“You probably think I’m at a disadvantage. I promise you I’m not.”
If that type of signature Jack Bauer quote gets you excited, “24: Live Another Day” is for you. If the infamous ticking of the “24″ clock sends chills down your spine, “24: Live Another Day” is for you. If the awkward, yet endearing relationship between Bauer and analyst Chloe O’Brian speaks to your conception of televised friendship, “24: Live Another Day” is for you. If the question you ask during a stand-off is not whether the good guy will survive but how many bad guys he will take down while surviving, “24: Live Another Day” is for you.
If you are a fan of “24″ to the extent that awareness of its bad qualities does not hinder your enjoyment of its good ones, “24: Live Another Day” is for you.
An unmistakable exercise in fan service, the resurrected, limited run “24″ event does not seek to reinvent the wheel or reestablish the show’s prominence within the television community. It accepts that it lacks the emotion and dramatic tension of its effective successor in “Homeland.” It feigns no aspiration of rivaling the dialogue or nuanced characterization of breakout drama “True Detective.”
Content to be a pulpish platform for letting the biggest television badass of all-time uncover conspiracies and eliminate bad guys, “24: Live Another Day” gives offers fans a gratuitous, twelve episode opportunity to reconnect with the show as it was during its run.
That honest rekindling of the show’s former flame assures viewers will see Jack Bauer the way he is meant to be seen. The first two hours, which were screened for critics, make no attempt to portray Kiefer Sutherland’s iconic character as freshly nuanced or evolved. Operating as an enemy of the United States, Bauer remains loyal to his country and committed to preventing what he understands to be an attack on the president’s (William Devane’s returning character James Heller) life. To do that, he’ll endure–and swiftly overcome–sieges not only from the individuals he believes are helping to perpetrate the attack but from a London CIA branch certain, as “24′”s US agencies so often are, that he is working for the bad guy.
It means they will see the return of Mary Lynn Rajskub as Chloe O’Brian. Different in motivation (she is now helping to spread government secrets as a rogue hacker), look (Chloe has gone goth) and mental state (she was recently captured by government officials), the character remains just as freakishly competent and just as endearingly ornery. She also remains just as perfect a counterpart for Jack Bauer. Their campy, yet engrossing dynamic persists as one of the series’ most valuable constants.
It necessitates yet another, prototypical intelligence unit. Positioned in an office that looks more than slightly like the old CTU headquarters, the London CIA branch features a familiar cast of characters. There is the well-intentioned, yet far-too-reactive leader in Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt). There is the arrogant, misguided field agent in Erik Ritter (Gbenga Akinnagbe). There is the attractive, astute, cautiously rebellious agent in Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski). In creating the precise landscape in which Bauer is used to operating, this might as well be called CTU: London.
It guarantees an unparalleled flavor of excitement. Working off the grid–and, in fact, as an enemy of the CIA–Bauer approaches each of the premiere’s scenarios as a statistical underdog. The thrill, therefore, comes from seeing how quickly Bauer can neutralize his opponents’ advantage and reclaim at least a semblance of control in the needed situations.
It, somehow, promises moments that matter. Unsurprising to the viewer who certainly knows what show he is watching, the episode’s first image of Jack Bauer still comes across like a significant one. As predictable as it is preposterous, Jack Bauer’s plan to retrieve Chloe O’Brian still manages to pull viewers to the edge of their seats. Thoroughly foreshadowed yet given little meaningful context, an attack involving a US drone still comes across as a big deal. Over the years, “24″ has played host to numerous weapons of mass destruction attacks, brutal torture sequences and key character deaths. Yet “24: Live Another Day,” like nearly every season that preceded it, finds a way to make its escapist, popcorn action come across as significant.
But in working so intently to replicate past iterations of “24,” “Live Another Day” overlooks opportunities to improve and evolve. Driven not by the ambition that produced the superb first five seasons but by the complacency that yielded the last three underwhelming ones, “Live Another Day” predicates its appeal on nostalgia rather than evolution. It is an extension rather than a reboot.
