In its quest to have unstoppable Agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) of the Los Angeles-based Counter Terrorist Unit save the world each season in 24 hours, the hit FOX melodrama "24," airing Monday, takes frequent detours from reality.
One of its conceits is that its fictional presidents -- who are all on Bauer's speed-dial -- don't seem to have the huge cabal of Secret Service agents, aides and advisors that surrounds real presidents (judging by the number of former presidential aides and advisors that pop up as talking heads on cable-TV news).
Instead, Presidents David Palmer (he of the commanding presence and poor choice of wife), John Keeler (benched after an Air Force One crash) and current Chief Executive Charles Logan (spineless weasel turned villain) seem to need only a couple of agents and one or two close advisors.
Also, the Democrat Palmer and his successors -- whose party has never been specified, but it's safe to say they're not Democrats -- have shared the same people.
Two men have been there since season one, where Palmer was a presidential candidate: Secret Service Agent Aaron Pierce (Glenn Morshower) and presidential advisor Mike Novick (Jude Ciccolella). While not always in the limelight, both have become fan favorites, and executive producer Howard Gordon has a theory why.
"Jude and Glenn have been stalwarts on the show," he says, "because they are both understated but compelling actors. They add nuances to every scene they're in."
Novick has been at the elbow of two presidents from two parties. But the personal regard Novick showed for Palmer has been noticeably absent with Logan (Gregory Itzin).
"When you play a character," Ciccolella says, "you don't look for the bad things. The writers will do that. You look for what you believe in, to justify yourself. This guy is a servant, serves the country, in his mind, anyway. He has a system of ethics, a moral center. He's not going to work for Himmler. But Logan, as depicted, he's a weak sister. He's questionable.
"Because he's the president, I choose to work within the rules for him."
There is another side to Novick. In season two, when he objected to the path Palmer was taking, he stood against him and got fired. While he admits to not knowing where his storyline is going, Ciccolella thinks that could happen again.
"I broke the rules once before for a higher good," he says.
Ciccolella also isn't afraid of letting Novick's disdain for Logan show on his face.
"You have to be formal and respectful with the people you work with, the characters do," he says, "but at the same time, the audience needs to know that you have some gray matter, that you have some misgivings about these people, whether you're right or wrong."
Pierce's choices -- and therefore Morshower's -- are more limited. His job is to protect, not judge policy or personalities. This season, though, he's forged a bond with first lady Martha Logan (Jean Smart) and become privy to Logan's involvement in the terrorist plot.
Pierce's profile became high enough to catch the attention of conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, who solicited calls about the character on her show. Hearing about this, Morshower called in the next day to say thanks.
"I wasn't on hold eight seconds," Morshower recalls, "then she jumped on and said, 'We're live with Glenn from Los Angeles. Glenn, is it true? Are you Agent Pierce?' We went on and spoke for 10 minutes. She was quite nice, but the show's not really my cup of tea."
A native Texan and a motivational speaker, Morshower keeps Pierce on the straight and narrow.
"Aaron Pierce is who I am on a good day," he says. "Aaron has a respect for the office of the president, period. He has so much respect for the office that he refuses to allow his own personal opinion to creep in and blur things. I don't think he taps into that. He just taps into, 'What I see in front of me is a U.S. president.'
"But clearly the writers have seen that there is an absence of personal contact. They haven't developed anything, not one ounce of caring, between those two characters, whereas with Palmer, there was tons of closeness."
With Martha, it's another story. When a motorcade she was in came under terrorist attack, Pierce fought back.
"He hasn't unholstered his weapon in five seasons," Morshower says, "and now he leaps out of a car and does this. Honest to God, my knee-jerk reaction when I saw the script was, 'My God, he's a middle-aged, bald action hero.'"
There have also been a few meaningful glances exchanged between Pierce and the first lady.
"I saw a couple this morning," Morshower says, "that said they'd love nothing more than to see this season end with Pierce and Martha Logan heading off into the sunset, with President Logan turning to Mike Novick and saying, 'Mike, what do I do?'"Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun