'24' : An Hour of Realism; Anti-Terror Theme Hits Home with a Bang

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 29, 2005 | Go to article overview

'24' : An Hour of Realism; Anti-Terror Theme Hits Home with a Bang


Byline: Christian Toto, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Fox's "24" is pulling off the unthinkable this season. No, it's not that it's one-upping previous seasons with an electric blend of nightmare terrorist scenarios and bold twists. It's that it's dispensing with the politically correct evasions that pervade prime time episodic television. "24" identifies the terrorist enemy without flinching and lets the good guys fight to win - without apologies. In the process, the show is earning a conservative cult following.

To a greater extent than almost any other fictional show currently on the air, "24" depends on verisimilitude for its impact. The series has always had a ripped-from-the-headlines immediacy, one boosted by its unique real-time clockwork. Any one-hour episode approximates an hour passing in real time.

Political honesty may be the inevitable extension of this trademark topicality and temporal realism.

The sacrifice of political honesty in deference to the brittle political sensitivities of an ethnic lobby "would feel like a groaner," says Joel Surnow, show co-creator (with Robert Cochran) and executive producer. "It's what the audience is expecting."

He makes no bones about where the show can, and often does, head.

"For it to have any believability and resonance, we had to deal in the world we're living with, and the terrorists are the jihadists," Mr. Surnow says. "It wouldn't feel realistic if you did anything else."

The current season began on an emotional note, as we watched a sleeper cell based around an American Muslim family whir to life.

That didn't sit well with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which asked Fox to run pro-Muslim public service announcements as a corrective.

When "24" star Kiefer Sutherland appeared on a subsequent episode break with just such a message, it seemed likely that "24" would start pulling its punches.

Instead, it came out swinging.

In recent weeks, the heroes in Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) have taken to torturing suspects to extract information about a looming nuclear attack.

CTU agents were about to wring clues out of a key suspect with ties to the villainous Marwan (Arnold Vosloo in a doozy of a turn) last week when a group dubbed Amnesty Global stepped in with lawyers in tow.

On a more typical show, the fictitious human rights group would be depicted as brave, self-sacrificing humanitarians. On "24," Amnesty Global is the villain, a fact hammered home with an almost malicious plot detail: The terrorists have the group on speed dial. …

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