In previous series, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) has saved the President from an assassination attempt, saved Los Angeles from a nuclear bomb and saved America from the release of a deadly virus. This time, he's no longer working for the Counter Terrorist Unit; he's a bodyguard for Secretary Of Defence James Heller (William Devane) and Audrey Raines (Kim Raver), Heller's daughter, who doubles as his girlfriend. A train is blown up in an act of terrorism. Jack's charges are kidnapped and a terrorist sleeper cell appears to be planning something major. Can he save the day... again?

What differentiates 24 from all the other spy-cum-action-hero television series is that events are shown in real time. Whereas other series may span months, or even years, 24 spans just one day. This allows for levels of detail and focus that haven't been seen since the likes of Murder One. Although 24 requires a fairly decent attention span, all the salient points are recapped prior to each episode, and there are enough well choreographed action sequences to keep even the laziest viewer gripped.

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Fans of the previous three series will have everything in Series 4 that they could wish for: the kidnap plots, the rescue plots, the gun battles, the interrogation scenes, the cool technology, the tension and the danger. Those people who haven't seen 24 before would be well advised to rent a copy of the previous series, so that they can fully enjoy the twists in those. However, there is no reason why someone wouldn't understand what's going on by only watching the latest.

Although it's still one of the best shows on TV, Series 4 isn't quite up to the standard of what has gone before. The biggest failing is that the writers have become looser with the real time aspect. Where people travelling from one location to another might previously take half an hour to an hour, this time around they take five or 10 minutes. Rather than using a little artistic licence to keep the story roaring along, it has the opposite effect and drags the audience out of the story, because it jars.

24 has always had a high turnover of stars, both within and between series. Series 4 takes this even further, leaving only Jack, surly computer geek Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and the recently elected President (Geoffrey Pierson). None of the new characters within CTU ever quite get taken to heart, other than Edgar Stiles (Louis Lombardi), who hilariously rubs Chloe up the wrong way, creating a wonderful double act of comic relief. When some of this new lot are bumped off, it is difficult to care. About half way through a few of the old faces from previous series are drafted back, almost as if the writers realised their mistake and needed to rectify it.

A major criticism, particularly in the States, is that Arabs are portrayed in a poor light. Sutherland had to record a special advert, saying that not all Arabs are terrorists - I can't help thinking it must have been just like the Not A Racist slideshow from Father Ted. I don't think the criticism is justified, anyway. 24 has had plenty of Arab characters who haven't been militant and that they might wrongly be suspected of being so has been intelligently portrayed. The series has earned the right to portray some Muslims as being terrorists without it being the cheap stereotyping that plagues so many Hollywood films. What I found more objectionable was the patronising way in which a couple of half-dimensional Arabic characters were shoehorned in later to show that not all Arabs are bad people.

Equally objectionable was Amnesty Interna... sorry, Amnesty Global... being used as a tool by the terrorists to avoid questioning. When Jack Bauer says, "I believe in the Constitution as much as the next man, but..." it felt that his loyalty wasn't to the fictional President Keeler, but to President Bush, and the way in which prisoners are treated in Guantanamo Bay, although at the time I just laughed at how cheesy the whole thing was and enjoyed the action and tension of it all.

For all that doesn't quite sit right with Series 4, it's still brilliantly directed, brilliantly acted across the board, mostly brilliantly written in terms of plot and dialogue and gushes tension and excitement from every pore.

A must watch.

Reviewed on: 06 Aug 2005
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24: Series 4 packshot
Another day, another crisis; this time terrorists are planning a major outrage.
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