“24” was so many things during its storied eight-year run, but most of all, it was ahead of its time. As it returns to TV Monday night, the big question is: Has its time passed?
If ever a TV show was created for binge viewing, it was the tension-filled story of rogue agent Jack Bauer told in real time. Cliffhangers were many and maddening, and we couldn’t wait till next week for the clock to start ticking again, right where it left off the week before.
The thing was, binge watching was only a startup concept in pop culture at the time. People were binge-watching full seasons of TV shows on DVDs in 2001 when “24” premiered. Once Netflix shook up the whole TV equation by making full seasons of its original content available all at once for streaming, binge-watching came into its own. New shows like “House of Cards” and even reboots of old shows like “Arrested Development” were created to be watched either one episode at a time (or two or three) or all at once.
That makes “24” seem almost prehistoric, but it’s a testament to how brilliantly manipulative the series was that it lasted from 2001 to 2010, with a two-hour film between seasons six and seven. True, the ratings were up and down over the show’s history, with seasons four through seven pulling the highest numbers, along with the film “24: Redemption.” By the final season, it seemed fitting for “24” to stop the clock. The show’s ratings were OK, but on a somewhat downward path, and the quality of the season was spotty. The central plot of the eighth year was a typical nail-biter, but the secondary story of a Counter Terrorist Unit mole (Katee Sackhoff as Dana Walsh) who’d somehow managed to change her name and hide a criminal record, and was being blackmailed by a stalker/ex-boyfriend, was hard to swallow. CTU can figuratively find a terrorist in a Sunday school picnic but doesn’t know one of its own isn’t who she says she is or that she served time?
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Threat against president
“24: Live Another Day” begins, appropriately, four years after Jack disappeared off the drone camera feed Chloe O'Brien was watching at the end of season eight. Once again, world peace hangs in the balance as the U.S. is about to sign an important treaty with Great Britain. U.S. President James Heller (William Devane) is in London to sign the pact, but the CIA uncovers a threat to assassinate the president.
Head of operations Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt) is tracking agents as they close in on a suspected terrorist holed up in a London warehouse. On the outskirts of the action is Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski), who is working out her final week at the agency because she failed to realize her now-dead husband was selling secrets to the enemy.
With tiny camera drones running around the darkened warehouse, we follow undercover agents as they break in and set about rousting a shadowy hooded figure. Kate should be packing, but is drawn into observing the action along with Navarro. The hooded figure darts here and there, and then, in the moment we’ve been conditioned to anticipate, he raises his face to the camera.
A little older – well, four years older anyway – Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) is up to something, but what else is new? As everyone’s eyes are glued to the screen watching the undercover agents pursue Bauer through the warehouse, only Kate sees something different in his pattern. Once everyone else realizes she’s right, the “24” we knew and loved is back again.
Let the countdown begin
All the familiar elements are in place: the digital clock signaling the ends and beginnings of segments to remind us that it’s all happening in real time, the unrelenting background music, the high-level bureaucrats not trusting Bauer, Bauer’s elusive allegiances, and, best of all, the return of Chloe O'Brien (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and Audrey Raines (Kim Raver).
Chloe is now part of a free-information underground led by her current Assange-like boyfriend, Adrian Cross (Michael Wincott), while Audrey is on hand in London to support her father and, with her husband, chief of staff Mark Boudreau (Tate Donovan), is among the very few people who know Heller is in the early stages of dementia. Boudreau is determined to protect his wife from ever seeing Jack Bauer again.
The “24” reboot is being called a limited series, but with 12 episodes, it may as well be a full series. The question is whether creators Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran will get a chance for Jack to live yet another day.