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A 24 in half the time on a network that sorely needs a jump start


Still grim-faced, breathless and on the run, Jack is back. Fox photo

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Never believe anything they say about 24. No, really. Just don’t.

Back in May 2010, head executive producer Howard Gordon said in a statement that after eight seasons and 192 episodes, “We all believe that now is the right time to call it a day.”

Star Kiefer Sutherland concurred while also urging fans to stay on the alert for “the feature film version of 24.”

After innumerable false starts and new assurances, the big-screen movie never happened. Instead Fox is capping a largely dismal, ratings-starved season with 24: Live Another Day, a 12-hour “event series” premiering on Monday, May 5th at 8 p.m. (central).

Set in London after Jack Bauer (Sutherland) has been in exile for four years, Live Another Day tries to heavily inhale the fumes of 24’s better days -- and hours. Fox made the first two episodes available for review. They’re watchable but also sadly a little comical, with Jack again all clenched up while speaking in a gasping-for-air rasp or silently clenching his jaw. The former driving force of L.A.’s Counter Terrorist Unit has no dialogue at all for roughly the first two-thirds of Monday’s re-launch. Following the script, Jack merely has to stare or glare defiantly while others badger him.

Giving away too much is always a danger with 24, but here are the basics.

James Heller (William Devane) and his daughter, Audrey Raines (Kim Raver), who were prominent in Season 4, are back in new guises. Heller used to be secretary of defense but now is the president. Audrey had been romantically involved with Jack and more or less estranged from her husband, Paul. But that turned sour when Jack first tortured Paul and then let him to die in order to save field agent Lee Castle. Audrey is now married to Heller’s chief of staff, Mark Boudreau (Tate Donovan), who appears to be the usual 24 blend of duplicity and manipulation.

Ace computer whiz Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) also is back and looking very goth after throwing in with a group of underground hackers led by Adrian Cross (Michael Wincott). Other new characters include CIA division head Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt) and comely agent Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski), who’s being transferred because of her husband’s transgressions until of course convincing her boss she’s the only one fully capable of tracking Jack down.

Jack’s motivations in emerging from hiding have something to do with assuaging his guilt over how he ended up treating Audrey and her father back when 24 was still relatively young and vital. The stakes as always are sky high -- and double-pronged -- as Jack yells “Go!” and later “Let’s go!” while he pursues evil-doers and the no-nonsense Kate pursues him.

The first two episodes unfold as of old -- in the “real time” hours of 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., London time. But Live Another Day also will have the leeway to fold two or three hours into one hour. Imagine that.

A lot of new, quality serial dramas have emerged in the four years since 24 flamed out. Homeland, The Americans, The Good Wife, The Walking Dead, True Detective, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Fargo, Vikings, Sleepy Hollow, Boardwalk Empire and Orphan Black all exceed or equal 24’s once-upon-a-time unbeatable combinations of suspense, violence and intrigue.

24 is still fast-paced for the most part, although a little slow off the mark in its first hour. And the 47-year-old Sutherland remains trim and limber as an aging Jack of few words, most of them downers.

“I don’t have any friends,” he says matter of factly. Furthermore, “There’s no going back for me.”

His daughter, Kim, is still spoken of, although not seen or heard. “Kim had another baby -- a boy,” Jack is told by one of his early captors. This seems to prompt an ever so faint facial muscle quiver from the man who’s been to hell and back on a continuous loop.

Each of the first two hours ends with a new hook -- or at least that’s the intent. Sounds like yet another job for Jack, who’s always up for such challenges in tandem with a series that now almost desperately yearns to rock around the clock.

Keep in mind that there wouldn’t be a resurrection of 24 had Sutherland’s followup act, the Fox drama series Touch, become a long-lasting hit. That didn’t happen, so Jack is back on a network whose not-so-long ago glory days hinged in large part on the ratings successes of 24 and the now steeply declining American Idol.

In that sense, the final words of Episode 2 seem all too appropriate: “Come home as soon as you can. Mummy’s waiting.”


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