Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Day 9: 11:00 AM - 1:00 PM

Jack is back. And it's true what they say: absence makes the heart grow fonder.

When last we left our intrepid (anti?)hero, 24 had devolved into such a farcical parody of itself that I wasn't even bothering to write thoughtful blog entries about new episodes. Instead, I was writing down the award show style stream of consciousness snark of me and my friends. And keeping track of the drinks, of course. (Every time Jack says "dammit!", and any time anyone says "perimeter" or "within the hour.")

I won't pretend 24 is now a new show, the "Live Another Day" subtitle notwithstanding. They're not pretending it either, as the episodes are labeled "Day 9," as though it were just another season rather than the rather revolutionary idea of reviving a hit TV series for a psuedo-mini-series event. But it doesn't have to be a new showfor me to be entertained. I just want it to be the show I liked in the first place.

In that regard, 24: Live Another Day is off to a pretty good start. It seems as though what the writers really needed was a break. Back in the day, two months between seasons that were longer (by two episodes) than most other network television simply wasn't enough time to recharge the creative juices and plan ahead. They would never get far into the season before they were just barely running ahead of the boulder of whatever initial premise they'd concocted, just trying to get something before the cameras in time for air. Thus we got the endless rotations of the same concepts.

A handful of those old tropes were in play as this new season opened. There was an assassination plot in the works against the President of the United States. There was a mole. But the tropes were twisted in ways that seemed less stale. (They're going to kill the president using a drone! The mole was planted with the evil hacker!) And there was a lot more going on that felt even more promising. We have a Jack Bauer completely on the outside, with no friends inside the government. ("I don't have friends.") We have a broken Chloe, empty enough of a cause that she latched on to an anarchical hacker gang, but still dedicated enough not to betray them even after three days of torture. (That somehow left her eye makeup undisturbed.)

Of course, with neither Jack nor Chloe working for the counterterrorist cause, the story now requires someone else to actually be competent in that role. And so we introduced Yvonne Strahovski (fresh off Dexter, less freshly off Chuck) as Kate Morgan. It's a relief to see a new character who's not a complete bumbling idiot... though to be sure, everyone else around her certainly seems to be. (Though at least they seem to be a bit more ethnically diverse than the CTU of old.)

It's also interesting to me having Tate Donovan in the cast. I associate him indelibly with his role on Damages (even though he wasn't in the later seasons), and his role here is in many ways not different enough to break that connection. But he's at the core of a potentially interesting storyline. In past seasons of 24, the "president-centric" storyline was almost always a weak time-filler next to the adventures of Jack Bauer, but here it puts two intriguing threads in play.

First, there's the ripped-from-the-headlines controversy of drone strikes. It hardly needs any dressing up to be grist for a political drama's mill, but of course 24 only ever brushes up against ethical controversy before diving over the line in pursuit of action. And so comes the idea that a drone could be hacked by enemies and used against their creators. (By Catelyn Stark! Go Michelle Fairley!)

Second, there's the story of Heller's emerging (though unspecified) dementia/Alzheimer's condition. That is a truly horrible stripping of self that I hope no one I know in life suffers in their twilight years. And the show gets help building sympathy by making the president a character we've already met in past seasons, rather than a wholly new person. Still, important to consider along with any empathy here is the fact that we're talking about the President of the United States here. If this sort of condition were claiming the country's leader even as slightly as depicted here, I'd be screaming to 25th Amendment that person out of office. (And yes, there's ample evidence one could find to suggest Ronald Reagan was in a similar situation during his presidency. I plead too young at the time to know what the 25th Amendment was.)

All these new elements in play. Interesting new cast members, even if in some cases (Benjamin Bratt), their characters aren't yet interesting. Some fun little surface charges to the format. (A prologue! "The following takes place between 11:06 AM and 12:00 PM."? A font now new-and-improved with flames!)

Not that I'm going to abandon the drinking game, though. (I counted three, maybe four?, Jack "dammits" and one perimeter. Not a bad start.)

I'd say this two-hour premiere deserves around a B. I'm not blown away, but I am glad the show is back. Let's face it, when 24 last left us, it wouldn't have even earned a passing grade, so it is certainly improved by any measure.

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