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Friday, April 30, 2010

24 Days of "24": "TV Guide" Senior TV Critic Matt Roush on the "24" Legacy

Ever since I was a kid, “TV Guide Magazine” has been a major part of my life. And even now, with all of the resources I have at my disposal, “TV Guide Magazine” is still my roadmap to navigate the world of television.

An important part of that roadmap is Matt Roush, the magazine’s senior TV critic. For years, I’ve been turning to Matt to help me make decisions about what to watch. I don’t always agree with him, but I always respect his opinions.

So I figured who better to kick off my tribute to my beloved “24.” In part one of a two-part post, Matt shares his thoughts on the legacy of the show and his favorite moments…

“24” at its best reinvented the action show, with visual sophistication, narrative ambition and a willingness to take us to some very dark places while keeping us riveted and on the edge of our seats for hour after hour. Its real-time gimmick and its continuous storyline arcing over 24 consecutive hours of sustained suspense and mayhem was a very risky gambit that paid off in a show that pretty much defines the concept of “appointment TV.” You can't afford not to be there at every step. And in Jack Bauer, “24” created an iconic hero for the ages. He and the show will forever be reference points for any series—and possibly any movie—that presents a maverick hero facing impossible odds to save the country/world from forces of terror and evil. He's our James Bond, nowhere near as glamorous but every bit as effective. The show was conceived before 9/11, but didn't premiere until after the tragic attack, making it even more resonant—but also a lightning rod when it came to issues involving torture and using might for right in the name of the common good.

Yes, the show often became trapped by its formula, requiring superhuman suspension of disbelief, and some seasons were defeated by the need to keep piling on the conspiracy angles and taking detours like the misadventures of Kim Bauer and more recently anything involving Dana Walsh. But on balance, I think the show will be remembered with admiration for its propulsive and gripping storytelling. Watching “24” when it's firing on all cylinders is a visceral experience like few others. And the audience attachment to characters like Jack and Chloe—and even Tony (good then evil then good then evil, etc.) –ensures they'll linger long in our collective memory. When it comes time to make lists of all-time great TV heroes, Jack Bauer will rank high on that list.

My favorite “24” moments tend to be the very dark ones, because the show is so daring in how unsparing it is toward its characters. I still can't shake the bleak end of the first season, as Jack rebounds from saving the day only to have his wife Teri perish in his arms (murdered by Nina, who would pay in seasons to come). I think my favorite season was the one that opened with the sudden assassination of President Palmer, followed by the death of Michelle and culminating later in the season with the attack on CTU that led to the death of the beloved Edgar. The attack on CTU is probably my favorite, as in most harrowing, episode as well, because it wreaked havoc on the nerve center and sanctuary of CTU (not that it hadn't had its fair share of moles along the way). So many characters were threatened at that point, and the death of Edgar after so much carnage already that season just reminded us that no one (except probably Jack) was safe. (The recent death of Renee also brought that home.) As preposterous as it was, the two-hour episode last season in which the White House was invaded was thrilling action, again resulting in the death of a long-time fave (Bill Buchanan). Sacrifice and heroism have always gone hand in hand on this show. And I'm also reminded of the episode from way back when Jack is forced to execute his boss Ryan Chappelle (who'd often been a pain); all through that episode, I remember thinking, “how in the world is Jack going to get out of this?” only to realize he wasn't going to get out of this one. It was awful, but also terrific.

Tomorrow, I’ll share Matt’s thoughts about “24” and “Lost” ending so closely together and he addresses my concerns that FOX is not showing “24” as much love as ABC is showing “Lost.” Plus, he’ll tell us how he’d like to see “24” end…

You can read more from Matt on the “TV Guide Magazine” website or by following him on Twitter at @RoushTVGuideMag.

And remember you can now follow me on Twitter at @TVAngela

Photo Credits: and Kelsey McNeal/FOX