I know I've said this before, but some things can stand repetition: "24" is the amnesiac's favorite television show. We're starting Day Eight on Sunday (Jan. 17) night and the series shows no sign of varying its formula beyond the occasional new location, the occasional new uber-ethnic baddie, the occasional new inept CTU boss and the occasional new POTUS.
The structure remains unchanged. The ethos remains unchanged. Kiefer Sutherland's unflagging commitment to the emotional truth of Jack Bauer remains unchanged. The series has five or six standard twists that get rotated every season, along with five or six standard cliffhangers rotated to end every episode. If you can watch the show and forget that you've ever seen these things before, you can always find enjoyment in a new episode or a new season of "24" and the show's most passionate fans have become experts at that sort of self-imposed forgetfulness.
It helps that "24" spun off a drinking game in its early seasons and that drinking game has seemingly become integrated into the narrative. Drink whenever certain things happen on "24" and then drink some more to forget that everything happening on "24" you've seen before. It's a great formula. Simulated originality through advanced intoxication.
One thing the "24" writers have never failed at before is starting a season off with a bang. If you look at reviews of every new season, you'd think "24" was always coming off of its worst season ever, because critics are always so excited to have it back. And normally you can count on the "24" team to nuke Valencia or kill a President, on Jack Bauer to arrive from China with a bushy beard or to return from the dead with vengeance on his mind. "24" may not know how to finesse the middle of each season and the writers often aren't exactly sure of how to end things, but they always can get the ball rolling.
Alas, this isn't the case with Sunday (Jan. 17) and Monday (Jan. 18) nights' four-hour premiere. Despite transplanting the show to New York City and overhauling the supporting cast, the creative exhaustion on "24" is evident. Sunday's hours aren't so bad (neither are they gripping), but the first hour on Monday is among the show's worst hours and the second Monday episode isn't much better. Even devoted fans may need to do a lot of forgetting (and a lot of drinking?) before Episode Five.
[Full review after the break... Some spoilers, but nothing major...]