Damn it, Jack and Chloe! It’s good to see both of you back on my television screen again. Returning for a 12-episode engagement on FOX in 2014, 24: Live Another Day is trying its best to remind the show’s fans that this was the last network series to win the Emmy for Best Drama. It’s returning close to a decade after it hit its critical and commercial peak, far removed from the Bush-era politics that made the show such incisive sociopolitical commentary. Of course, the big question on everyone’s mind is if FOX can revitalize its hugely influential drama into the captivating, must-see event television it was in its finest years? If tonight’s two-hour season premiere is any indication, maybe.
The two-part opener has everything that the series’ fans want and expect, but little more: the crackerjack pacing of a Robert Ludlum page-turner, the fuming and scowling, respectively, of stars Kiefer Sutherland and Mary Lynn Rajskub, the intriguing political subplot to counter-balance the kinetic action, and the current commentary on geopolitical turmoil around the world. What this season is missing so far is a character, a plot turn, and a performance that raises the bar of what we have not seen in the show’s prior 192 episodes. However, there is still potential for the series to reach the heights of its best seasons (we all have our picks – my favourites are seasons one, three and five).
It does not take long for 24: Live Another Day to remind us how a 24 episode looks. There are split screens, varying close-ups and long shots, shallow focus and handheld camera (… perhaps a bit too much handheld camera). In this installment, the London branch of the CIA is up and running, under the leadership of Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt). Shortly before the day begins, the branch’s top field operative, Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski), gets the order to leave, after she did not detect that her husband was selling state secrets. Just as she is packing her things to go, Jack Bauer’s face peers out from the monitors at the branch (designed almost identically to the CTU set we know and love). The CIA has found him.
The agency brings Jack in for questioning, but the main reason he is there is to break out the person the CIA holds in their “special activity” (i.e. torture) room: old pal Chloe O’Brien. As usual, before Navarro can say “enhanced interrogation,” Jack manages to battle his way out of custody, seizes a drug-addled Chloe and makes an explosive exit. Jack’s motive is simple and familiar: he wants to find the man who is linked to an assassination plot against U.S. president James Heller (William Devane) on British soil. (So far, the London setting has not proved to be a distraction.)
Heller is in London to sign an agreement with the British Prime Minister (Stephen Fry, in a bit of dream casting), hoping to extend the lease of a base that controls drone aircraft. That is the cause for much protest around Parliament and allows 24: Live Another Day the chance to comment on relevant vitriol in modern American politics. The one thing that may slip up Heller’s visit is a senile health condition (probably Alzheimer’s) that is causing him to make mistakes. One flub could key in the world that the commander-in-chief does not have the same command over his own faculties.
The first two hours of 24: Live Another Day introduce us to a lot of new characters and brings to the fore some old favourites. Among the strong first impressions are Strahovski, who is given a character arc more interesting than Renee Walker’s from seasons seven and eight. She is a noble, levelheaded heroine trying to prove that she has what it takes to stay on as a field operative. She is easily the most active of any of the CIA agents and her questionable history with a mole of a husband could make a future alliance with Jack very interesting (if the show takes that route).