

There was an early scene I particularly enjoyed where Jack, being pursued by cops, was under a car talking to Teri and Kim on the phone as Tony and Nina uncomfortably listened in. Apologies that I can't recall which episode that was.

"2:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m." (episode 15) I liked this one because it was when Jack Bauer and David Palmer finally connected at CTU and discovered the truth about the Drazens together. Until this point, Palmer thought Jack was part of the plot to kill him and it was enjoyable to see the two of them bond and almost immediately find themselves on the same page. Palmer then used his political power to reinstate Jack provisionally, until the end of the crisis.

"11:00 p.m.-12:00 a.m." (episode 24) The season finale was by far the best episode of Day 1 as Jack, believing Kim to be dead, crashed a van into the Drazen lair and followed up with a massive attack. It was a defining moment for Jack as a character when Victor Drazen surrendered to him, hands up, and Jack deliberately emptied an entire clip into the guy, anyway. And as mentioned earlier, those last five minutes when Jack found Teri's body at CTU were genuinely shocking.

Bits and pieces

— I'm not a fan of split screen, unless it's on 24. It's the perfect device for this series since we're watching several story threads in real time.

— In 2008, Dennis Haysbert opined that his portrayal of David Palmer helped pave the way for the presidency of Barack Obama. He might be right. It certainly couldn't have hurt.

— Early in Day 1, Jack used a subterfuge with a flak jacket to save Nina's life. It's sad to think that if he hadn't, Nina wouldn't have killed Teri.

— When I decided to write season reviews for this series, I thought about including the number of people Jack killed in each day but got caught up in the story and quickly lost track. Fortunately, someone at the 24 Wikia did it already. Jack killed 10 people in Day 1.

— There is always a computer magician on 24. Here it was initially Jamey the mole. After she was killed by Nina Myers, she was replaced by Milo Pressman (Eric Balfour).

— More La Femme Nikita trivia: Milo Pressman's user name was "LFN," and there was mention of the name Rene Bonniere, who was one of the more prolific LFN directors.

— At one point, Jack was described as 5'11". I love Kiefer Sutherland, but he is not 5'11". IMDb lists his height as 5'8".

— In my opinion, Kim Bauer's maroon tank and crimped hair in the first half of the "Day" were particularly hideous.



— Day 1 ran from midnight to midnight "on the day of the California Presidential Primary." Even though this first season aired in 2001-2002, it was later established that Day 1 took place on Super Tuesday, March 2004.

— The final moments of the season were of the clock ticking silently. Teri Bauer was the first character to get 24's "silent clock."

To conclude

While Day 1 is not a favorite of mine, it introduced all of the format elements that made 24 special, as well as several terrific actors playing characters that we'll see again in later seasons. Two out of four ticking digital clocks,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

9 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Programming note: I'm planning to post the rest of the season reviews every week or two and definitely will finish this summer.

Comments are always welcome, but please don't spoil later seasons!

Lamounier said...

Great season overview, Billie.

This season was such a great TV viewing experience. I have fond memories of those days.

Early in Day 1, Jack used a subterfuge with a flak jacket to save Nina's life.

This was a great fake out, one of my favorite of the entire series (of what I watched anyway).

Until this point, Palmer thought Jack was part of the plot to kill him and it was enjoyable to see the two of them bond and almost immediately find themselves on the same page.

I remember liking that a lot too. It was one of the best twists that 24 delivered. They kept telling us it was about racism, then reveal this very original story behind it all.

Teri's amnesia is completely ridiculous, but the moment that Toni saves her and establishes himself as a good guy is a great one.

Billie Doux said...

Thanks, Lamounier.

I was surprised at how negative Tony Almeida appeared to be in season one; I'd forgotten.

magritte said...

I have to confess I just couldn't get into 24. The real time idea was a cute gimmick, but I found the assassination plot so ludicrously overcomplicated, I couldn't suspend disbelief and gave up on it after 8 or 9 episodes. And I was bothered by the fact that (like Homeland), it appears to endorse the view that anything goes in the fight against terror.

Raya said...

I really like 24 when it first aired. I tried rewatching it a few years ago and couldn't really get into it. It felt too long and overcomplicated. I still finished the first two seasons but then stopped. Maybe I'll try again one of these days... maybe I'll wait for your reviews and only watch the seasons you liked the most ^^

Billie Doux said...

Raya, you said it -- 24 is indeed long and complicated. I hadn't rewatched it since its original run and I'd forgotten a lot.

If it helps any, my favorite season is five, possibly because of the feminist undercurrent. Jean Smart gave an exceptional performance and was nominated for an Emmy. Season two was probably my second favorite, mostly because of Xander Berkeley.

Not that I don't like Kiefer Sutherland; they certainly wouldn't have run nine seasons without him.

WZILLA13 said...

24 is, in my opinion, one of the top five greatest shows in all of television, so it's obviously one of my all-time favorites. It definitely deserves an episode-by-episode review - especially with the nonstop barrage of happenings each hour - but you nevertheless did an admirable job of summarizing Day 1 in a single write up.

And Day 1 is pretty great, but it's still one of my least favorite seasons, primarily due to Teri Bauer. She's just such an unlikeable character, and her amnesia was one of the most ridiculous plotlines in a series that had its share of ridiculous plotlines. So while her death in the closing moments was a shock (and a perfectly executed one), it was also a big relief, and a game-changer that opened the door for my favorite season, Day 2 (Day 5 is darned close to the top spot, but 2 still has the core group of core characters that push it slightly ahead).

I look forward to your assessments on the remaining seasons; maybe this will be the spark that inspires my wife and I to do another rewatch of this fantastic series (one of the few we can actually agree on =)

Billie Doux said...

WZILLA13, I ended up writing these season reviews because I was doing a rewatch. The entire run is airing on Amazon Prime right now, I was looking for something to watch, and there it was.

I always liked 24. And interestingly, I noticed a few months ago that we were getting a lot of hits on the 24 page, even though all it had was 24: Live Another Day. I did some searches and there are very few 24 reviews out there, which made me think that that was why we were getting the hits -- that the internet needed 24 reviews. :) The show format made me think season reviews would work. Plus, there was no way I would have had the time to do episode reviews.

Jonny said...

Man, I'd forgotten Dennis Hopper was in this season doing a ridiculous accent. Thankfully he has enough charisma to get away with it, although I think the underrated Michael Massee walked away with Best 24 Villain for this season. That moment when he killed the particularly mean-spirited kidnapper was tense as hell.

Also, Jack only killed 10 people? That's crazy low numbers compared to later seasons. Around Day 7 or whatnot it felt like he was averaging out enough bodies to make Obi-Wan bedridden.