Sunday was one of the worst days of my TV watching life. Not since Maria told Big Bird that Mr. Hooper died have I felt so horrible - not because of what I saw, but because of what I didn't.
I missed 24 (I also missed the fourth quarter of the Patriots' missile attack against the the Chargers), and my VCR, six-year-old POS that it is, decided to crap out.
I've been salivating over the return of 24 since Kiefer Sutherland's über-agent was shackled and shipped off on a slow boat to China at the end of last season. I've been talking about it for weeks to anyone who will listen. My Kiefer man-crush was getting to the point where Ford car commercials made my heart race a bit faster.
But the TV gods were against me. And an 11th-hour Hail Mary via text message to my Chloe, an equally Kiefer-crazy co-worker, also came up short. Something about not being able to reposition the necessary satellite to provide the coverage I required.
Now, if you've never watched 24 and if you haven't, are you mental?! you probably can't understand the fervour the action series creates. Forget the horny doctors playing doctor on Grey's Anatomy or the completely clueless castaways on Lost. None can hold a stick of C4 to the explosive adventures of Sutherland's counter-terrorist Captain America, Jack Bauer.
As suspense-filled as any Hollywood blockbuster and with more cliffhangers than a Flash Gordon serial, 24 is the most propulsive and visceral experience the small screen provides, the kind of show that makes you wish you had the technology to plug your brain right into the program.
Fortunately, you don't need CTU-level code-cracking capabilities to catch up on missed TV shows, thanks to a very cool and, I'm sure, copyright-infringing website that streams all kinds of TV and film content. (Golden Globe winner Babel is in my queue to view.) By Monday afternoon I was watching back-to-back-to-back-to-back episodes from the new season, including hours 3 and 4, which had yet to air.
In just the first four hours of Bauer's sixth worst day, he goes all Lost Boys on his captor's throat, drop-kicks a suicide bomber out the back window of a speeding subway train, carjacks a Jeep Cherokee, dodges air-to-surface missiles fired from American attack choppers and gets queasy after using a terrorist as a pincushion to extract information. Seems 20 months of Chinese torture has made Bauer question his ability to shoot, stab, maim and dismember in the name of the red, white and blue.
To top it all off he blows away one of the series' long-time good guys and watches in horror as the L.A. skyline explodes. (One of 24's gutsier qualities is its gleefully sadistic willingness to sacrifice even the most beloved character so long, Edgar Stiles in order to keep viewers on the edge of their sofas.)
Unlike the increasingly annoying Lost, 24 is a serial that delivers definite answers and ends each season with finality. And for all its ludicrous plot devices the Kim-terrorizing cougar, for example the series also cleaves scarily close to plausibility: suicide bombers and nerve gas attacks.
Then, of course, there's Kiefer, who wears Bauer's ruthlessness and, this season, desperation in every crag and line on his battle weary face.
But beyond the terrorist plots, political conspiracies and shootouts, beneath the not-so-subtly disguised allusions to real-world tensions, 24 functions much like The West Wing and ER, as a high-octane workplace fantasy. Everyone wishes they worked in a place as gleamingly cool as the show's CTU, where everyone performs capital-I important jobs that they believe in and where the I.T. department is infallible. Runner-up is working in a place that pays you to watch 24.
24 airs Mondays at 9 pm on Fox and 10 pm on Global.
What to watch this week
Sunday, January 21
The Robber Bride (MOW) Based on the Margaret Atwood novel and starring Weeds' Mary Louise Parker.
8 pm on CBC
Monday, January 22
Heroes Are you on the list? TV's coolest new show returns with more super-powered everyfolk getting into the action.
8 pm on NBC
Saturday, January 20
30 Days (Reality series) Supersize Me's Morgan Spurlock's Trading Spouses-like doc series.
6 pm on IFC