Note #1: This is a "review-cap" because it's part review and part recap. Because of the recap part, you obviously shouldn't read it until after watching Sunday (Jan. 11) night's "24" premiere, because it's going to contain spoilers. Consider yourself warned... It doesn't spoil anything from Monday's episodes, though.
Note #2: I'm a "24" fan, but I'm not cult-y about it. That is to say that when "24" stinks, I'm going to say it. And when "24" is awesome, I'm going to make that clear. So if you're one of those people who thinks that "24" is never ever bad even when it's awful and you like to leave comments like, "If you hate '24' so much, why don't you just stop watching?" you may wanna go elsewhere. If, however, you're one of those folks who can acknowledge that "24" is sometimes really subpar but would never miss an episode even in the leanest of times... Well, you're like me.
With those provisos out of the way, let's talk about Sunday's long-awaited "24" premiere...
Back in 2006, over at my now-transplanted Check the Fien Print blog, I wrote a post titled "Being Jack Bauer Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry." The title pretty much says it all, but was a theory that had never been put to the test. In six seasons of "24," nobody actually ever expected Jack Bauer to apologize for anything, so the issue was moot.
In the November telefilm "24: Redemption," though, we began with a relatively different Bauer. In the wake of the existential crisis that closed Day Six -- Jack Bauer standing on a cliff basically wondering how everything in his life went to hell -- this new Jack Bauer had doubts and was roaming the world looking for either answers or absolution. It seems that following the events of the telefilm and Bauer's subsequent flight back to the United States, he got the answer he was seeking.
That answer: You're right and everybody else is wrong.
In an odd way, Jack Bauer has become the Jack Nicholson character in "A Few Good Men" with the key difference being that Aaron Sorkin thought Colonel Jessep was bonkers, while the producers of "24" know that Jack Bauer is America's Greatest Hero. They've spent years listening to lefties in the media bitch and moan about torture and due process and the Geneva Convention and all of the niceties Jack Bauer doesn't have time for. Season Seven's Theme? You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties you want Jack Bauer on that wall, you need Jack Bauer on that wall.
Sunday's premiere began with the daring mid-day abduction of Peter Billingsley, because something in Peter Billingsley's screen personal just screams "Take me hostage!" It was a great action moment, but it was mostly there to set up an odd moment of bureaucracy, with Jack Bauer facing a Senate subcommittee investigating human rights violations by the recently disbanded Counter Terrorism Unit.
The Senate Hearing was wrong on every level. First of all since when do Senators hold hearings at 8 a.m.? But more importantly, if your committee is being chaired by Kurtwood Smith, it goes without saying that you have a collective stick up your collective rumps, you can't possibly be in the right. And finally, anybody who forces Jack Bauer to wear a suit deserves the broken nose they're eventually going to get.
Being Jack Bauer means never having to say you're sorry, but the Senator asks Jack if he thinks he's above the law.
"In answer to your question, am I above the law? No sir. I am more than willing to be judged by the people you claim to represent and will let them decide what price I should pay. But please do not sit there with that smug look on your face and expect me to regret the the decisions that I have made, because sir the truth is, I don't."
Second, compare that line to, "I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said 'thank you,' and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest that you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to."
One line was spoken by the hero of the piece.
The other by the villain.
The differences are nil.
I've seen four hours of this year's "24" (as all viewers will have by Monday night) and the recurring structure is a prissy and "civilized" world that looks down its nose at Jack Bauer, followed by a string of catastrophes that can only be stopped with Jack's brand of outlaw justice.
Perhaps the premiere's best moment came after Jack was swept out of the hearing by Annie Wersching's FBI agent and the Senator said, "We'll reconvene with you tomorrow morning at the same time." The implication being that even the Senator knows that no matter how perilous the situation, Jack Bauer can solve it in exactly 24 hours. Everybody knows.
