The current lineup on TV feels light. Despite the 100+ channels on cable TV, not much catches my eye. My Name is Earl was funny for a few episodes, then quickly dropped off of my TiVo record list as the novelty wore off. The West Wing is in its final several episodes, and it's the right time to wrap that show up, but that leaves only the absurd Commander in Chief to fill the political slot in primetime. I've lost the stomach for any reality TV. Sportscenter today is a dim offspring of Sportscenter in its heyday, the Patrick-Olbermann years.
MI-5 (or Spooks) season 4 has finished airing in the UK, but it doesn't appear as if it will tour the U.S. on A&E anytime soon. The Sopranos next season hasn't begun. In this dead period, thank goodness for Veronica Mars and 24.
Jack Bauer is the Michael Jordan of counter terrorist agents. Talented, ruthless, and absolutely indomitable. He's also the paragon of U.S. productivity and efficiency, recalling the way the first two Jason Bourne movies crafted an American workaholic who is all work, no play, and exciting as hell.
24 is the antidote to Lost, the TV show on which nothing much happens (or rather, the show loops in on itself over and over until it digs a moat between my empathy and the characters on the show). On 24, you find out someone is a double agent on one episode, in the next episode Bauer has broken a few of the guy's fingers or has connected his earlobes to the nearest light fixture, and one episode after that the double crosser is dead or fired, or both. If Jack Bauer were among the passengers of Flight 815, Lost would be Found in no time.
Chloe and Edgar are like the clowns in a Cirque du Soleil show. They provide techie comic relief. Skilled at their jobs, socially awkward, they're the people Jack calls when he needs to get stuff done quickly, because the management will only get in the way, and they remind me of many talented programmers I've worked with in the past. Jack's the poster child for under-appreciated worker bees everywhere, fighting against the bumbling bureacracy above him, proving himself so effective that even his nervous, conservative managers can't help but unleash him. His higher-ups at CTU hover around speaker phones, wringing their hands, ordering Bauer into situations of extreme peril when all else fails.
24 is therapeutic not only because it enacts a fantasy of successful counter terrorism in a post 9/11 world but because of the way the U.S. security agencies bring down the bad guys. Bauer is a scalpel in the war against terrorism. Whereas our real president has to send tens of thousands of our soldiers into Iraq to engage in a quagmire of a war to ostensibly uproot a scattered and smaller force of terrorists, nothing is disturbed on 24 except Jack Bauer's personal life. Last season he even died for us, figuratively. He's the martyr in our televised dream of winning the war on terrorism.
There's a wonderful moment in every episode, just before the end of each hour, when the music rises in urgency, several plot threads climax simultaneously, and suddenly the screen splits into a two by two grid, images from each of the major plot threads hovering side by side like a Brady Bunch title card. It's analogous to a circus juggler holding up seven bowling pins and leaning against a unicycle. You know you're about to get your money's worth.