I haven’t seen the start of the new season of 24, but I am more than familiar with the nature of the show over its past five years.  In spite of everything that could be said against its insane worship of the Presidency (according to which, if the President authorises it, it is probably permissible to irradiate nursing homes or to drop a nuke on Denver–if it serves the cause of stopping the terrorists), its complete disregard for something we like to call “the law” and the complete implausibility of being able to routinely get across L.A. as easily as everyone in CTU does, it is fun to watch.  It is the action genre’s answer to campy romantic melodrama; it is the American equivalent of Bollywood pics dedicated to episodes of conflict with Pakistan and jihadis.  Unlike those, however, we are spared the sight of Paul Blackthorne’s Stephen Saunders singing to his daughter.  (Unlike most people appearing in 24, though, Paul Blackthorne has had experience with Bollywood, when he played the irremediably unpleasant British captain who challenged Aamir Khan’s villagers to a cricket match in Lagaan.)  

As in those fine Indian action films, the characters on 24 absurdly overplay family and office dramas that somehow manage to fit together with the efforts to prevent the impending disaster.  Noble Arab-American speechifying about being good citizens in season 4 brings to mind Akshay Kumar’s loyal Muslim copper in Sarfarosh.  Shadowy scenes of Geraint Wyn Davies’ Nathanson ordering various terrorist attacks in season 5 call forth, unbidden, memories of scenes of the beturbaned mastermind behind Mission: Kashmir.  The line between 24-ridiculous and hysterically bad is actually a very thin one, and one that the writers have not always stayed on the right side of.  Everyone knows how close it comes to being a really, really silly show, but it is as if we have all agreed to not mention this because, as with some of us and Bollywood, we just like it too much to dwell on the absurdity of it all.  Don’t spoil the fun–we want to see what Jack does next!  Should Amitabh Bachchan ever guest star in a future season (which would be marketing genius), the connection between the two will be complete.   

24 fans know the structure of a season pretty well by now.  In the beginning, there is the progress of a ho-hum, routine day suddenly broken up by some shocking event that only presages the coming string of threats.  This is followed by some terrorist plot or act that would, on its own, be sufficient to fill out a feature film that covers an entire week, but which must, for obvious reasons of time (of which Jack Bauer claims to never enough, but which always turns out to be just sufficient in the very end), be concluded in a matter of two or three hours.  In real time!  Then there are the ludicrous plot devices (e.g., the inevitable uncovering of yet another mole in CTU–don’t these people have any security checks?), and the inevitably tiresome dialogue (which is all too realistic in the constant re-explaining of the situation, such as when the New Guy has just come over from Division, which is 24’s equivalent of the Inferno).  Then you have the unavoidably cliche “we really don’t want to do this, but we have no choice” scenarios and the increasingly predicatble and de rigueur subplot involving the rulebook-following toady from Division who does virtually everything wrong for the entire season until he is forced by events to become an unlikely hero (the latest–Samwise, er, Sean Astin).  But in spite of all these things, we love our 24.  It is not because it is necessarily all that good or good for us, but because, like Bollywood, it is a complete flight of fantasy away from the real world in which we live. 

That world, for Americans, is largely so safe, dull and humdrum that we hungrily feed on the constant tension and action of 24 the way that hundreds of millions of unhappy Indians feed off of the bubblegum-pop happiness of a masala flick’s star-crossed lovers.  No one would actually want to live in the world that Jack Bauer inhabits, and happily no one does, but it is 24’s genius to make us think for at least one hour every week that we actually do live in that world and that the plots unfolding in front of us are realistic because they are happening in “real time.”  Fortunately for us, they are not realistic.  Unfortunately, many of 24’s biggest fans think that this is exactly what the real world is like.  This may explain why the policies preferred by the show’s loudest fans are not even as effective in the real world as the melodramatic romance of Bollywood is at creating the successful template for relationships between men and women.