When 24 departed our screens four years ago, it was bittersweet. One of TV's best dramas was ending - but it concluded on its weakest season. The idea of bringing it back, then, was exciting for both the show and for the institution of television alike. Could the writers restore our faith after that subpar final adventure? And would the return give hope to other previously completed shows that they, too, could write one more chapter? (NBC didn't waste much time in following after FOX, deciding to revisit Heroes.) There's a lot riding on Jack Bauer's shoulders here, on-screen and off.
The story officially starts at 11:06 AM, just to keep you on your toes. At the CIA's London office, SAC Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt, who seems essentially to be reprising his Rey Curtis role from Law & Order, just with a different name) is supervising an operation taking place in East London. The target they're looking for is none other than Jack, who makes short work of the entire team while Navarro and agent Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski) watch. Jack eventually surrenders to a bunch of other CIA agents who were apparently just hanging out not wanting to be the first people that Jack beat up. Kate thinks that Jack surrendered on purpose, but since she's just been demoted, her opinion is met with skepticism.
Elsewhere, now-President James Heller (William Devane) is watching a protest outside his hotel room regarding the use of drones. His team of advisors includes General Coburn (Keen Eddie's Colin Salmon) and his chief of staff slash son in law Mark Boudreau (Tate Donovan, playing the usual uptight jerk he's become known for). When Mark hears Jack's name from Navarro, he jumps immediately to nasty conclusions. Then again, if he's married to Audrey, he's probably aware of that whole horror story. He's still a jerk, just a jerk with more cause.
Jack is escorted into the CIA office by agent Erik Ritter (Gbenga Akinnagbe), her replacement and a guy who won't win any congeniality awards around the office. From Erik's conversation with Navarro, we learn Kate's husband Adam was busted for selling secrets to the Chinese. On the other end of the spectrum, tech agent Jordan Reed (Giles Matthey) is more sympathetic, and gives Kate an intercept that convinces her Jack wanted to be caught, just as Navarro steps into the interrogation room with our hero and tries to play the "good cop." The "bad cops," as it turns out, already have Chloe O'Brian strapped to a table and are doing some very horrible things with needles.
Mark gets to glance at page one of Jack's confirmed kill list before going to check on his wife. Audrey has vastly improved since we last saw her at the end of season six. Their conversation reveals that President Heller has an unnamed condition that she's concerned about, but he doesn't want her to worry. That means we should all worry. Staff aide Ron Clark (Ross McCall, White Collar) gives Mark an update on the Jack situation, and Mark orders him to investigate "clandestinely" the possibility of handing Jack over to the Russians, just moments before Audrey and her father catch up with them.
Back at the CIA, Navarro tries to bait Jack by offering him the chance to see Kim and his new second grandchild, but Jack remains silent. Kate then interrupts the interrogation to present Navarro with her new information, but he won't listen to her and orders her to be escorted out of the building immediately. "You ignore this and you're putting the entire building in danger," she warns. "Bauer is a violent criminal." It's sort of obvious that the show wants us to think of her as a would-be Jack, down to the part where no one in authority wants to hear a word she says. So it's no surprise when she tazes the guard walking her out, and calls Jordan to be her Chloe.
It's all too late, though. With a little outside help, Jack chokes out Ritter, forces the "bad cop" to take him to Chloe, and has to restart her heart before freeing her. Of course, Kate finds out moments later and thinks she's going to save the day by recapturing them, but Jack's new friends have firepower for that. Navarro is soon surveying the wreckage of a trashed CIA office, while Kate strong-arms him into allowing her onto the case. But the damage there is nothing compared to what happens when a drone goes rogue and targets a military convoy in Afghanistan.
Chloe returns to the home base of her new hacker group, where she's greeted by its leader Adrian Cross (Michael Wincott), who's also her boyfriend. Apparently Morris broke up with her again and took custody of their baby sometime in the last four years; so much for standing by his woman. Immediately after Chloe tells Cross who broke her out, Jack shows up uninvited, looking for a former teammate of Chloe's named Derek Yates. He reveals the real reason behind everything we've just seen: he uncovered intelligence regarding an assassination attempt on President Heller with Yates' name attached. Chloe agrees to help Jack, although she tells him, "If you wanted my help, you should've just asked."
We conveniently cut to Yates (Joseph Millson) holed up in a nondescript apartment; he's the guy who took control of the drone last hour, and he's working for Margot Al-Harazi (Michelle Fairley, fresh off playing another unscrupulous woman, Ava Hessington, on Suits). Their successful strike is bad news for President Heller, who's meeting with British Prime Minister Davies (the super-awesome Stephen Fry) to discuss a Very Important Treaty, while Mark finds out Jack has escaped, and Jack tells Chloe he's come out of hiding because he owes Heller and his family. "You mean Audrey," Chloe corrects, just before Cross gives Jack the last known location of one Derek Yates.
