I finished series eight of 24 this morning, as a consequence of waking up at half four with a really sore neck (which isn't fun). Given that that's the last full season, and despite still having "Live Another Day" to re-watch, I thought I'd take this opportunity to rate the various series.
My favourite remains series 3, which I feel is the one with the tightest storyline all-round. It's also the only series with all the core characters (Jack, Tony, David Palmer, Kim, and Chloe) in place, and the last with David Palmer as president and with Jack and Tony at CTU.
Second is series 4, which surprised me in the re-watch with just how well put together it is. I'd forgotten an awful lot that happened in this one which really helped. Plus, I'm a big sucker for the 'redemption' storyline that Tony enjoyed, and I also really liked Bill Buchanan, who is introduced here.
Third for me, although only very slightly behind series 4, is series 7. This one benefitted hugely from being pushed back a year by the writers' strike, and brings an awful lot back to the series that was lost in series 6 (see below). The use of Tony as a villain here is excellent, especially if the show as a whole is watched fairly quickly, and the new characters of President Alison Taylor and Renee Walker are great. Alas, Bill Buchanan bows out here, but I guess we can't have everything.
And then we have series 5. This is an odd one, because I actually didn't like this series when I first watched it, but it really benefits both from being revisited and also from being watched fairly quickly (rather than an hour a week). In particular, Christopher Henderson makes for a wonderful villain here, and the events of the very first episode are particularly shocking, in a good way. (I'm still not sure the overall plot here really makes sense, but it moves fast enough that that almost doesn't matter!)
And then there's the final series, number 8. This one starts very well, then has a serious lapse, before ending extremely strongly. If it wasn't for that weak middle section, this series would be much, much higher on the list. Again, we have several good new characters (I especially like Hastings), and I liked both that Jack is now pretty much a legend in his own universe and also that the end saw him going up against a president that he (and I) actually like and respect. My only slight disappointment here is that I kinda wish that president had been David Palmer and the last mole Nina. But, of course, that's not possible. I do think they were right to end it here, though - I think by this point the show was pretty much exhausted and needed a break.
Following the last series we have the first, series 1. This is a hard one to rate, because those first thirteen episodes are actually the best level the show ever reached, largely because they really set the tone for the whole. Unfortunately, the last eleven are much weaker, a consequence of the show initially being ordered only for half a series - they thought they'd only get thirteen episodes, so they told a complete story and then had to stretch it out. Plus the amnesia storyline is probably the most idiotic thing in the show as a whole, rivalled only by the cougar in series two. So, this is a great series, but it drops harshly because of that big weakness.
Then we have series 2, which just couldn't match the intensity of the first one, not least because it had to do things differently, which only kind-of works. It's still enjoyable, but this isn't a series I'd choose to re-watch except as part of the whole - this being the first series that I'd say that about.
And, finally, we have series 6, which I'm afraid is the nadir. This is probably the only series I would describe as being bad - it's mostly just rehashes of previous material, but not done as well. Actually, one of the characters in this series perfectly embodies this issue: as President Wayne Palmer is a poor shadow of David, so too is series 6 a poor shadow of the others. (That said, Powers Boothe is excellent as Noah Daniels, so that's something!)
I haven't included either "Redemption" or "Live Another Day" in my list, because neither is a full series - I'm something of a purist, so not having the full 24 episodes is a deal-breaker for me, as is including a time-jump. Still, if I had to rate them, I'd place "Redemption" just after series 2 (because I didn't particularly like it), and "Live Another Day" somewhere around series 8 (probably just after - it was good to have it back, but it also suffers from being a continuation of a show that was right to end when it did). Actually, "Redemption" is a bit of an odd beast, because while I didn't care for it in itself, it actually serves to make series 7 much better by setting up so much. So it's very much worth watching despite not being terribly good in itself.
Anyway, that's that. I'm hoping to watch "Live Another Day" over the next few weeks, and then I really will be done. After which I'm not planning any big re-watch... though "Buffy" is tempting...
#22: "Rogues", edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois