Jack's back to save the world and get no thanks for it until it's too late AGAIN in this, the debut episode of Fox's flagship edge-of-your-seat, bite-your-fingernails-off-in-crazed-anticipation type show, 24. Jon Cassar, showrunner and principal director, may have abandoned ship at the end of the seventh year, but you wouldn't know it from this melting pot of unnervingly wonky camera work, crazy angles, ludicrously OTT technology and ridiculous dramatic effects (come on, don't tell me Cassar wouldn't have creamed himself at the chance to shoot that rocket launcher sequence). Brad Turner picks up the mantle beautifully, reminding us all just how unique this show is visually and creatively, maintaining its stylistic integrity. Joseph Hodges is on fine form too, doing a wonderful job of creating a bleakly contrasting production. The outside world, Jack's New York, if you will, is all murky blues and greys, which gives the action a refreshingly realistic quality. The new CTU, meanwhile, is like something out of Battlestar Galactica (well, Katee Sackhof DID play Starbuck, you know...), with its gigantic video-screens for arial drones, weird flashy lights, minimalist desktop 'stations' and stark primary colours recalling certain aspects of Cylon decor. It looks ace though, and reminds us that we ARE watching a show that's set several years into the future now due to its between season timelines.
Howard Gordon and Evan Katz's script is ultimately pretty standard 24 fare. Once again, Jack has disassociated himself from any ties to the government, choosing instead to spend time wallowing around on the couch with the young brat, sorry, his beautiful grandddaughter. But naturally, due to a situation far, far beyond his control, he's roped back in and despite the fact that he continues to affirm that he's going to have nothing further to do with events, you just know he's gonna be hampered by circumstance time and time again. It's a little frustrating this, since the beat has been played out so many times in 24's season openers that it's practically a given, and the writers really are fooling no one with their constant attempts to convince us that no, he's going to fly to Los Angeles with Kim to happily ever after. Don't be ridiculous. There's a season to deal with first. It really wouldn't hurt just to have Jack - shock of all shocks - be working in a role that naturally ties him into events (a la seasons three or four). At least it would feel more organic. The means by which he is ingratiated into the plot are quite a nice touch - the informant concept adds verismilitude, and there's a nice continuity reference to season three thrown in for the attentive viewer - but how the story plays out is ultimately just a retread of last season's debut episode, as the guy with all of the important information is tragically murdered just before he can blurt out the most important details by the central villain: yeah, that's exactly what Almeida did last year. Exactly. A little lazy, don't ya think?
Of course, there's plenty to enjoy here too. Jack's execution of the men in pursuit of his informant is absolutely top notch, with Turner's camera angles as the gentlemen falls down the stairs providing some of the best shots in the show's long history. For once, Elisha Cuthbert is actually enjoyable to watch in a role, and it's largely thanks to the organic nature of her dialogue with Sutherland. It's great to see Cherry Jones back, slotting right back into Madame President's shoes effortlessly, conveying a sense of formidable poise during her interactions with the President of a Conveniently Unnamed Islamic Country That Wants To Better Itself. Oh look, he's the guy from Slumdog Millionaire! Well, I never. He's great here though, matching Jones's composed portrayal like-for-like, and convicingly putting across some of the more ambivalent elements of his character. The script benefits greatly from allowing us into the private life of this man, witnessing the disagreements with his brother over certain political decisions, as well as the strain in his relationship with his soon-to-be-ex-wife and the effect this is having on his daughter. It humanises the character and gives a refreshing perspective on a plot device that has been used several times before (good Islamic guy renounces terrorism/nuclear capability in order to establish better ties to the West). Of course, the affair with the reporter is hardly groundbreakingly original either, and the idea that she may be a mole is enough to make you want to chew your own foot off, but at least there seems to be sufficient evidence to suggest that this is a red herring. Doug Hutchison's got someone else on the inside, you mark my words. His casting (and I never thought I'd say this) is actually somewhat questionable, simply because, having been in so many other shows playing characters with American accents, it's hard to buy into his cod-Russian twang. Would it have killed the writers to either have cast someone for whom this is natural or simply made the villain not be from the same damn country as virtually every other bad guy in every other American production since about 1950? At least Freddie Prinze Jr. manages to surprise everybody and be pretty damn great as Bauer-lite Agent Ortiz. In fact, almost all of the newbies at CTU are very strong, particularly the aforementioned Sackhoff who will undoubtedly be the highlight of this particular strand in weeks to come. The only player who really disappoints is Brian Hastings, whose shoulders-haunched stance, perpetual half-smirk and unemotional delivery make every scene feel forced. His disapproval of poor Chloe's progression rate is just going to irritate too, I can tell...
'4pm - 5pm' is another strong debut for 24, successfully introducing the key plot tropes and players of the season and throwing a truckload of tension and suspense at us to boot. While there are certain elements that raise a few eyebrows - particularly some of the more familiar aspects of the plot - on the whole, this is an enjoyable little romp. It may not be anything particularly original but hey, you'll be on the edge of your seat all the same.