President Heller makes a reference to Ohio, which immediately makes us think of President Grant in Scandal before Mark admits he has no confidence in his father-in-law. Ouch. Mark wants Audrey to talk her father out of his plan to appeal directly to Parliament in hopes of saving the treaty, but she doesn't want to hear any of it. "All we have to do is get him through this trip," she insists, suggesting that Heller may not be President very much longer. He certainly won't be if Yates and Margot succeed at killing him.
As Jack and Chloe close on Yates' location, Kate pulls another answer out of her hat - this time, the data on their cell phones, which she got from a source in the Metropolitan Police. This puts the CIA agents in hot pursuit as Jack goes after Yates, having no qualms about going through a handful of the man's drug-dealing acquaintances first. They arrive just in time to let Yates and his girlfriend escape, then nearly get everyone shot by the surviving drug dealer. Way to go, Team America.
Tired of this nonsense, Jack knocks Kate unconscious and leaves her for Rittter to find, before Chloe picks him up in a stolen car. On the USB drive that Jack swiped from Yates' apartment, she finds drone schematics that confirm the evil master plan, but not before a self-destruct program wipes out almost everything she just saw. And it's not 24 until Jack says "Damn it!" somewhere. That happens just before the required last-minute (literally) plot twist - Yates getting killed in the bathroom by his previously unassuming girlfriend, in a really, really gross way to die. She's revealed as Simone (Emily Berrington), Margot's daughter. Terrorism runs in the family.
24: Live Another Day simultaneously feels like 24 and doesn't, if such a thing is possible. So many things we loved about the original series are back, from of course the trademark ticking clock and split-screen visuals, to Sean Callery's score, to top-notch action that so far includes multiple explosions and gun battles in the premiere alone. It's great to see Jon Cassar back behind the camera, because he's a fantastic director who maintains that 24 style he shepherded for so many years - if you're a hardcore fan you might have noticed some differences, because Cassar is working with several new crew members here, but for the most part this feels like an extension of the original series.
Kiefer Sutherland doesn't appear to have missed a beat in his portrayal of Jack Bauer; he really will always be associated with Jack, which might be one of the reasons Touch didn't work out. Having Mary Lynn Rajskub return as Chloe is a smart choice, too, because it gives the audience one person on Jack's side that we know and trust. (It'll be interesting to see if the show drops any more hints as to the status of other characters the way it did Kim Bauer tonight; then again, many of those characters we'd be curious about are dead now.) One also has to give props for the casting of Stephen Fry as the British Prime Minister; now let's hope the series gets real use out of him. But really, this show lives and dies by Jack Bauer, and as long as Jack is back, there's going to be something to enjoy. Between Sutherland's still excellent work and the fast-paced action set up by Cassar and company, it's an entertaining two hours.
Yet - perhaps because so much more great television has come on the air and gone since the original series began in 2001 - it's also hard to overlook a few flaws that exist in these opening two hours, particularly in characterization. Every character who isn't one of the existing regulars comes off as a stereotype, whether it's the boss who won't listen to their subordinates (Navarro), the tough-talking, by-the-book field agent (Ritter, who's like the poor man's Curtis Manning), or the narrow-minded bureaucrat (Mark). Maybe if you're a newcomer to this series, these seem more normal, but if you've watched enough 24 prior to this series, you've seen all these archetypes before.
The worst offender in the bunch is Kate Morgan; the show really, really wants us to see her as similar to Jack, down to scenes Jack has played out before, like trying to convince the boss that you're right and then being proven right, or going off on one's own to apprehend the bad guy, or being the one person to find the lead that breaks the case open. None of this, however, truly endears her to the audience, because we're not invested in who she is as an individual no matter how many gold stars the script gives her. Yvonne Strahovski is a fine actress, and probably on the short list of folks we would've had for a role like this. But her character is so far painfully obvious. It doesn't take a genius to know that she will eventually end up helping Jack save the day.
In fairness, however, 24 established itself early on as a chameleon of a show. Characters who seemed to be one-dimensional or not needed when first introduced would become complex or vital as the real narrative unfolded, like George Mason (Xander Berkeley), who began as a bureaucratic foil to Jack in season one and became one of the most interesting characters in season two, to name but one of many examples. It's entirely possible that some of these new characters could actually turn out to be compelling, but especially with only 12 instead of 24 episodes to develop them, they need to be fleshed out quickly for us to look at them as more than just stock players in the Jack Bauer story.
24 is known for being a great action-adventure series, but what really made it one of TV's best programs over its run was that underneath the explosions, shootouts and running gun battles, there was depth. Its plotlines weren't black and white, and covered so many things that legitimately hooked us, from the concerns of an African-American Senator running for President, to terrifying things like biological warfare. We cared about characters and lived each day with them. What hasn't emerged yet, and it's still early hours, is the part of the show that made us cry and kept us up at night. The action part of the show is here - now what we're looking for is what lies beneath. But if we know one thing about Jack Bauer, it's that he never disappoints.
24: Live Another Day continues next Monday at its regular time of 9 PM ET/PT on FOX. For more, you can check out our interview with executive producers Manny Coto and Evan Katz.