Monday, May 5, 2014

The Day Is Ticking Away (Again): '24' Returns – But Why?

Kiefer Sutherland just can't keep his hands off his piece. (Daniel Smith/FOX)
#JackIsBack. Back again.

Jack is back. Tell your friends.

Jack is back, Jack is back, Jack is back, Jack is back. Jack is back.

But can anybody tell us why?

It's generally conceded as television truth that you can't go home in prime time again, at least not as the same character in a resurrection of the same series. Ask almost any successful series actor and he or she will say they're proud to have had the experience, appreciative of what the show did for them and eager to "move on with the next phase of my career." Thank you and good night.

So it would seem like everybody involved with trying to make 24: Live Another Day is taking a bigtime chance of getting their feelings or reputations hurt.

The hugely promoted 12-hour "event series" (it's really Live Another Half Day), which premieres with a two-episode block from 8-10 p.m. EST Monday (May 5, 2014) on FOX, finds America's favorite rogue counterterrorism agent, Jack Bauer, resurfacing in East London, his first appearance since he – and 24 – went off the grid in 2010 after eight seasons.

Kiefer Sutherland, who despite a long and impressive acting resumé may forever be best remembered as the brooding, battered Bauer, surely had no reason to do FOX any favors: his fascinating followup series, Touch, was axed by the network after only one season renewal.

Perhaps FOX wants to relive those giddy days of yesteryear, when the midseason returns of 24 and American Idol would catapult its ratings to the top regardless of how lackluster its new slate of programs had performed. There had been some brief talk of 24 returning as a big-screen feature, but that would have been a stylistic impossibility: the multiple screen images, the "real time" story progression and that ching-chinging clock, all 24 trademarks, couldn't have the same impact as a movie – unless audiences were willing to sit through a 24-hour film.
PLEASE! I'm begging! Tell me why you brought '24' back!

Was there some massive email and letter-writing campaign, or picketers descending on FOX's broadcast bunker, demanding the return of 24 for one last hurrah? Did I miss this? Otherwise, what's the fuss?

In keeping with the show's "real time" commitment, Bauer has been in the shadows for all four years the show has been off the air. His reappearance just happens to coincide with a visit to London by U.S. President James Heller (William Devane), formerly the Secretary of Defense (the TV nation's first black president, Dennis Haysbert, is out), who's in town for a controversial summit meeting. Heller's unscrupulous chief of staff, Mark Boudreau (Tate Donovan), summarizes the backstory and the plotline in one sentence:

"Jack Bauer is a traitor and a psychopath who killed two Russian diplomats and came close to assassinating their president," Boudreau spews. "And now, after all these years, he surfaces in London at the same time as President Heller?" Jack is so misunderstood. Is he here to kill Heller, or rescue him? Either way, he obviously isn't in Merrie Ole England to sample the bangers and mash. (And if that "assassinate the president" plotline sounds familiar, it is: Jack once saved Haysbert's hash, too.)

Boudreau's wrath also may be due in part to the fact that in the intervening years he married (wait for it)...Audrey (Kim Raver), Jack's former crush, who was last seen in a coma that appeared to be life threatening. Wait a minute: you don't suppose that's going to figure into the storyline, do you?

For me, the major takeaway from this new day of 24 is that so many of the principal characters seem so – oh, what's the word I'm looking for?


Even Benjamin Bratt, once the baby-faced heartthrob of Law & Order and the most familiar new face in the cast, has fallen victim to the sands of time. As the headstrong chief of the CIA's London office, Bratt is beginning to take on the facial characteristics of Pacino. That might have been a good thing 30 years ago, but now...
The cast of FOX's "24" Live Another Day" (Greg Williams/FOX)

My wife maintains a heavy crush on Devane, who seems to age with every succeeding closeup. She also says she thinks I'm adorable. Makes you think. Mary Lynn Rajskub, as Jack's loopy but loyal office buddy Chloe O'Brian, looks like she should be opening for Marilyn Manson. And Sutherland, although he does engage in a few very quick, butt-beating, bone-cracking fight scenes early on, doesn't say a single word until 30:43 into the first hour!

Nice work if you can get it. Maybe he was conserving his strength.

24, you may remember, premiered in the fall of 2001, directly in the aftermath of one of the most horrific moments in American history. In fact, its debut was delayed several weeks in an attempt to distance it from 9/11. But to everyone's surprise, rather than damage the show's popularity, the events of the time helped propel the character of Jack Bauer to genuine hero status, protector of our liberty and security, a 21st century Captain America.

We still need a hero, but Jack Bauer's time may have run its course. (Tick...tock...tick...tock...) The pulse of this pulse-pounding action saga doesn't pound as rapidly as it once did. Jack's return may be an enjoyable welcome back for diehard 24 fans, but it's an uncomfortable anachronism for the rest of us. There's no good reason for this 24 to Live Another (Half) Day.

My 1-10 ranking: SIX (6) clicks