After spending most of the 2000’s in the sun, 24 has found itself in a strange position where its drifted from the top pantheon of dramas.
Maybe its the fact the bulk of the United States’ acclaimed dramas – The Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, House of Cards – are not US TV network productions but ones by premium cable networks or the internet. Maybe its the fact 24 became a byword for the infamous “enhanced interrogation techniques” during the War on Terror that followed 9/11, which George Bush and Dick Cheney are still almost universally despised for. Maybe its that, at times, it was a preposterous depiction of ridiculously behaving counter-terrorism agents taking on cartoon-ish baddies. Maybe its how it once famously forgot it had destroyed half of Los Angeles with a nuclear bomb in the middle of a series.
But its equally valid was the right programme for the paranoia of the mid-2000’s, and one that helped build the concept of narrative arcs that boxset TV dramas adore. If anything, it was one of the first of the programmes made to be consumed in such a manner – the previous 8 series are still popular DVD sellers.
Now, some four years after Bauer was forced to go on the run for killing many members of the Russian government in season eight, Kiefer Sutherland’s infamous gravel-voiced spy who tortures for a living and for a hobby is back and dangerous on the streets of London town.
Spoiler phobes yet to see it may want to look away now, but its hardly a spoiler to say this is also not a vision the London tourism board would use to promote their city.
We’re catapulted in from the off, where a rogue Bauer is in hiding in an abandoned East London warehouse beneath a railway bridge and is being hunted down the UK branch of the CIA. Not-so-coincidentally, the US President James Heller (William Devane) is also in town, for a summit with the British Prime Minister (Stephen Fry) on the use of drone warfare in Afghanistan.
This, once again, is 24 attempted to tackle a topical issue, which it approaches in the usual way by integrated it into the main plot. It is not the only one attempted, as the development of fan favourite Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) into a Goth-tinged take on the Assange, Manning and Snowden leaks that the CIA is keeping for medical experiments.
Naturally, some things don’t change. Bauer may now be mostly mute and covered in European-language gang tattoos, but he is still able to beat the hell out of people with both hands tied behind his back – the handcuffs are his weapon, naturally – and has his usual steely grim determination to break as many CIA rules as possible. Equally never far away from the fore is the standard split-screen format and what Charlie Brooker once described as “the relentless tick of the clock”, which is ominous both into as a sound, as the premise of ticking towards oblivion, and the natural habit of ticking us into commercial breaks.
As well as being reintroduced to our old friends, we’re also introduced – absurdly quickly – to some new people, who are still cut from the same cloth that produced such implausibly glamorous staff with astonishingly incompetent capabilities as those that the ran old CTU Los Angeles in days of yore.
The obvious star of the new crop is CIA London field agent Kate Morgan, played by Yvonne Strahovski – one of the few bright lights in the jaw-droppingly awful conclusion to Dexter. Having dealt with one psycho, she’s quickly introduced to another, after being kicked out of the CIA, then let back in for spotting stuff her incompetent superiors failed to spot, then being beat up by Bauer even though he’s essentially on their side. In short, a fairly standard day in the 24 world.
For all the talk of explosive returns, Live Another Day begins life as a slow burner. It opens with a fast “Here’s what Jack did on his holidays/exile” introduction, goes quietly along as it divulges more info to fill in the 4 year gap and bring in an unsettling vision with roots in disturbing reality, and brings out some massive explosions where the damage is seemingly airbrushed away in time for the next take. And a bigger explosion.
The second part is the more compelling hour of the first two episodes aired, and is a very impressive methodology in building up its big baddie using the weapons of the world superpower against it, then dispensing of it for an even bigger conspiracy – something that will undoubtedly be jettisoned way before time runs out.
Equally, it occupies the trait the old series had where, just as it seemed the episode ran out of steam, something big come along that moves the narrative in a bigger direction, and makes you to want to see the next part immediately.
In short, its like the show never stopped production, and it shows promise it will remain as entertaining, uncomfortable and absurd as ever – precisely what the doctor ordered.