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From the moment the show debuted in 2001, the makers of Fox’s 24 went out of their way to design nine of the single most stressful days one could possibly imagine.
Some of these very bad days were very much worse than others, for reasons other than the physical and emotional scars Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) sustained over the course of the real-time thriller’s run from 2001 through 2010, and again in 2014’s limited series 24: Live Another Day. In every single season, Sutherland’s über capable counter-terrorist expert was charged with thwarting massive threats at the expense of incredible personal sacrifice, but some of those seasons were much more convincing in their stakes and subsequent cost than others.
Before the Eric Carter (Corey Hawkins) days of 24: Legacy begin in earnest, let’s take one more look at the Bauer book of old. Here’s how The Hollywood Reporter ranks the nine seasons of 24 as they currently stand:
9. Day 6
Rank the rest of 24 however you see fit, as long as you rank the show’s sixth season last. It’s not just the worst season of 24 with a bullet, but a bad season of television outright, leaning far too much on the soap opera horn. Case in point: the season reveals that Jack Bauer’s father and brother are effectively terrorist masterminds. Seriously? And with all due respect to the great James Cromwell, why on Earth would the show ever introduce Jack’s dad if Donald Sutherland wasn’t available to play the part? That’s not even addressing some of the season’s other great misfires, including the unnecessary and literal executions of fan-favorites like Curtis Manning (Roger Cross), Wayne Palmer (D.B. Woodside) and Milo Pressman (Eric Balfour). A nuclear level hot mess of a season.
8. Day 8
The final season of the show’s initial run placed Jack Bauer in New York, but aside from location, almost everything felt familiar… too familiar, really. Once again, Bauer was tasked with thwarting a high-level political assassination. Once again, the assassination played out eventually anyway. Once again, Bauer found a small semblance of romantic happiness. Once again, that happiness was extinguished with a bullet to the chest. Once again, a trusted CTU colleague was revealed as a traitor. Once again, Bauer ended the day as a fugitive on the run. All of this had happened before, to borrow a phrase from another show, and much of it was frustrating on an initial watch. But on reflection, Day 8 plays better as a tribute to the show’s greatest hits, an acceptable season of the series at its very worst. It also contains what’s easily a top 10 moment for the series: a fully armored Jack Bauer doing his very best Jason Voorhees impression.
7. Live Another Day
Just as Bauer has cheated death on multiple occasions, so too did 24 return from exile with a London-based limited series called Live Another Day. At the moment, this series stands as the final hours for Jack Bauer, who spends the better part of a day repairing ruined relationships and saving the President’s life, only to lose the love of his life (again) and end the day in the hands of a foreign agency (AGAIN). With a shorter episode order than usual, the limited-run Live Another Day came equipped with a tighter and even more propulsive storytelling mechanism than usual, but loses points due to one too many retreads of familiar ground.
6. Day 7
The first full season set outside of Los Angeles was also the same season afflicted by the Writers Guild of America strike in 2007 and 2008. In order to maintain the show’s traditional uninterrupted airing schedule, Fox delayed season seven by an entire year. But a late start also meant tighter plotting, with just about all of Bauer’s bad day through Washington mapped out well ahead of the season airing. The season also scores points for bringing fan-favorite character Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) back from the dead, a move that’s only slightly more realistic than it sounds. As it stands, Tony is the only character from the old 24 days set to appear on 24: Legacy.
5. Day 3
In its third season, the 24 writers attempted to pull one over on the audience by keeping them in the dark about Jack Bauer’s true plan of attack. In episode seven, it’s revealed that Jack’s hair-brained and heroin-fueled schemes earlier in the day were all part of a carefully concocted plot to reestablish an undercover identity. It was certainly a novel idea, and one that paid off with an incredibly intense second half of the season. Unfortunately, it also meant that the first third of the season was somewhat frustrating.
4. Day 2
The show’s second season marked a point of no return for the series. In tasking Bauer with stopping a nuclear weapon from detonating on U.S. soil, 24 officially turned away from the more personal stakes that fueled the show’s iconic first season, setting the stage for each subsequent season to increase the threat level at an alarming rate. It’s also a season filled with some of the most classic 24 moments, including Bauer severing a man’s head after delivering the memorable line: “I’m going to need a hacksaw.”
3. Day 4
Jack never faces a more capable adversary than the one he battles in season four: Habib Marwan, played by The Mummy veteran Arnold Vosloo. The two engage in a game of cat-and-mouse all through the season, with Marwan actually winning more often than not. Not only does season four feature a fantastic villain, it’s also effectively the end of the original 24 era, providing compelling final stories for series stalwarts President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) and brilliant agent Michelle Dessler (Reiko Aylesworth).
2. Day 5
There’s a strong argument that the fifth season of 24 is the best season of the show. It’s as kinetic a start as any, with Bauer forced out of hiding after several of his friends are murdered. It’s brimming with twists and turns, from the nerve gas attack on CTU to the massive political conspiracy with the sniveling President Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin) right at the top of the food chain. With its fifth season, 24 finally earned a Best Drama at the Emmys. For all these reasons and more, Day 5 certainly boasts a claim for the show’s best-ever season — if not for one other.
1. Day 1
It’s the only season to begin and end at midnight, the only season without the threat of some sort of massive detonation on American soil (LAD not withstanding), the only season where the biggest threat against Bauer is the one leveled against his family. It’s the season that started it all, and it did so with clever twists, small but breathtaking set pieces, and an elegant revenge plot that fuels the story all the way through the final harrowing act: Jack Bauer’s wife, murdered at the hands of Jack Bauer’s closest colleague. 24 became something very different following its first season, more interested in the threat of dirty bombs and weaponized viruses than the threats against individual lives, the very thing that made 24 such a standout in the first place — that, and Kiefer Sutherland’s instantly iconic work as Jack Bauer, of course.
How would you rank the 24 seasons? Sound off in the comments below, and click here for more of our 24 coverage.
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