"The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones."
–Mark Anthony, Act III, Scene ii, Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare
24 is the most influential TV drama of all time. There isn't even a close second. No other series—not The Sopranos, The Wire, Hill Street Blues, or ER, has had a tenth of the cultural impact. There simply has never been another protagonist as loved and hated as Kiefer Sutherland's Jack Bauer—lambasted by a Brigadier General and defended by a Supreme Court judge. There has never been another television show that so profoundly and directly influenced how this nation fights a war, and discussing the significance of 24 without mentioning the political debates that swirled around the show is practically impossible.
Let's try, though. With Jack's small-screen swan song airing on FOX tonight, the time has come to praise Bauer, not bury him. The political hullabaloo around the show too often obscured that 24 was absolutely terrific entertainment—relentlessly gripping and fresh, brilliantly conceived and executed.
Co-creators Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran not only developed outrageously complex plots—stories lesser shows got Lost trying to match. The pair created an entirely new way of telling a story on TV—the real-time format, represented by the now iconic digital clock bink-bink-binking away the seconds on screen. In the mimetic TV industry, where any success instantly spawns a dozens imitations, how telling is it that no other drama series has even tried to tell a story in real time? Also ignored in the political brouhaha are 24's luscious production values—particularly the saturated, comic book colors of the cinematography, and the remarkably subtle use of light on actors' faces.