Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Fox's "24: Live Another Day": absence DOES make the heart grow fonder

Confession: Last night, I watched "The Voice" before "24: Live Another Day," but that was only so that I could be sure my little ones were asleep before the mayhem in London began. My boys know that "24" is my favorite TV show ever, and they associate pictures of Kiefer Sutherland with Jack Bauer, but they also know they aren't allowed to watch "24" until age 16 or so.

Anyway, after fast-forwarding through the boring performances on "The Voice" - and as you might guess, the threshold level to get past boring got raised pretty high - I was downright giddy as I started "24."

SPOILERS for "Day 9: 11:00 am - 12:00" and "Day 9: 12:00 - 1 pm"

I was surprised by the cold open - no digital 2 and 4 flashing into existence - just an establishing shot of East London, and then an undercover assault team purposefully gathering in an alley. Yep, "24" is wasting no time to re-establish its action credentials, with Jack Bauer showing that he's still more than capable of beating up a trained CIA squad.

(Say, how old is Jack Bauer, anyway? Based on time clues from the various seasons, I estimate that something like 17 years have passed since season 1. In season 1, Bauer's daughter Kim was 15, so if say that Bauer became a dad at the early age of 20, he would've been 35 in season 1, making him around 52 right now.)

"24" has always had strong season openers, especially once it went to the "non-stop" schedule beginning with season 4. Those were the days, when there would be a 2-hour premiere on Sunday night, followed by 2 more hours on Monday, and then the regular 1 hour a week, and ending with a 2-hour finale. With the 12-episode limited series format, we're only getting the 2-hour premiere.

Still, this premiere delivered. Details about what's happened in the last four years are sparse but enough to see the big picture: Audrey Bodreaux nee Raines nee Heller has miraculously recovered from her coma near the end of season 6, and is now married to the Chief of Staff to her dad, the former Defense Secretary and current President.

Jack's former sidekick/techno-wizard Chloe O'Brian, sporting a goth look, has been working with a Wikileaks-like group, hacking and releasing classified U.S. military data. The past four years haven't been too good for her, with a reference to having served prison time for helping Bauer escape at the end of season 8. In case you were wondering, here's an extra scene that shows what happened to her:

We also have the basics of the terror plot set in motion already: clueless hacker has developed a way to hack into a U.S. military satellite to take control of U.S. armed drones; the apparent head baddie (the actress who played Catelyn Stark on "Game of Thrones") wants to use them to assassinate President Heller on British soil.

And of course, no season of "24" would be complete without feckless or incompetent bureaucrats, with Benjamin Bratt playing CIA Station Chief Navarro in such a role. In fact, the CIA looks about as bumbling and incompetent as the old CTU. Naturally, the one competent agent, Kate Morgan (played by "Chuck"'s Yvonne Strahovski), is being sent back to the U.S. to a dead-end posting because her husband was caught selling secrets to the Chinese.

On to questions and observations about the episode:

* I loved how the computer file on Jack Bauer included a list of "Confirmed Kills":

(Of course, that screenshot is just a partial listing. Someone has actually kept track of all on-screen kills by Jack Bauer. We're up to 273 through the first two hours of "24: Live Another Day.")

* Jack's plan to get caught so that he can break himself and Chloe out was reminiscent of the opening sequence of Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol. Speaking of breaking out, who knew that our CIA station in London came complete with its own dungeon/torture chamber?

* One of the best-loved "24" tropes was the hard perimeter. Whenever Jack would direct CTU agents to set a hard perimeter in an effort to contain a terrorist, we knew that the terrorist would easily escape, often by killing a hapless CTU agent and donning the uniform. No perimeters were set today, but one might as well have been. After Agent Morgan figures out that Jack's plan, she calls for a "level 5 lockdown." Wow, level 5, that sounds pretty serious! But after Jack's Serbian buddy/mercenary blows a hole in the subterranean CIA detention center's ceiling, Morgan is somehow able to get out through a normal exit!

* It's pretty amazing how Chloe, working with some group of underground hackers, can provide Jack with the same level of field communication/surveillance support that he enjoyed back when they were both at CTU. Who needs the government? We should just subcontract NSA-level surveillance to private sector hackers....

* Another "24" trope is the mole. There is always someone who has somehow eluded the background security checks - or maybe CTU never performed any - to wreak havoc and sow chaos. Who will it be this season?

* A contender for the best ever Jack Bauer line?: "Look, I can tell you consider yourself a pretty intimidating group. You probably think I'm at a disadvantage, I promise you I'm not." (said as Bauer, with a bad guy as a human shield, faced the harborer of the drone hacker as well as three of his armed henchmen). Yeah, that's pretty good, but I don't think any line will top season 2's "I'm gonna need a hacksaw," which he said just before cutting off the head of the unarmed prisoner he shot in front of CTU's George Mason, as he needed the severed head to establish his bona fides with a crew of bad guys with terrorist connections.

* "24: Live Another Day" delivered a 2.6 rating last night, which was below my prediction, but still better than just about anything that airs on Fox. It was also the third highest network on the show, just behind NBC's "The Blacklist" (2.7) and NBC's "The Voice" (3.0).

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