One month prior to 24's debut, Time Magazine was warning America that its biggest threat came not from the sky, but from the sea. August's infamous Summer of the Shark cover debuted just before 24 - and 9/11.
24's hook was unique to television: a real-time format that every episode adhered to. Even the commercial breaks were worked in as part of the design, allowing characters to move as much as they could in four minutes. Season one, with Counter-Terrorist Unit Agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) trying to foil an assassination, was devoid of politics. Its plot resembled that of another real-time experiment, John Badham's Nick of Time. But 9/11 brought its fictional world a little closer to reality than expected.
By Season 2, "problematic" started appearing in reviews. A New York Times critic claimed it was the world through a Chuck Norris movie.
There's no denying 24 delves into some dicey territory race-wise, and its torture tactics bled uncomfortably into reality. But in fairness, the action genre has always hewed toward the conservative. Dirty Harry, let's not forget, was a vehement racist who gleefully tortured his prey.
Nevertheless, 24 was breathlessly entertaining, even at its worst. And though there are myriad issues we'll no doubt encounter, it still makes for good TV. What's most interesting watching with hindsight is the way one can track the popularity of Bush administration policies like the Patriot Act. In the end, it appears only Jack Bauer shouldered the blame.