That situation: The terrorists abducted John Billingsley because his character designed the government's infrastructure. They want the ability to hack into telecommunication, transportation and power grid systems. It all relates back to the events in Sangala, where President Taylor wants to sent in U.S. troops to prevent a genocide. The intrastructure takedown, meanwhile, is being masterminded by the occupying Sangalese government, which would just as soon keep their power, thank you very much.
The most interesting part of the abduction and developing threat? That it's at least partially masterminded by a certain Tony "Soulpatch" Almeida! This would be really shocking if FOX hadn't been teasing Carlos Bernard's return for two years. As it stands, it's so unsurprising that it wasn't even the cliffhanger between episodes. The audience isn't surprised, but the FBI wanted Jack to be, so they show him a blurry image and then clarify it to reveal Tony, rather than just showing him a photo with a time-stamp. For a man who has played dead in the past and had to over-explain his own resurrection, Jack Bauer is mighty confused at the idea that Tony may not have been dead.
The A-plot also introduced an FBI cast that fit amazingly well into CTU archetypes. There's a new skeptical Bill Buchanan (Jeffrey Nordling's Moss), a new surly Chloe (Janeane Garofalo's Janis) and Rhys Coiro's Sean, who looks to be the FBI's Milo, but Milo before he became weapons-trained and heroic.
The wild card will be Wersching's Agent Walker. I think we can expect to see her character go back and forth on trusting Jack before she finally recognizes that he can do no wrong. We know that eventually she'll come around, because as an anonymous agent tells Jack, "She understands what it takes to get the job done."
The A-plot concluded with a very satisfying showdown between Jack and Tony, complete with a chase and jumping and Jack flinging himself at his former buddy and growling "What the hell happened to you?"
Tony's developed his own growl over the years, though. He used to mostly mumble, but now he's trying to out-rasp Jack. That's not a battle he can win.
I don't know if the stakes are high enough yet. One of the challenges for the "24" producers is that they nuked Valencia last season. They've killed a former president, downed Air Force One, released chemical weapons in public places and blown up all manner of transportation. And, in several cases, they did those things almost immediately. The premiere is all about Jack's self-justification and a terrorist threat, but an airplane near-miss and the killing of a character we'd met only minutes before won't satisfy blood-thirsty viewers. Just like it's no longer enough for "Heroes" to base a season's plot around a future apocalypse, "24" isn't a show that can get by on insinuation.
The B-plot is also likely to cause annoyance. While President Taylor is planning for war, First Husband Henry is investigating the alleged suicide of his son, who he believes was killed. The problem: Anybody who's seen "24: Redemption" knows that Roger was, indeed, murdered. But more than that, we know exactly why he was murdered and who's behind it. Eventually we know it leads to Jon Voight and that Jon Voight leads back to Sangala, so everything is tied together. That's something we should be discovering as we go, but the telefilm eliminated the mystery.
That leads me to...
Other thoughts on Sunday's premiere...
*** I don't think the story has benefited from the background provided in "24: Redemption." Not only did the telefilm over-inform us on the Roger Taylor suicide arc, but it stacks the deck entirely on Sangala. We know that the "24" producers are in favor of intervention, so we know how they feel about President Taylor, so there's very little discovery left to us. Watching Sunday and Monday's premiere episodes, I felt like they were recovering territory from the telefilm, which shouldn't have been necessary, since "Redemption" was shot nearly a year after the premiere.
*** I saw several blog postings where people were concerned about how the presence of ultra-liberal Janeane Garofalo would impact the ultra-conservative world of "24." The answer is that the producers gave her a character who's instantly unlikeable and if my early pick to be a mole. Because there's always a mole.
*** If DNA testing showed that the body in Tony Almeida's grave wasn't Tony, whose body was it? Or is that not relevant?
*** The most immediate benefit to leaving the confines of Los Angeles is mostly that I can now shut off my brain and stop wondering how Jack is making it around LA so easily. I wonder if D.C. residents will be ready to complain about his transportational magic.
Anyway, it's a pain to recap these early-season double-doses. Too much happening. Too many characters. But this is a start...
And I promise you, "24" fans, that Monday night's episodes are much better than the Sunday hours. Things really kick into gear.