Kiefer Sutherland’s action show was ahead of its time, tackling terrorism on telly in the aftermath of 9/11. But by series six it had become obsolete
Beep, beep, beep, beep, beeeeeeeeeep. And so began every episode of 24. Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer was the hero of the hour – or rather 45-ish minutes, allowing for ad breaks. Events took place in real time, with each 24-part series depicting one nightmarish day in the life of the special-forces-soldier-turned-director-of-Los Angeles’s-Counter-Terrorist-Unit (CTU).
We’d never seen anything quite like 24 before. When it first aired in the UK on BBC2 in March 2002 – it began the previous November in the US – 9/11 was very much on our minds. Our leaders told us of growing terrorist threats, warning that new laws would be needed for this changing terrain. While 24’s first series didn’t deal with Islamic extremism, subsequent series did and it tackled these concerns head on. We saw the good guys caught between a desire to keep their country safe and the pesky laws inhibiting their operations, while various plots played to prejudices or subverted them – see Marie Warner’s radicalisation in series two. But it wasn’t all torture and rightwing wish fulfilment – there was escapism, too. Liberals aghast at George W Bush’s agenda found comfort in 24’s David Palmer as well as The West Wing’s Jed Bartlet.