Lord love her, it's not easy being Kim Bauer.

The writers of television's "24" would tie her to train tracks if they could, because there's nothing like a barely legal blonde in a tight shirt getting herself in all kinds of trouble, is there, America? In an action-adventure series consisting almost entirely of complicated, nail-biting, may-I-have-an-Ativan-please subplots of global terrorism, the Tuesday night Fox show has fixed on our love of the Pauline caricature in constant peril.

Kim, the danger-prone teenage daughter of Counter Terrorism Unit special agent Jack Bauer, fits a certain niche in these frantic times. Without meaning to, she has come to represent the vapidity and naive innocence of a Britney Nation caught up in something deadly serious, with only her wits and the occasional visibility of her nipples to save her.

As much as viewers love to hate Stupid, Stupid Kim (rabid online fans at Television Without Pity have simply and scornfully nicknamed her "Spawn"), it now seems, in the 20th hour of "24's" minute-by-minute saga, that fans are rallying around her.

Kim is us. We are Kim. Every time your cell phone doesn't work, every time you get kidnapped, every time you lose your car keys or, say, can't get away from trained assassins, or every time you're stuck in traffic (or causing a jam, like the time you set that deputy's vehicle on fire, or the time the cops found your boss's dead wife in the trunk of the car, which, technically, you stole from him), every time your boyfriend loses his leg trying to help you thwart disaster, just think of Kim and know you're not alone.

Maybe it was the mountain lion that did it.

Hours ago (since "24" unfolds in "real time"), Kim was running from Ventura County sheriff's deputies who just didn't understand. They didn't understand that her father was trying to stop terrorists from detonating a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles, and they didn't understand that the man who employed her as a nanny had beaten and murdered his wife and was now intent on killing his small child and Kim; didn't understand how she'd narrowly escaped the bombing of the CTU headquarters in downtown L.A. Nobody understands when you're Kim. They chased her into the woods at nightfall.

Kim being Kim, she stepped into an animal trap, which clamped tight around her ankle.

A mountain lion soon growled nearby.

A Kim Bauer nadir was reached that night, a new low of ridiculous peril, and her place was forever sealed in television's trivial history. Fortunately, Spawn was rescued by a nice enough man who lived in a cabin nearby. Unfortunately, he turned out to be one of those paranoid, loner, militia types, and he locked her in his tricked-out underground bomb shelter. He wanted a post-apocalypse love slave.

Fortunately, she got away and took one of his guns. She made it through the dark woods to the highway, and some guy offered her a ride.

Unfortunately, he also wanted to rape her. Fortunately, she shot out the car window of the new creep and he sped off. After hitching another ride (and believing her father to now be dead, by the way), she wound up in a liquor store asking to use the bathroom. (Kim is the only character on "24" with bodily needs. Back at the Counter Terrorism Unit, the women's bathroom is useful only as a place for "dirty" mole spies to make surreptitious cell phone calls. And they never flush the toilet.)

It seemed as if the store owner was going to be yet another guy who wanted to rape Kim, but no. He was shot dead instead by a desperate, looney-tunes Latino stereotype trying to stock up on supplies for the impending world war. He held Kim hostage, but the cops shot him and she escaped.

Spawn is now loose in the world again.

It's only a matter of time before she is kidnapped by the men behind an evil coup to overthrow the president and wage war on three countries in the Middle East. Kim, so marginal, so meandering, so imperiled, will somehow find her way back into the main plotline before the season finale next month. (Where, hopefully, nobody will ask her, "How was your day?")

Overblown and melodramatic as the show must sound to non-addicts, the pop-culture landscape happens to need "24" right now. Though violent enough to warrant a network disclaimer for viewer discretion, the show uncannily mirrors and overstates the true-life, time's-a-ticking anxieties of a world maxed out on worry.

Many a Tuesday night you can segue from the plot of "24" (terrorist mastermind Syed Ali captured and interrogated!; Jack rushes to defuse nuke!) to the panic of "Fox 5 News at 10" (terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammad nabbed!; nation remains on Code Orange alert!), and perhaps this is one reason why "24's" ratings have gone continually up this season, adding viewers even as the show lurches toward a convoluted home stretch.

And the further we go, the stupider Kim gets. Yelling at her is like a national release valve; she is pure tragicomic relief.

The character -- gamely played by 20-year-old Canadian actress Elisha Cuthbert -- is delicious, bratty, hot bait. Last year Kim was kidnapped three times in the span of 24 hours, once by thugs in a custom van, who ran over her best friend, and then by Slavic mobster-assassins. She was almost raped at least once, and then she was in a car wreck, and also in a car that plunged down one of those Mulholland ravines you see all the time in cop shows.

That car exploded, but Kim was thrown to the side, and was later arrested in a violent drug raid at a meth house. She fell in love with one of her kidnappers. The Slavs captured her again and she escaped by leaping into a murky marina, as they fired guns at her.

Her mother, Teri Bauer, was also kidnapped a few times last season, and raped once. (The women of "24" are in serious need of a Take Back the Night march. Sexual violence is to the modern TV drama what being tied to train tracks was to the silent-movie era. The metaphor is almost too simple.) Eventually Teri was shot and killed by the counterspy who'd had an affair with her husband.

This season, it seemed for a time that Kim had smartened up, and even taken a self-defense class or two. Fleeing her psychotic wife-beating boss, she grabbed her big purse. (She even had a working cell phone for an entire episode.) Fans hoped the purse would stay with her all season, containing any number of helpful gadgets and items that would help her escape the many perils that surely awaited her -- much like the Harlem Globetrotter who, in the cartoon series of the early 1970s, could pull useful appliances out of his giant afro.

Kim lost her purse many episodes ago; maybe when the office building was bombed, maybe at the hospital, or maybe when her boss tried to beat her to death.

Of course she lost her purse.

Stupid, stupid wonderful Kim.

Elisha Cuthbert as the hapless heroine of the Fox television drama "24."Special Agent Jack Bauer's daughter, Kim (Elisha Cuthbert), escapes from a loony loner in one of the many nail-biting jams in which the relentlessly dumb teen finds herself in Fox's "24."