And that mindset comes with a cost. In so decidedly leveraging familiarity as its greatest weapon, “24: Live Another Day” naturally resurrects many of the franchise’s worst and/or laziest tendencies.
Devices rather than characters, Strahovski’s Kate Morgan and Tate Donovan’s chief of staff Mark Boudreau seem poised to be defined by their interactions with others rather than their own nuances. Neither does a bad job–Strahovski, though exceedingly restrained, is infinitely more endearing and connected than she was on “Dexter;” Donovan, meanwhile, scores with his usual flavor of smarmy–but neither gets the chance to differentiate his or her character from the numerous similar ones that appeared throughout “24′”s run.
Kate Morgan behaves exactly as even the most casual “24″ fan would expect. Programmed to believe Jack Bauer is an unequivocal enemy but smart enough to know things are not as they appear, she is the first to question the circumstance in which he comes back onto the CIA’s radar. And if a climactic scene in hour two is any indication, she will soon recognize the good in his intentions and ultimately become his ally within the intelligence agency.
Married to Bauer’s ex Audrey Raines (Kim Raver), Boudreau, President Heller’s Chief of Staff, also has a personal motivation for wanting to see Bauer captured and taken out of commission. The quintessential, unlikable politician, Donovan’s character serves as both a villain for Jack-Audrey shippers and as a cold, cynical voice of reason for his idealistic, yet fading boss and father-in-law. As President Heller’s mind succumbs to Alzheimer’s-like symptoms, the brash Boudreau will become simultaneously more confrontational and more autonomous.
Like past seasons, “Live Another Day” touches on contemporary political issues only as a means of paying lip service. Debates around drone strikes and government leaks exist to situate the storyline within modern times, but they do nothing to illuminate the issues, inform character behavior or spur compelling discussion.
A drone strike might play a pivotal role in the first hour, but it ultimately hinges on a generic plotline that could have involved any number of weapons and been seamlessly inserted into any previous “24″ season.
It ultimately reflects the show’s commitment to a Mad Libs method of storytelling: Take a powerful weapon. Put it in the hands of an enemy terrorist or nationalist group. Find someone–either an innocent American or a lesser bad guy–to take the fall for the attack. Pull the trigger. Put Jack Bauer on the case.
While that formula is fine–and has been responsible for some truly magnificent “24″ scenes–it operates with only a superficial connection to the time period.
Following in the footsteps of any similar storyline not involving David Palmer, the family/political drama against serves as the narrative’s weak spot. The degradation of James Heller’s mind could not be less compelling, and the rift it is creating between his pragmatic chief of staff and loving daughter offers a surefire way to stall the show’s drama. Not every scene can involve Jack Bauer in an intense shoot-out, but with only 12 episodes to fill this season, every season should present interesting characters in interesting scenarios.
“Live Another Day” also shows an ongoing willingness to burn through bad guys. While Michelle Fairley’s character is the premiere’s closest thing to a “big bad,” the second hour makes it clear that being an intermediary is not a permanent position.
Such criticisms might not resonate with “24″ fans. Few believe the show offers a masterclass in dramatic characterization. Few expect a creative, richly-layered narrative. They are looking for a suspenseful series in which Jack Bauer takes down bad guys, charges through twists and turns and arrives at the haunting truth. None of the common “24″ criticisms takes away from that.
What will resonate with “24″ fans, however, is the lack of passion and ambition behind “Live Another Day.” Nostalgia is great, but without the drive to innovate, “Live Another Day” is no different or better than the show’s flat final few seasons. The return of Jack Bauer will obviously feel special, but when viewers realize that they can currently find similarly energetic action scenes on something as generic as “The Blacklist” and significantly more dramatic tension on many of the best cable dramas, they will see that “24″ is not an elite television drama.
By being so daring and different, “24″ ushered in a new standard for television drama. By resting on the franchise’s laurels, so much so that it thinks the mere act of showing Audrey Raines’ face constitutes excitement, “24: Live Another Day” demonstrates a contentedness to simply be a standard television drama.
FOX’s “24: Live Another Day” premieres at 8PM on May 5