[Over the past year, Film Dispenser has provided recurring in-depth analysis of television series like The Killing, True Detective, Justified, Homeland, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. With so many new platforms offering original content (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu) in addition to the networks we have already come to rely upon for quality programming (HBO, Showtime, AMC, FX), Film Dispenser has created a new column called Pass the Remote that will appear several times a month to provide reviews and analysis of television series that we will not be following on a week-to-week basis. Our goal is to help you make more efficient use of your viewing time. Let us watch the bad shows so that you don’t have to and allow us to pass along some suggestions for content we think you will enjoy.]
When 24 premiered on November 6, 2001, the nation’s wounds from 9/11 were still fresh. Terrorism and speculation about possible future attacks dominated the daily news cycle. The cutting edge drama from Fox was scheduled to debut in October, but producers were concerned that tales of hijacked airplanes and terrorists might not find a very receptive audience. In the years that followed, 24 tapped into our national paranoia and contemplated the major ethical question of the early-21st century: What price is society willing to pay for its security?
As the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and practices like water-boarding were debated by politicians and pundits, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) was torturing vital information out of suspects to save the day. From 2001 until May 24, 2010, Jack saved eight days to be precise, eight days that took 192 episodes to unfold. The show reflected the national zeitgeist as more and more viewers binge-watched their way to the next season premiere.
College students created drinking games based on the show. Every time Jack barked out the word “dammit”, undergrads across the nation would do a shot. In interviews, Kiefer Sutherland claimed he occasionally kicked in a few extra “dammits” from time-to-time to liven up the college party. But, 24 wasn’t just for kids. When he appeared on The Daily Show during his presidential campaign, Senator John McCain said, “I watch it all the time. I’m sort of a Jack Bauer kind of guy.” Although he didn’t move on to the White House in 2008, he did make it onto the small screen with a brief cameo on 24 that same year.
So, after a four-year absence from your living room, is 24 still relevant? Our country has (thankfully) been without an act of foreign terrorism on our soil since September 11, 2001. Osama Bin Laden has been eliminated and buried at sea. That touchstone event is beginning to look like the exception that proves the rule: America is as safe as it can be. Does the television world still need the catharsis that Jack Bauer has to offer?
After chasing loose nukes and bad guys of all nationalities for eight seasons, 24: Live Another Day wisely starts on a smaller scale. Jack is living in London, if you can call hiding in a warehouse full of homeless people “living”. In the opening scene, Jack leads intelligence operatives on a merry chase. Clearly refusing to shoot them and employing hand-to-hand combat to disable and not kill, our noble hero is ultimately cornered and captured. Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski) thinks Bauer has been apprehended far too easily and must have some agenda at work. She mentions this to her boss, Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt), who matter-of-factly dismisses her concerns. (Where would 24 be if bosses didn’t ignore their brilliant analysts every season?)
Kate is right. How do we know she’s right? Because on 24 the smartest person in the room is always tainted by controversy that hurts his or her credibility. Kate is packing her bags to be demoted, so everything she says this season is guaranteed intelligence gold. Jack allowed himself to be captured to free his former sidekick, Chloe O’Brian (May Lynn Rajskub) from government custody. Decked out in full Dragon Tattoo leather and piercings, Chloe works for an underground hacking organization that exposes government secrets. She answers to her personal Julian Assange, Michael Wincott (Adrian Cross) without the Andy Warhol mane of white hair.
The large scale plot then begins to unfold. A program has been developed to hack into the deadly aerial drones employed by the U.S. military. A test run results in the death of British and American troops in Afghanistan and leaves a soldier framed for murder. Jack suspects that the hijacker is going to assassinate the President of the United States on foreign soil to protest the U.S. drone program and ignite international chaos.
Like the eight seasons that preceded it, 24: Live Another Day is a 1970s Robert Ludlum novel with better tech. Nothing short of world domination will do. A single act of terrorism will ignite a chain of events that will destroy society as we know it. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so much fun. Jack Bauer is the Jason Bourne of the small screen, and Kiefer Sutherland inhabits the role with such credibility that we quit looking for plotholes years ago. He invests Jack with such earnestness that the audience will follow him anywhere. He’s the Luke Skywalker of espionage.
Sure, the characters look familiar. The bureaucrat with a good heart who we know is destined to collaborate with Jack. The young gun who’s trying to prove himself as he ignores the colleagues he should be listening to. The (evil?) Chief of Staff who has a personal agenda that outweighs his political judgment. An embattled president who may not be up to the task at hand. It’s a tried-and-true formula, so why fix something that ain’t broken?
If you want to give 24: Live Another Day a long thorough critique, then you likely weren’t a fan of the original show. The showrunners and producers know their audience, and they have the serialized narrative down to a science. The first two hours run like a finely-tuned watch. With twelve fewer installments, there will be fewer wives with amnesia and daughters caught in cougar traps. No time to tread narrative water this season. There are only ten episodes left for Jack to save the day. Sure, it’s junk food programming, but it’s good junk food. It’s the In ‘n Out Burger of major network television. There’s no shame in giving the people want they want if you can do it this well.
8.5 out of 10
(Jack’s back. Nuff said.)
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.