How 24 Changed the way I watch TV

Monday 30 January 2012

As I have mentioned before, I'm a bit of a fan of American television drama! I have more boxsets than I probably should, and prefer to spend my viewing time rewatching Lost and Veronica Mars than I do watching a film I haven't seen before. There's something amazing about being able to watch something over and over again and never grow tired of it, and pick up on something new and different every time (see Arrested Development for amazing examples of this!). Having studied Film and TV for four years, taking a semester long class in Contemporary Television Drama, I've seen at least a couple of episodes of a lot of the exciting shows there have been on offer over the past decade. But the truth is, I have one show in particular to thank for that, and that show is 24.

Television has been present in the lives of most of my generation since we were born. I grew up watching Playdays and Rosie and Jim, but would in all honesty have prefered to either watch a Disney film, or be outside playing, pretending I was IN a Disney film. I was aware of what was on TV, and tuned in from time to time, but the only programmes I have really watched for my entire life are Home and Away and Neighbours, something that happened naturally as my mum has watched both since they first appeared in the 80s! As I grew up there were obviously shows that I got attached to - I remember how much I loved the short lived phenomenon that was S Club 7's show L.A.7 (I still have the video boxset somewhere in my house!) and the classic Sabrina the Teenage Witch was always a favourite. The first more 'grown up' programme I followed regularly was Monarch of the Glen, having a hopeless crush on Archie, and desperation to see Archie and Lexie get married kept me coming back every week. But it wasn't until my brother convinced me to start watching 24 on dvd about four years after it started, that my relationship with television changed and I realised it was something I wanted to study.

From the very first episode of 24 I was totally blown away - it was like nothing I have ever seen before! The format was, at the time, completely innovative and unique, and I couldn't get over how clever it was. I had suspected I would find the real-time concept a bit difficult to get into, but it wasn't. The whole thing flowed, and felt completely believable, and what impressed me the most was how well developed the character relationships were. In a show where everything is happening in the space of 24 hours, people naturally can't become best friends, or fall in love, over the course of a series like they can in any other serial drama. So creating real chemistry, and a believable level of trust and friendship between characters isn't the easiest of endeavours, particularly when we are dealing with terrorism and a threat to American security! The fact that they could then show a development of trust between, for example, Jack Bauer and Kate Warner in Season 2 was amazing. The writers succeeded in creating a natural relationship, that didn't feel rushed or forced given the time frame, but drew audience members in and had them interested in what was potentially going on between them. Another fantastic example of this, I always thought, was the Tony and Michelle relationship. By having the pair working together for a while before the season begins, the unspoken feelings and obvious tension between the two creates an instantaneous story arc and while we are privy to their first kiss, it still fits in prefectly with the format. We don't see a crazy confession of love, or an unnatural connection form given everything happens over the course of one day, yet the number of fan-fictions and youtube tribute videos to the pair set during season 2, highlights how well written these characters were.

Obviously I am focusing very much on character creation here, my biggest weakness in terms of television. I'm all about the character relationships! It was said that the Lost finale would be seen as a triumph to fans of the characters, and a failure to fans of the mystery itself, so it should come as no surprise then that I adore the last episode, and without a doubt cry whenever I watch it! But in terms of 24, it's not just the character creation that should be applauded. The show aired on Fox, not HBO, so while the level of violence and torture isn't exactly pleasant viewing sometimes, it doesn't go overboard enough to merit being shown on a channel that has to be paid for! This goes for sex and language too - the show is about counter terrorist unit, and battling the bad guys, yet Jack's most commonly used line 'Damn it', is about as controversial as the language gets. I'm not going to get into the whole torture debate - that's not what this article is about! But I think that the fact that I'm such a huge fan of the show, yet I deliberately choose not to watch violent films, shows how well written the storylines are - I am so hooked by whatever is going on that the violence ends up becoming entirely secondary for me. The show is fast paced, and incredibly well edited - I for one love the split screen, it allows us to keep up with exactly where everyone is and what point they are at in relation to everyone else. And the acting is superb - Kiefer Sutherland never misses a beat, and everyone plays their part to perfection. Major kudos to the casting department for this.

I will never forget the season 1 finale of 24, and how desperate I was for more of this incredible show. That single season of TV entirely changed how I looked at television, and made me a whole lot more analytical in terms of my viewing. This, in turn, led me to choose to study Film and Television - and a University course is one of the biggest choices we can make in our young adult lives. So for one show to compell me so much to not only go out and watch more of these serial drama type shows, but to eventually decide that this was an industry I was fascinated enough by to dedicate four years of my life to studying is incredible. I wanted to examine how popular these shows are, and evaluate the high and low points of this type of programming, and it all started with my love for 24.

As I say regularly, I have a lot of 'favourite' programmes, and all for different reasons. If I had to pick a top five, which would be tough, they would probably be 24, Lost, Veronica Mars, Being Erica and Gilmore Girls - talk about diversity -but, if push came to shove, I would probably always say 24 is my true favourite. It will always be special to me in that without falling so head over heels in love with it, I might not have become so interested in this type of television, and I would have missed out on some pretty fantastic shows. So thank you Jack Bauer, for lighting up our screens with such action packed (yet emotional) material for eight amazing seasons. And bring on the 24 movie, I cannot wait to see how it turns out :)

Lynsey x

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