Thursday , July 25 2024
Yup, another 24 review . . .

What Makes Jack Run?

You can tell it’s gonna be a rough day for Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) from the opening sequence. Midnight in South Korea, and we’re coming on the end of a protracted electroshock torture/interrogation: the victim has plastic baggies on his bare where it looks like melted toe jam has pooled. When he gives out a final essential piece of info (“It’s today!”), we camera over to some grim lookin’ white guys sitting outside the interrogation room. One of ’em sez it’s time to phone the president. These, you quickly realize, are the Good Guys.
Meanwhile, it’s 8:00 a.m. in West Coast America, and former assassination target/current president David Palmer (Dennis Hasbert) is out fly fishing with his son. Last season’s Hillarie Macbeth, Sherry Palmer, is temporarily out of the picture. Which right away tells you how enlightened the country has grown: not only is it ready to elect a black president, it’s elected one who is separated from his wife. Palmer gets word from his weaselly underling (Timothy Carhart) that a fundamentalist terrorist group called Second Wave has brought a nuclear weapon into L.A. They plan to detonate said device within the next (you guessed it) twenty-four hours.
Paging Jack Bauer! In the year since his marathon sprint against evil Serbs, Jack has quit the Counter Terrorist Unit and apparently devoted most of his time to growing an Al Gore beard and moping. Periodically, he opens a drawer, pushing his gun aside to pull out a family photo and gaze at the image of his dead wife & estranged daughter Kim (Elisha Cuthbert). When men lose their spouses in stuff like this, they mourn forever a la Mel Gibson’s Lethal Weapon loony; when women do, they’re like Kim Delaney’s character in C.S.I.: Miami. Three months to grieve than it’s back to business.
Daughter Kim, while still grieving, has also done some maturing: from last year’s petulant party girl to the “best nanny ever” for a well-to-do L.A. family. Things aren’t entirely rosy for our gal, though. Very quickly (the instant he tells Kim she has a “nice body” once his wife has stepped out of the room) we learn that corporate Dad is an abusive scuzzwad. By the end of the ep, we know Kim’ll once more be on the run in the doom-laden city. The timing seems more contrived (last season’s Kim-in-peril plot tied into the Big Baddy’s plans, after all), but perhaps we’re missing something.
Jack gets coaxed back to CTU, which now is run by former rival George Mason w./ one of Roseanne’s kids sitting in on the meetings. One look at the scruffy Bauer, and Mason is ready to toss this burnt-out case out on his ass. But NSA (and the president) want Jack because he has prior connections to Second Wave. When our hero hears of the nuclear threat, his first impulse is to phone and tell his daughter to skeedaddle. But since much of this show’s suspense is predicated on missed or misunderstood communications, she naturally doesn’t listen to him.
So much for the returnees: yet another concurrent subplot involves an Angeleno family planning a wedding. Sister of the bride Kate (Sarah Wynter) has been looking suspiciously at her imminent brother-in-law, a Middle Easterner named Reza. Turns out said old-fashioned boy may have ties to a terrorist organization. Is Kate being xenophobic or does she have reason to worry? Reza is marrying the boss’ daughter, so should we also be suspicious of Kate’s widower father?
It’s a mess, alright, and we can happily look forward to things getting messier. CTU mole Nina, for instance, has yet to make an appearance, though we’re promised one, while you just know that president Palmer’s great bitch ex(?)-wife (Penny Johnson Jerald) will be back gumming up the works. Wanna bet she’s connected somehow to that unctuous aide Eric?

Sutherland’s Jack is grimmer and even quicker-on-the-draw than he was before: faced with a smirking pedophile/murderer with ties to an imprisoned terrorist, Bauer doesn’t bother to question him, just pulls out his gun and shoots the bastard. When Mason protests, Bauer sneeringly declares that the CTU head is afraid to get dirty, is unwilling to do what needs to be done. (Mason, perhaps recalling that Jack tasered him last season, doesn’t reply.) Clearly, Bauer’s meant to be an exemplar of tough, take-no-prisoners heroism. A model for the War on Terrorism.
On the basis of the season debut, the second year of 24 can’t help but suffer in comparison to its first: the need to place its time sensitive crisis in L.A. for the second time, for instance, sure smacks of convenience. (What? No one wants to bomb Chicago?) Still, for all its credulity-stretching construction and need to pace each “real time” ep with fresh cliff-hanging crises, the show remains unique in its movie-like capacity to pull you with its harried characters. Don’t know how they’re gonna manage to carry this off a third season, but this year, I suspect the series is covered.
Last night’s premiere was presented around a dubious network decision. Sponsored “interruption free” by Ford, who presented a lengthy two-part commercial on the front and back ends, the ep ran straight. This wreaked havoc with the show’s so-called “real time” construction, since episodes are timed to take commercial breaks into account. As a result, our “real time” drama ended about seven minutes before it should’ve. Bet this really stressed any OCD viewers in the audience. But, then, sustaining audience anxiety is what it’s all about.
(For Eric & Dawn Olsen’s take on the premiere, click here.)

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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