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Four years after it went off the air – and after its fictional main character, Jack Bauer, disappeared into the ether – the anti-terrorism drama 24 is back for what promises to be more pulse-pounding action and, let’s be clear on this, a whole lot of ludicrous behavior.
24: Live Another Day is a 12-episode “event” series, which means Fox could probably trot this out every now and again as long as star Kiefer Sutherland‘s knees and stamina hold up. But – thankfully – it has given up the notion of doing 24 episodes, each representing one hour in one day. Instead, the number is just part of the title now, though the dramatic thumping of the clock and all the split-screens that defined the series when it premiered in 2001 are back.
After its groundbreaking first season, where it brought fresh storytelling and unique visuals to the small screen, 24 was never the same show. It couldn’t be. You can only knock out so many bad guys, get out of so many impossible scenarios and hack into the subnet so many times before everything becomes hokey. And 24 wrote the book on hokey.
I have longstanding issues with 24, but not because the series isn’t entertaining – oh, no. If any show knows how to pack an hour with a ton of action, it’s 24. Another of the series’ strong points was marrying Jack’s rule-breaking heroics with the nerdy prowess of trusty insider assistant Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub), whose total domination of the interwebs was geek superhero fantasy leavened with just enough absurd tech talk to keep people intrigued by the drama while also keen to the comedic aspects.
That was all fine and good. Action is nice, no matter how implausible. And when a series can develop a relationship between two characters that connects with a wide audience, it’s doing something right no matter how much it’s doing wrong.
My issue with 24 was always the fact that it was considered a top-tier, prestige series, good enough to win an Emmy for best drama (in 2006 – still one of the high crimes in Emmy history), another for Sutherland in the acting category, and 73 all told. Had 24 been sold as some guilty-pleasure adrenaline rush, I would have been all over it. But Emmy bait? Oh, no. Not acceptable.
Let’s make one thing very clear – 24 is at its best when it’s hilariously bad. If an episode of 24 is not ludicrous and far-fetched, then it’s not being true to itself. Stripped of pretension, 24 is addictive fun, a thrill ride for viewers. But saddle it with the expectations of a top five drama and you’re just defeating its purpose and annoying people like me.
As it returns, four years after it left, 24: Live Another Day can and should only be judged on one metric: Is it entertaining? And that, happily, is a real no-brainer: Of course it’s entertaining. Anyone who fist-pumped to “Jack Is Back” knows that the allure of the series is in our hero (OK, sure, antihero), beating all odds to escape some incredibly complex jams and save the world from complete doom. It’s why we watch. Or it should be why.
In that sense, this latest “event series” set and filmed in London is quite a treat. Ask for it to be, even for one second, something other than adrenaline-fueled fluffery and you’re going to enter some dubious territory.
No, the 24 that is allowed into our homes should have lots of yelling to break people in interrogations, erratic behavior from Jack and everyone else, meaningful glances exchanged after terse dialog, Jack scowling, Chloe being silly (before saving the world), ridiculous against-all-odds escapes from people being escorted (often in handcuffs) to custody, one super-dubious plan, one or more moles and really bad aim by everyone paid to shoot firearms.
It really doesn’t matter what’s going on in the plot – though the basics are that the American president, James Heller (played by William Devane), could be the target of a terrorist attack while in London trying to seal a deal with the Brits regarding use of a military base (you know how the Brits just hate doing whatever we ask of them when it comes to military concerns). Plot is less pressing than heroics in 24. Not even four years in moth balls is going to change that, even if the plot attempts to stay relevant by focusing on drones and the controversy surrounding them.
Oh, and yes, Jack being a badass is also central to 24‘s charm. “You know who I am? Trigger an alarm and I’ll blow your head off.” Everywhere you turn, there’s a line that suits the Jack Is Back credo. “Just grazed me – I’m fine!” (Yep, actual dialogue – a flesh wound is nothing for Jack.)
Of the two hours that Fox sent, I enjoyed both not only for the nostalgic buzz about one man saving the world, the nostalgic whiff of torture and the tech-jargon drinking game opportunities, but also because Chloe is super goth now and has insane eye makeup and Jack looks saggier without being doughy (if that paints the right picture). And yes, he’s still carrying his murse and yelling a lot. The old charms are there – four years and better dramas abounding do not dim them. I’ve come to terms with liking 24 on my terms. I no longer squint dubiously at its past desire to be taken seriously.
So, as the series returns to center stage, I’m hoping there’s a mole. Or two. I’m hoping there’s some torture to come. I’m thrilled that people still disobey direct orders because Jack taught us that the means justify the ends, and I’m never going to get tired of sussing out the bad guys even though the camera shots and music usually do that for me.
But am I going to make even one reference to 24 actually being great, or possibly meaningful dramatic television? I am not. This is a popcorn drama, so from here on out I will suspend belief in what is plausible while tossing overheated kernels into my mouth and dripping butter on the remote.
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