The clock has almost run
out on the Fox drama 24, which will end for good next month, and there goes one
of my guilty pleasures. But hey, the show’s writers are reportedly worn out and
who can blame them—after eight seasons, how many more ways can you have Jack
Bauer save the world?
I was always impressed by
the terrific use the show’s creators made of one thing over and over to create
and sustain suspense: time. It provided the show’s golden rules: a) First,
build the entire series premise around time--each season covers 24 hours in Jack’s
life, one hour per show—and time, by definition, will thus always be running
out. b) Juice up shows by building in even more time limits--e.g., a bomb will
go off at a certain time, a biological agent will spread so far in such an
amount of time, a historic peace treaty must come off by a certain time or
else, a counterterrorism (CTU) crew will need at least 10 minutes to get to a
dangerous scene. In terms of storytelling, the concept of time running out
grips us on a primal level, makes us nervous, keeps us on edge. Time was everywhere in 24, and it kept viewers
engaged for years.
The show, at its best, also skillfully used classic suspense techniques: Pick a great villain who is
shrewd and well-equipped; choose an equally capable protagonist who has flaws
and issues and a checkered history; place great obstacles in the protagonist’s
way; and when the good guys seem to have gained the upper hand, throw a monkey
wrench at them and place additional, seemingly impossible obstacles in their
way. (Oh, and always plant a mole or two in CTU to knock viewers off their
Monday evenings will be a
little calmer after 24.
-- Ron Kovach, senior editor, The Writer
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