I entirely agree with those critics out there who think season 6 was awful. Having said that, I actually thought the season had gotten off to a promising start . . . too bad it went off the rails so quickly. For me, the major drawing point of the show has always been (Sutherland's brilliant portrayal of) the character of Jack Bauer. Here we have (or had, anyway) a finely nuanced take on the classic tragic hero figure. What made Bauer such a compelling character in previous seasons was that he was always presented as the only person who could get the job done, the guy to whom all the really hard choices would invariably fall. For example, decisions about whether to resort to the extremity of torture.
Whatever your ethical and political views about the legitimacy of torture as a means of extracting information in the real world, I think most of you would agree that, in the past anyway, 24's depiction of this was always very earnest, if not quite sophisticated. (Lengthy philosophical discussions about rights vs. utility vis a vis torture would likely not make for very good ratings.) With season 6, unfortunately, this earnestness has virtually disappeared.
Part of what was so fascinating about Jack Bauer was that the guy was nearly always the one who ended up having to do the "interrogating." You couldn't help but wonder what his continually having to commit these horrific acts might be doing to him on the inside; and to my mind, this is really where Kiefer Sutherland's acting chops shone through. In fact, we were given a glimpse into Bauer's damaged mental interior when, early on in season 6, he watches in horror as Hamri Al-Assad tortures the guy who betrayed him to Fayed. He says "I don't know how to do this anymore . . ." or something to that effect.
I was really hoping that this scene would be the start of a much more personal, self-probing psychological look at Jack Bauer as he begins to confront his inner demons. Obviously, the writers had other things in mind. In hardly any time, Bauer's back in form, torturing and killing left and right. But this is a different Bauer from the one we've seen in previous seasons: this Bauer tortures and kills not with utilitarian resolve, but with what can instead only be described as sadistic relish. Recall the scene where he whispers to Fayed to "say hello to your brother for me" before he kills him. Or when he's about to interrogate Gredenko and says "now we're going to have some fun." There's even a scene in the season 7 teaser where, again, about to torture someone, he snarls "I'm going to enjoy this."
So why does this get under my skin so much? Because it's cheap: it reduces an interesting character to the status of caricature. This whole Bauer-as-sadist turn is completely at odds with the way the character has been developed throughout the previous seasons; it's also kind of insulting, really, that the writers didn't think their audience would mind (or notice?) such inconsistency. Jack Bauer has devolved from a complex, morally conflicted tragic hero to something more resembling your conventional action hero, the likes of which you'd expect to see somebody like Bruce Willis or The Rock play in some mindless summer blockbuster. (Imagine how angry you'd be at Christopher Nolan and David Goyer if--God forbid!--admiring their darker-more sophisticated take on Batman, you were to go into "The Dark Knight" this summer only to be treated to Christian Bale and company trading cheesy one-liners back and forth a la George Clooney and The Governator in Batman & Robin! If the idea of this makes you shudder too, then you know exactly how I feel about 24 season 6.)
Bottom-line: if the writers don't soon recognize--and redress--the error of their ways, I think 24 is in danger of becoming a parody of itself . . . that is, assuming (too charitably?) that it hasn't become one already.