More than anything, “24: Legacy” confirmed the importance of actors like Kiefer Sutherland and Mary-Lynn Rajskub.
It is not that there were any overt flaws associated with the reboot. Most of the actors were fine, and some (notably Jimmy Smits, Gerald McRaney, Miranda Otto and Dan Bucatinsky) may have been able to fit into the original show’s dynamic. The storytelling was flatter and more “basic” than what would have been expected from early “24” episodes, but it was rarely terrible.
The problem was of the more fundamental variety. Instead of attempting to create a new narrative environment — one for the new characters to call home — “24: Legacy” simply relied on the original series’ playbook. The scenarios, environments, twists-and-turns, character types relationships, deaths and double crosses were handled exactly as they would have been on the original show. The environment was the same.
This was not a reinvention of “24” — it was a recreation of the beloved, long-running FOX series. The problem is that it focused on recreating the wrong ingredients.
“24” may have become incredibly famous (and infamous, in some cases) for its plot twists, high-stakes deaths, “moles,” torture scenes and technological sorcery (not to mention the iconic real-time storytelling model), but those factors pale in comparison to the importance of character.
It mattered that Jack Bauer was at the heart of the big events. And it mattered that Kiefer Sutherland was the one playing Jack Bauer. The same is true for the other supporting characters that occupied the “24” universe over the years — from Rajskub’s Chloe, to Dennis Haysbert’s David, to Glenn Morshower’s Aaron.
No matter how breakneck the pace or cartoonish the action, these characters made it feel real for viewers. “24” fans connected to these characters and cared about what happened because of them. Jack Bauer did some objectively “cool” stuff over the years, but it was particularly cool because of who was doing it.
“24: Legacy” curiously established itself right in the middle of the “24” universe — we got a reference to Edgar Stiles in the premiere, and Carlos Bernard later returned as original character Tony Almeida (albeit as a barely recognizable mannequin version of the character) — without filling said universe with its most important component: the “24” characters.
That approach, by its very nature, created an uphill battle for “24: Legacy.” The universe mattered to viewers because of who was inside it; without those characters, the show would inherently have a tough time making anyone care.
Making matters worse, the show never really attempted to develop any stakes. None of the characters, from those working at CTU to lead character (and Jack Bauer “replacement”) Eric Carter, were positioned as more than random components of a bigger game. Attempts to humanize the characters were shallow at best; if characters like Jimmy Smits’ John Donovan and Dan Bucatinsky’s Andy Shalowitz resonated at all, it is because the actors overcame limitations in the format.
The writers evidently assumed viewers would care about these characters because they care about “24.” They forgot that the primary reason viewers ever cared about “24” was because of the main characters.
The only reason they ever embraced the new characters who were added throughout the years was because those characters, whether directly or indirectly, got to play off main characters.
The idea behind the error is somewhat understandable. Branded as “24: Legacy,” the new series had to resemble the original to some degree. It could not have been a completely separate terrorism show.
The extent of the error is not. The show could have done more to freshen up the format. It also could have done more to establish the new characters — and more to establish the stakes of the situation — before jumping into “24 mode.”
It, especially, could have done more to make Corey Hawkins’ Eric Carter mean something to viewers. As much praise as Sutherland deserves for his work as Jack Bauer, he benefited from a legitimate chance to engage viewers. He was put in narrative situations that would allow him to perfectly toe the line between badass action hero and relatable everyman.
Eric Carter was never positioned as more than “the protagonist.” We knew we were supposed to care because his family was involved and because he was the “star,” but we were never given a chance to actually connect with him.
Granted, Hawkins’ performance left a lot to be desired. Much like the show, it was fine in a vacuum but utterly lacking in context. He lacked the vulnerability to connect with viewers and lacked the toughness and swagger to come across as a legitimate action hero.
“Legacy”‘s failure to establish meaning and stakes becomes abundantly clear in Monday’s finale. The episode opens with what should be a tense action sequence as Eric tries to protect Naseri’s daughter from Tony, but there never seems to be much doubt about Carter succeeding. And even if Carter’s mission somehow failed, it is hard to imagine anyone would have cared.
The episode later builds to a final showdown between Team CTU and the terrorists, but it again feels flat and unimportant. The pivotal scene is well-directed, reasonably well-acted and has a pretty high-impact conclusion, but it never really seems to matter.
Like “24: Live Another Day,” the “Legacy” finale includes a 12-hour time jump. Unlike “24: Live Another Day,” the action in this “prologue” is highly inconsequential (save for providing a definitive update on whether a certain character survived the day). It meanders, superficially on topics like Carter balancing his thirst for his risky job with his love for his wife and the idea of fighting terrorism vs. fighting terrorism the right way. It all amounts to a very flat finish.
It leaves the door open for another season, but it does nothing to establish particular demand for one. Moreover, if “24: Legacy” does somehow survive its low ratings and earn another season, there is no reason why it would have to pickup with these specific characters.
And that is a huge problem. We spent twelve episodes getting to know these characters and watching them wrestle through horrific situations. If, after all that, we feel no particular attachment to any of them, the show failed to do what “24” was so often able to do throughout its lengthy run.
The season finale of FOX’s “24: Legacy” airs at 8PM ET/PT Monday.