When 24 first began, all the way back in 2001, the real-time format was a huge departure from the televisual norm. The format ushered in an era of binge-viewing and Hollywood-worthy set pieces. The plots were ridiculous. The characters were cliched. The dialogue was hammy. But the clock kept counting down during every ad break, daring you to keep watching – because it felt like literally anything could happen in a single second. No matter how silly.
Fast forward to 2014, when video on-demand is increasingly popular – a format with no ads that renders Jack’s 24 hour days in a slightly-less-convincing 18. Can Bauer still run like clockwork? Or is his time up?
Live Another Day seems to acknowledge that things have changed by making two changes itself: the location is switched to London and the number of episodes is halved to 12. Everything else, though, feels much the same.
Kiefer Sutherland returns as Jack, older, angrier and grizzlier than ever. His sudden reappearance after years in hiding (following his attempt to kill the US President – see our Season 8 recap) is emphasised by his choice of attire: a hoodie, which suggests Jack’s spent his time attending the Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol school of going rogue.
The reason for his being in London soon turns out to be linked to Chloe “Damnit” O’Brian. CTU’s brightest and best is now an underground hacker in a Wikileaks-like movement, a nod to the current political landscape and an excuse for a Lisbeth Salander-style makeover.
“I have no friends,” growls Jack, almost sadly, at his expressionless Serbian sidekick, before teaming up with his old colleague. How much is he using people? How much can we really trust him? Well, that depends on your knowledge of his past.
London’s CIA branch know everything, of course, and automatically presume that he’s there to bump off President James Heller. Except for one agent, Kate Morgan, who is clearly marked out as Bauer 2.0 when she locks her supervisors out of an interrogation room to have a one-on-one with Jack herself. Yvonne Strahovski shouts and shoots like she’s been in 24 for years, so it’s no surprise that her theories are soon proven correct; Jack isn’t the bad guy at all.
So far, so typical.
The familiar pace of 24’s twisting plots keeps things ticking along nicely, from a shootout in a council estate – “the projects, as you’d call it” – to a hideout from a sinister hacker in a backstreet pub – manned by a cockney landlord. The new locations actually add a hint of realism to the show, which features a shot of Trafalgar Square but swaps cliches such as red phone boxes for a grimy chase through East London’s markets.
But make no mistake: even though the setting has shifted, this is still a cheese fest. Now it’s just an international one with cheddar on the menu, served by a bumbling Stephen Fry as the PM and Game of Thrones’ Michelle Fairley as a posh villainess.
The inclusion of Audrey, for example, makes it clear that 24 has no intention of starting over. Let us not forget that Jack’s former flame was last seen in Season 6, after Bauer had romanced her and had his life saved by her husband, only to stop surgery on the man’s bullet wounds to treat a suspect instead, causing him to die and Audrey to be kidnapped by revenge-hungry Chinese terrorists, who left her catatonic and him trying to rehabilitate her into CTU. Ridiculous doesn’t begin to cover it.
So when Jack learns of the danger Audrey’s dad is in, he’s not just going rogue on foreign soil; he’s checking into Heathrow airport with all of that stupid, stupid baggage with him. The premise may have been updated – drones get a mention, piloted by an falsely-accused John Boyega – and the hours shorted, but this is the same old series that thrilled back in 2001. On Sky 1, with adverts, it even works in real-time again.
The adverts across London scream “Jack is Back”. The plots are ridiculous. The characters are cliched. The dialogue is hammy. But that clock keeps counting down during every ad break. And, just for one hour, it feels like literally anything could happen. Jack’s back. And it’s not a moment too soon.
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