NEW YORK – Hail to this chief!
Hail his cowardice and grandiosity, his toxic ambition and wishy-washy principles. And be sure to pay tribute to that foppish way he cocks his head, a pretense of authority that only reaffirms his self-doubt.
A commanding blend of scoundrel and boob, President Charles Logan bows to no one in the annals of television villainy. Little wonder he enjoys a high approval rating from "24" viewers, who delight in his depravity.
His cravenness seems to know no bounds. When "24" (airing 9 p.m. EDT Mondays on FOX) returned in January, Logan soon distinguished himself with his inept response to a rash of escalating problems: Deadly nerve gas manufactured in the United States and sold to foreign terrorists for use against Russia ... Los Angeles imperiled when the terrorists abruptly made it their target instead ... the nation at the brink of global war, since the Russian president was visiting L.A.
Bad enough. But in a later episode, it was revealed that Logan himself was behind the original scheme. His cockamamie motives: to strengthen America's position in the world and guarantee the nation a supply of foreign oil. Then the plan got away from him, thanks to co-conspirators seizing control.
Now the best he can hope for is to cover his tracks as he tries to save his own skin from the operatives who duped him.
These are the treacherous, treasonous depths to which Logan has sunk. What a glorious wretch! As played by Gregory Itzin (a where-have-I-seen-him-before? brand of character actor in the role that should clinch his career), Logan is a model of modern presidential infamy. Lying, cover-ups, covert deals, even putting his wife in harm's way — and all of it (as Logan never tires of explaining) done "in the best interests of the country."
Thank goodness Jack Bauer is on the case.
Now in its fifth season, "24" is a race-against-time action drama that pits Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), a former U.S. counterterrorism agent, against one threat after another in an hour-by-hour, real-time rush that spans a single day. By the 24th episode, Jack, against all odds, literally saves the day, while, against all odds, he emerges in one piece. At least, that's how it's gone in the past.
The current season's day began at 7 a.m., L.A. time, with Logan chief executive only because, as vice president, he had stepped in months earlier for his boss. President Keeler had been gravely injured when Air Force One was shot down midway through season four.
Thrown into that season's crises du jour (which also included a nuclear terrorism threat and the kidnapping of the defense secretary), Logan, obviously in over his head, summoned Keeler's White House predecessor, David Palmer, to help bail him out.
Then in this year's first episode, former President Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) was assassinated — shot dead at 7:02 a.m. as he stood at the window of his L.A. apartment. As would later come to light, none other than Logan ordered the hit (Palmer had discovered his nerve-gas plot and was ready to blow the whistle). Then Logan tried to pin the killing on Bauer.
As "24" fans know, Palmer was a strong, heroic president, and the first black man to hold the nation's highest office.
Elsewhere in prime time, TV drama has offered viewers other exemplary presidents. On NBC's "The West Wing," Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) has been a man of wisdom, faith and pragmatism. ABC's "Commander in Chief" cast Geena Davis as Mackenzie Allen, the first female president — who, a political independent, was emphatically beholden to neither party.
These make-believe heavyweights can't help but inspire the real-life electorate, each a prototype (one critic has written) of "the president we wish we deserve."
A president no one deserves: Charles Logan, TV's reigning object lesson in democracy gone bad.
"`The West Wing' presents a presidential fantasy-level utopia," says Syracuse University media professor Robert Thompson. "`24' does the opposite: It converts the office into a fantasy dystopia."
How long will this Logan-driven bad dream go on? As 7 a.m. of the next day draws near (the "24" season finale airs May 22), a burning question focuses on President Logan's fate. Will he be exposed? Get impeached? Go to jail? Even (gulp) die?
How he would be missed! No one can say he served his country, but he sure served "24." Already its fans are looking ahead to next season, hoping Logan lives to see another day.
"24" airs on FOX, which is owned by the parent company of FOXNews.com.