How many more ways could Jack Bauer have saved the homeland from a world of terrorists?
How many more times could he inflict and suffer injury in round-the-clock cycles?
How much can any man take?
Well, Jack operates at a superhuman pitch, judging from eight seasons' worth of counterterrorism derring-do on "24." His endurance is amazing. No coffee breaks for him. No wasting time on small talk. The clock is always ticking, so he says what he says fast, in his vigorous purr.
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In the hands of series star Kiefer Sutherland, Jack has done a bang-up job. So has "24," boldly shaking up serial drama with its ambitious and demanding formula. Even so, fatigue is evident, a condition apparently shared on "24" by Jack with the show's creative team and its audience. All have come to seem a bit weary from the unforgiving pace of this high-rev Fox thriller.
"24" ends at 7 p.m. today (KSAS, Channel 4/24) with the final two installments of this last day's 24 sequential, real-time hours. But what was once groundbreaking and breathtaking about "24" has come to feel, well, sort of yesterday.
Sure, there have been oh-lordy moments this season. But too much of "24" today is mired in rapid-fire routine. By now, the audience is well-versed in the "24" protocol: a wildly dramatized view of our nation's response to the threat of terrorism as it takes the form of nerve gas, bombs, snipers, bioweapons or what-have-you, tightly framed within each season's frenzied 24-hour window.
This season, it's nukes that have fallen into enemy hands and threaten a piece of Manhattan — plus the assassination of a Mideast leader deemed essential to an all-important peace accord negotiated by U.S. President Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones).
Jack is in the midst of all this hoo-ha, of course, including pushback from evil Russian operatives who secretly are dead-set against the agreement.
Meanwhile, Jack has chalked up yet another lost love.
The waning eighth day is more than a decade removed from the first day tracked by "24." Premiering in the fall of 2001, it was a scripted drama's answer to the red-hot reality genre spurred by "Survivor." Here, on "24," was hyper-real action, documentary style, with preserving Americans' security the challenge. It seemed perfect for the time.
Then the rules changed just weeks before "24" went on the air. Thanks to Sept. 11, the sense of cautionary dread that fueled the series' suspense struck many viewers not as slick escapism, but as a wrenching echo of their own altered world. On its premiere, the series had a particularly bumpy start when a terrorist blew up the jetliner in which she had been a passenger after parachuting to safety. It was an unsettling flashback to real life less than two months earlier.
But that first day, Bauer successfully foiled an assassination plot against David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), a U.S. senator on the fast track to the Oval Office. "24" overcame the specter of real-world tragedy.
It also managed to work within the unlikely confines of its snugly packaged format. Time and physical constraints conspired with plausible absurdity: cell phones that never burned out, bladders never needing bathroom breaks, Jack's variety of wounds that seemed to always heal themselves by the following scene.
Sure, why not? At their best, "24" and Jack moved way too fast for such trifles to distract the audience.
But after two more hours tonight, it ends. The clock stops for good. After eight high-anxiety seasons of "24," Jack's got everybody tuckered out. It's time to finally give it a rest.