Dave Barry

Dave Barry: ‘24’ is back to thwart logic and take us hostage, thank God

Jack Bauer is returning to the TV screen, and I know I speak for all true Americans when I say: Yay.

Jack Bauer is, of course, the gruff but at the same time homicidal federal employee played by Kiefer Sutherland in the action-packed series 24, which ended in 2010 after eight seasons and approximately 394,000 deceased terrorists. Virtually all of these terrorists were killed personally by Jack, who as an agent of the fictional Counter Terrorism Unit, singlehandedly thwarted dozens of terrorist plots against the United States.

Jack had to do all of this thwarting by himself because pretty much everybody else who worked for the CTU was either a mole or a complete moron. For example: Whenever CTU personnel managed to locate a terrorist, they would always decide that the first thing they had to do — I’m talking every single time — was form a perimeter around the area. While they were doing this, the terrorist — again, I’m talking every single time — would manage to escape. Perimeter-forming was apparently the only skill taught in CTU management training. If a toilet overflowed at CTU HQ, they would form a perimeter around it.

This meant it was up to Jack Bauer to catch and exterminate the terrorists, and eventually uncover that season’s shocking surprise CTU mole. In his investigations, Jack employed proven law-enforcement interrogation techniques, by which I mean shooting people in the thigh. Jack was not big on advising people of their Miranda rights. “You have the right to get shot in the thigh,” was about as far as he went. Although to be fair, he didn’t shoot everybody. Once, he used pliers and a blowtorch.

Since Jack was the only person who ever actually caught any terrorists, naturally he was constantly in trouble with the complete morons in charge of CTU, who were always firing him or throwing him in jail or trying to kill him. If Jack had been on Facebook, his permanent status would have been On The Run. His only ally at CTU was the plucky and loyal Chloe O’Brien, a computer genius who could instantly get Jack whatever information he needed. They had a lot of conversations like this:

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JACK: I need the schematics of every residence in Baltimore owned by Presbyterians NOW.

CHLOE (furiously tapping keyboard): I’ll have it in eight seconds, Jack.

JACK: Dammit, Chloe, there’s no TIME! Those thighs aren’t going to shoot themselves!

Each season of 24 followed Jack for 24 frantic hours in real time. During those 24 hours of nonstop thwarting, Jack would be fatally shot several times, but he always recovered within minutes. He also responded remarkably well to being stabbed, poisoned or exposed to high levels of radiation. He never slept, ate or went to the bathroom, which may explain why he was so gruff.

He got gruffer with each season, possibly because the plots became less and less plausible, to the point where many of us fans suspected that the writers were inhaling household chemicals. The low point, or maybe I should call it the high point, came in Season Seven, when the writers decided to have the White House — which, bear in mind, is the best-defended residence on Earth — be captured by African soldiers wearing SCUBA gear. That’s right: Frogmen captured the White House. They got in via an underground river that, in the universe of 24, flows directly beneath the White House, which has a convenient trap door in the basement to let invading frogmen in.

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But no matter how ludicrous the plot got, we diehard 24 fans remained loyal. We mocked the show, of course, but we also loved it. We loved the highly improbable, often incomprehensible plots; loved the CTU morons; loved it when Jack barked impossible orders at Chloe; loved it — God help us — when Jack, needing information fast, had 30 seconds alone with a terrorist and a Phillips screwdriver. We were a community, we 24 fans, and we were sad when it ended.

But now it’s coming back, in the form of 24: Live Another Day, which has its two-hour premiere Monday. Jack, now a rogue agent, is in London, and he is — Surprise! — On The Run. There is some kind of assassination plot afoot, and there are shootings and explosions. And, of course, there is Chloe, who has also gone rogue, not to mention Goth — she’s wearing enough eye makeup to cover a tennis court. She is now apparently at odds with Jack. Everybody is at odds with Jack. Which is exactly how we 24 fans like it. Which is why, Monday night, millions of us will be in front of our TV screens, forming a huge, happy perimeter.

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