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24, Fox's long-running thriller whose episodes tick by in nail-biting real time, has always drawn more than its share of queasy admiration. Few shows can so reliably deliver the cliffhangers and adrenaline spikes, but it's the rare episode where characters aren't forced to some moral extremity in the name of the greater good. Torture scenes are a 24 staple, and the show's creator, Joel Surnow, has made no secret of his own hard-right sympathies. Some critics find it hard to like a show that counts Dick Cheney, Michael Chertoff and Rush Limbaugh among its most vocal fans.

The eighth season of 24, which premiered this week, is the first to air without George W. Bush in the White House. Jack Bauer, Kiefer Sutherland's haggard juggernaut of a counterterrorism specialist, is once again making the hard choices, but does 24 still have anything to say to a post-Decider America?
  • We're Not So Far From Those Days Just Yet, thinks Hank Stuever at The Washington Post: "Bauer's looming irrelevancy in the Obama era was called off a few weeks ago, on Christmas Day, when a novice jihadist set his underwear on fire on a Northwest Airlines flight. Blindly hoping to leave the '00s behind, we were instead sucked right back into the abstract anxieties of the threat-level orange, Dick Cheney world, with its iffy intelligence and inconveniences to Western lifestyles."
  • The Show's Still a Fantasy, and It's Still Not Harmless, argues Paul Waldman of The American Prospect: "There are more than a few people, even those who should know enough to know better, who think things really are like they appear on 24 -- that the clock is always ticking, there's no such thing as blowback, and a little torture is all you need to find out the information that will keep us all safe."
  • Politically Repugnant but Viscerally Addictive is how David Glasier at The News-Herald characterizes it: "I can't take my eyes off the screen. That has a lot to do with a blend of acting, writing, directing, camera work and storytelling devices such as the show's trademark digital clock and split-screen intros and exits. '24' is distinctive in its look, feel and sound. I don't like its politics, but I love its verve."
  • A Welcome Antidote to Other, Breezier Spy Shows, finds Alessandra Stanley at The New York Times: "'24' has lost the element of surprise and some of its allure, but it still has something few other counterterrorism series offer, namely a terrifying portrait of terrorism. And these days in particular, that's almost reassuring."
  • Hey Surnow & Co., Don't Ignore The Toll Jack's Job Takes, urges Zack Handlen at The A.V. Club: "As the days pass, it gets harder to believe that [Bauer] hasn't broken down under the weight of it all yet; not impossible to believe, not yet, but surely this isn't the sort of job a person can keep doing forever. The nature of the show needs Jack to keep coming back to the fray time and again, but it would lose what credibility it still has if it completely abandoned the concept of attrition. Eventually, this has got to come to an end."

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