Kiefer Sutherland was literally cornered by a small group of television critics at a Fox party at the Santa Monica Pier, taking his punishment for what many believed was the worst season of "24" in its six-year history.
You might have thought that Sutherland would have viewed the party as his character, Jack Bauer, views Chinese prison cells. It was classy to come to the party, which often is ignored by stars once they become as big as Sutherland.
A Dallas critic said that Sutherland deserved The Dennis Franz Award, unofficially named for the accessible former "NYPD Blue" star who never missed a party or turned down an interview. But back to the criticism of Season Six and rumors of problems with Season Seven.
When I asked about last season, in which Bauer battled his traitorous father and the Chinese government before preventing another nuclear disaster, Sutherland was slightly in denial.
"I felt the same about last year as I did every year," said Sutherland, who was nominated for a best actor Emmy though the series was not nominated. "I read a lot of the criticism. Some I agreed wholeheartedly with, and some I did not. I thought the first four episodes of last year were four of the best episodes we've ever done. I felt the same way about the last four. And there were moments in between where we struggled."
He felt the writers got "a little cute" with the CTU scenes. "And they had a hard time kind of getting my story line going without obviously repeating a lot of stuff that we have already done," he said.
The "CTU stuff" shouldn't be as big a problem next season as avoiding repeating things. Sutherland confirmed the unit is being downplayed, though Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) will return. He also confirmed that the writers have had to start over with next January's plot line, but added that wasn't unusual.
"We do it every year," said Sutherland. "The first four episodes have such a different context than any of the others because they are seen in two nights, they are seen back to back, they inform the rest of that day and they have to be right."
He only gave broad details about next season, which will begin months from the end of Season Six. "I think the last episode was the most clear [Jack's] been," said Sutherland. "He was idealistically following orders of this government. He kind of saw things where they were for the first time. He starts off this year having to explain a lot of the things that he's done."
He endorsed the decision to make the new president a woman, played by Broadway actress Cherry Jones. "I think it is great," said Sutherland. "I was really proud of the very first season having the first African-American president on television. This obviously won't be the first woman president, but it certainly is a political reality in this country and a possibility."
He hinted that this could be the show's last two years. "One of the things [they are talking about] is, if we are going to do two years, it is really interesting to almost string them together, whereas we've had quite long breaks in between the others," said Sutherland.
The only time he got testy was when a critic asked him about the continuation of the torture scenes on the series. "That's our show," said Sutherland. "If you don't like it, turn it off. Sorry, that's what we do."
"Yes, I believe in the Constitution of the United States, I believe in due process, I do not believe in torture. In the context of our show, these are unbelievable extreme events that within a matter of hours the entire place [could] be gone. And it's a fantasy about that and those are the devices we use in the fantasy."
Asked why viewers embrace the fantasy, Sutherland gave a thoughtful speech that would have made any presidential candidate proud.
"We live in a very bureaucratic world and here's a guy who goes in a straight line and gets something done," said Sutherland. "It is only after six years people treated it like some sort of morality play. It wasn't about that. It was about there is a crisis happening and it is urgent and I have to get from point A to point B as fast as I can, cut through all the red tape to accomplish [it]."
And at a great cost. "He's never won," said Sutherland. "He saves his daughter, he saves the president, he loses his wife. Not one year has he ever [ended] with his goal being accomplished. But he gives everything he can and tries as hard as he can. And I think a lot of people feel they are trying their hardest and they are not getting it all done. I think there is a huge identification of the character based on that."
Bauer would be fortunate when he explains things next season to do it as well as Sutherland did here.