When a TV series becomes popular, almost without exception, the spinoff materials follow. “24’s” concept was uniquely suited to TV, since the number of hours in a day corresponds closely to the number of episodes in a season. Four years after its TV debut, it transitioned to novels, and right out of the gate (no pun intended), “24” showed it works in that format too with Marc Cerasini’s “Operation Hell Gate” (2005).
Following the 11 “Declassified” paperbacks from the heart of the show’s run, three “24” hardcovers came out in the wake of 2014’s Season 9, “Live Another Day.” The first of the trio, James Swallow’s “Deadline” (2014), takes place in the wake of the chaotic Day 8.
After establishing itself as TV’s elite adrenaline rush in the epic Season 2, “24” Season 3 (2003-04, Fox; now streaming on Amazon Prime) gets introspective and examines how family and romantic relationships can suffer under the weight of a job where you must put the safety of thousands of Americans above that of a loved one (or conversely, your work can suffer because of the distraction). Simultaneously, Season 3 marks the first time when I can see how easily “24” could slip into parody. This is the conclusion of a trilogy of great “24” seasons, and the show will never again be as consistently good.
Now would be a good time to rewatch “24” Season 2 (2002-03, Fox; now streaming on Amazon Prime). Centered on a terrorist nuclear bomb in Los Angeles and the buildup to war in the aftermath of its explosion (in the unpopulated desert, thanks to Jack Bauer, natch), this season is obviously a commentary on the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which began in March 2003, coinciding with the intense push-for-war episodes.
With “24: Legacy” premiering earlier this year, I have a perfect excuse to rewatch “24” Season 1 (2001-02, Fox; now streaming on Amazon Prime). Even without “Legacy,” this seems like a good time to get nostalgic about a show that was presciently conceived before the Twin Towers fell and went on to become the definitive post-9/11 drama.
It’s easy to forget how groundbreaking “24” was when it premiered in November 2001 in the wake of 9/11. I need to rewatch that first season (I see that Amazon Prime has it) to get back in the headspace of its turn-of-the-century ingenuity. Although the terrorist-themed plots were fairly fresh for a TV drama, the real-time aspect is what really hooked me. I enjoyed seeing if the writers could stay true to that premise.
In this age of hook-laden, high-concept summer TV shows, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. “Fargo”(FX) maintained its momentum all the way through its first season, culminating in Tom Hanks’ son satisfyingly blowing away Billy Bob Thornton’s almost parodically vile Lorne Malvo. And it looks like “The Strain”(9 p.m. Central Sundays, FX) is in the process of solidifying its spot as a horror classic.
On the May 20 episode of “Fargo,” we see the step-by-step process by which Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) breaks out of his hospital room, switching spots with his nearly comatose roommate in order to be safely wheeled past the security guard. Then we see how Lester’s absence (he goes off to plant murder evidence in his brother’s house) goes undiscovered thanks to the somewhat flighty – but humorously so — nurse. In the episode’s final shot, Lester is back in his hospital bed, mission accomplished, and he gives an end-of-“Psycho”-type smile to viewers. But we aren’t shown 1) how he sneaks past the police officer guarding his room, or 2) how the hospital staff deals with their discovery that the near-comatose patient was in Lester’s bed.
“24: Live Another Day” (8 p.m. Central Mondays on Fox) comes along four years after the eighth season, but Kiefer Sutherland and Mary Lynn Rajskub slip back into their iconic characters of Jack Bauer and Chloe O’Brian like a glove. Although this ninth season – which will be 12 episodes instead of 24, although it’ll apparently skip some hours so it covers a full day – has all the old “24” clichés in place (indeed, Jack is out to stop the assassination of the prez, which is pretty much the same plot as Season 1), it also seems like a good outlet for dramatically exploring the issue of drone warfare.