Things have changed on 24. Even the most diehard devotee will admit their favourite hour of television is different this year. For their third season, the gritty real-time drama shifted gears and changed their formula considerably — both out of necessity and for the better, according to series star Kiefer Sutherland.
“For those of us on the show, it felt like we were still finding our way those first two seasons,” says Sutherland, who plays counter-terrorism agent Jack Bauer on the popular Fox series. “The writers now have fully-developed characters to work with and it’s given a new edge to our storytelling process.”
There was, of course, nothing wrong with the first two seasons of 24. To recap briefly: Year One focused on counter-terrorism agent Jack Bauer (Sutherland) and his attempts to rescue his wife and daughter at the same time as he was trying to prevent the assassination of the U.S. president. The daughter and the president were saved; Jack’s wife was tragically killed in the final episode.
Year Two picked up immediately after. At the president’s behest, a still-grieving Jack was pressed into service to assist the fictional Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) in locating a nuclear device planted somewhere in LA.
The first two seasons of 24 (both which became best-selling DVD sets) were barnburners, the sort of serialized program that necessitated strict viewer devotion. Miss one episode and you were lost.
The must-see aspect is still there on 24‘s third season, although the storylines are becoming increasingly layered. “It made sense to us,” says co-creator/executive producer Robert Cochran. “We’ve learned so much about these people the first two years, it was time to expand their stories.”
The third season began with Jack facing off against an imprisoned South American drug kingpin who was threatening the release of a super-virus unto the U.S. populace. The story shifted to South America, where the kingpin was murdered; more recently the virus has been released in a Los Angeles hotel, while Jack tries frantically to learn the identity of the man behind the terrorist threat.
“The show has gotten better, I think, over the three years we’ve been on,” says Sutherland. “It’s not just Jack Bauer anymore; there are other main characters weaved in and out each week.”
As before, the alternating focal character on 24 is fictional U.S. president David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert). In the middle of his re-election campaign, Palmer is beset by a pending scandal initiated by a rival. Luckily for Palmer, his resourceful ex-wife, Sherry (Penny Johnson), has already eradicated the rival — permanently. It’s not the first time Sherry has been dropped into the middle of the story.
“Sherry is so much fun to play,” says Johnson. “She always pops up when you don’t expect; she’s usually the smartest person in the room, or at least the best informed. I can honestly say I’m surprised when I pick up a script each week.”
At all times, however, the action shifts back to Jack. Sutherland’s character is undeniably 24‘s pivotal character, though it’s likely a sign of the times that virtually all of Jack’s life-and-death conversations are delivered through a super-agent’s very best friend: the cell phone.
“The cell phone is a fantastic storytelling device for us,” says Sutherland with a smile. “One rule we don’t break with my character is that if he keeps moving, it works.”