It's true what they say: Absence does make the heart grow fonder. At the end of 24's run in May 2010, I (and based on the ratings, many other people) had had my fill of Jack Bauer's increasingly ridiculous/horrible "days." The near-immediate chatter about a feature film made me scoff, and I begrudgingly purchased Season 8 on DVD because I'm a completist (it might still have the shrink wrap on it). But after modulating my expectations for the series' return as a 12-hour summer special event and burning through these first two hours, I have to tell you that it's pretty tremendous to have Jack, Chloe, all-caps TERRORIST PLOTS, and the ticking clock back on TV again.
The thing about 24 is that, for a few years, we sort of tricked ourselves into thinking it was a Great Drama. In 2006, it won the Emmy for Best Drama Series! Now, the mid-aughts were a weird time, don't get me wrong, but from basically the second season onward, the show was not even remotely tethered to the real world. Even in the big chunks of Season 4, Season 5, and Season 7 (the less said about Season 6 and Season 8, the better), when the show was rolling with its signature mix of brutal action and political thrills, 24 was still fighting off its worst traits—an over-reliance on moles, a lack of non-Jack and Chloe characters to care about, the pure farce happening in the White House. Not to be especially critical of the show, but it's pretty important to remember that 24 is best enjoyed as the television equivalent of a summer blockbuster; it's loud, it's broad, and it's often silly. But that's what makes this Live Another Day special event such a fantastic idea. The 12-hour running time should alleviate some pressure from having to craft such an extended story (long the show's biggest issue), and if the first two hours are any indication, taking a few years off gave everyone involved a much-needed breather.
What was really wonderful about the opener was how quickly and effortlessly the show fell back into its typical rhythms. From the jump, it felt like vintage 24, with Jack as a fugitive, a moderately competent government agency who can't really compete with Jack, interoffice drama, extreme interrogation tactics, the interjection of contemporary politics (in this case, the power and danger of drones), unreliable politicians, terrorist plots, bad guys screwing over other bad guys, the random return of someone from Jack's past to whom he feels like he owes something, and innocent people being thrown into the middle of global conspiracies. What else could you even add to that list? I guess Jack didn't torture someone or bite anybody's ear off, but hey, it's a different political climate now, and there are still 10 more hours to go.
Even the supporting players here are perfectly cast. If you were to put their character types into a supercomputer and ask it to shoot out the perfect actors for the roles, it probably would've suggested Benjamin Bratt, Yvonne Strahovski, and Tate Donovan. In fact, it's sort of wild that Bratt and Donovan didn't make their way to 24 sometime during its original run. The slew of British actors, including Michelle Fairley, Joseph Millson, Stephen Fry, and John Boyega (even though he's playing an American, which is random) add some great local flavor to the proceedings. Fairley was unsurprisingly great and menacing in her short time onscreen in the second half of the premiere. With fewer hours to mess with, I'm hopeful that the show won't even bother coming up with as many different villains as it used to. Fairley is awesome, and the more competent female villains, the better.
With all the familiarity, it's unsurprising that the story beats played out almost exactly how they have in the show's other two-hour premieres. 24 loves to provide some kind of contemporary political backdrop, and drones are probably the hottest thing going in that department. If this season doesn't involve Jack personally battling with a drone, then I don't know what Fox was thinking in bringing this show back.
Probably more interesting to you were the more personal stories on display. We learned that Chloe has joined a hacker collective interested in the freedom of information, complete with its own Julian Assange-like character Adrian Cross (played by Michael Wincott). She also apparently really got into Steig Larsson; I bet she didn't like David Fincher's Girl With the Dragon Tattoo adaptation. Nothing specific was said about Jack's professional affiliation here, but he's back in the game to stop a presidential assassination that he'll eventually be blamed for, because that's what Jack Bauer does. The 'twist' is that James Heller, Jack's old buddy (sorta) and father to his old, previously catatonic flame Audrey, is now the President of the United States. So this time, it's PERSONAL, you guys. Audrey's fine now, married to Tate Donovan's chief of staff Mark Boudreau, but President Heller's in bad shape with what I'm guessing is Alzheimer's. That's going to go well.
24 has a mixed record when it comes to Jack's involvement in big, dangerous terrorist plots that are also super-personal to him. By the end of the original run, there was no one left who we cared about, so the PERSONAL REVENGE stories were lacking. The Hellers haven't been truly involved in the show since Season 6; that's a long time ago. I don't know how many of you consider Jack and Audrey the OTP of 24 universe, but if you do, this might be the 12 hours of television you've been waiting. (However, if you look deep inside your hearts, you'll see that the OTP of this show is Jack and Tony.) I'm in wait-and-see mode on that front, especially with the inclusion of Strahovski's Kate Morgan, a character who seems destined to fall in love with Jack, even if it's from afar.
While these opening hours didn't quite take full advantage of the series' new London location, the dreary and drab look fits what is obviously a generally dark show. The sequence late in hour two where CIA tracked Jack down featured some solid visual work with that apartment-complex set. 24 tends to boil down to people shooting at each other, but the speed at which Jack got popped by the guy up on the platform and the subsequent shootout worked pretty well. And of course, the CIA HQ looked masterful. Returning to some multi-level building with tons of screens and see-through walls but apparently not enough cameras was like remembering a friend's crappy old apartment from college. It wasn't exactly like the old CTU headquarters, but it was just familiar enough—especially when it was almost immediately destroyed thanks to some kind of MISSLE. Good on the writers for including the patented post-destruction hysteria with people getting bandaged up while someone shouted "WHERE ARE WE ON THE BAUER HUNT?"
The biggest takeaway for me was that 24 managed to run through all its "opening episode" paces without immediately going for broke. At a certain point in the original run, the show clearly felt like it had to top itself season after season, and even week after week. But once you set a nuke off in Los Angeles, it's sort of hard to come back from that. Here, though, everything were kind of measured, at least as far as anything on 24 can be measured. The stakes are clear and big, but Live Another Day seems dedicated to ramping things as it goes along. That's a solid strategy, and one that I hope makes the insane stuff that's surely up ahead feel more effective.
Apparently four years was exactly the right amount of time to go without our Jack Bauer fix. There was absolutely nothing new in these first two hours, but I don't think I'd have it any other way.
– Jack didn't say a word until after the 30-minute mark in the first hour. That was an effective strategy.
– I've never been so happy to see bad Sprint product placement. They really thought of everything! Talk about fan service.
– Okay, so who's the mole? Better start thinking about it early, because there are probably four of them. Before I watched, I just assumed it'd be Tate Donovan's character, but he seems generally normal. Maybe it's his second in command, played by Ross McCall?
– I'm going to be doing some important work here in the notes section each week. First up, the DAMMIT TRACKER. We're currently at one. Also: the KILL TRACKER: I think we're at zero, right? Jack cut the one guy's neck, but he survived. I considered keeping track of every time someone said "comm" or "files," but I don't want to drive myself mad for the future. I'll need your help with these. Heads on a swivel, people!
AIRED ON 5/24/2010
Season 8 : Episode 24