This is a spoiler-free review.
24, but not as we know it. That’s how FOX is selling 24: Legacy, the new incarnation of everyone’s favourite all-American all-the-time all-in-real-time actioner. Gone is Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer, presumably because after nine seasons of staying awake 24/7 and never going to the toilet, he’s in hospital with some serious sleep deprivation and bladder issues. In his place? Corey Hawkins. Can 24 still work with a different star? Legacy’s first episode answers with a promising “yes”.
Hawkins plays our new lead hero, Eric Carter, a US Army Sergeant who has since returned home from a covert mission in which he killed Nasty Foreign Man Ibrahim Bin Khalid. In witness protection with his wife, Nicole, he’s trying to get on with his normal American life. But it’s not long until the Nasty Foreign Man’s Nasty Foreign Friends decide to come after him for revenge – and so he finds himself on the run, like the rest of his fellow Rangers.
Who you gonna call when there are Nasty Foreign Men trying to kill you? Why, CTU, of course, and so the connection between 24’s long-standing institution and its new protagonist is forged. It’s only a matter of time, you suspect, until he works with them to foil a terror attack, saves the day and presumably ends up signing on with them as their new top agent.
Nothing, then, has changed all that much in this new iteration of the franchise. Sadly, that’s true in terms of its villains, which mostly come from the Nasty Muslim Men school of terrorism – one in which sleeper cells are everywhere on home soil. Given the current world climate, it would be nice if 24 varied things up a bit, although it has, over its many years, admittedly given us bad guys from all manner of nations and groups. Perhaps the timing is just unfortunate, or perhaps the series will eventually deliver a more interesting twist on the same-old starting point. What does appear to have changed, though, is the way in which the series presents torture. Where previous seasons have had a dubiously positive perspective on the idea of inflicting pain to foreigners to make America safe again, 24: Legacy effectively begins with our hero on the run, being subject to torture and interrogations himself, something that positions him as the one who’s on the back foot. When Carter retaliates, he does so to safe his life, not to get answers – the same motivation behind Nicole’s actions, as she also gets a welcome chance to be involved in the fray.
The staff on the government side of things has also undergone a switch, with Miranda Otto playing Rebecca Ingram, a former CTU operative now trying to jump into politics, supporting her ambitious senator husband, John Donovan (Jimmy Smits). Dragged back into espionage by Carter’s complicated situation, she and a token tech expert are swiftly established as our loyal people on the inside – because, of course, they can’t trust anyone else in the organisation.
Moles, rogue agents, and personal lives being disrupted by political crises? This opening hour ticks all the boxes fans could want. That will be enough for some, and with good reason. The weaker parts of the premise – Carter’s estranged older brother, Isaac, with his dodgy street connections, and his old buddy, Ben, who is more plot device than human – have another 11 episodes to be fleshed out into more compelling, less stereotypical supporting characters. And if the show has taught us anything over the years, it’s that a lot can happen in one hour. That’s still true here, with this 12-1pm segment stuffed with events and oh-so-dramatic conversations. The pacing is the key, whipping the audience along before they have time to think, question or doubt what’s in front of them – a technique that, even after nine seasons, is just as effective as ever.
Hawkins, for his part, is an immediately charismatic presence, bringing with him a convincing amount of barely-concealed PTSD and rage. Younger, leaner and more than capable of holding his own in an excellent climactic action sequence, he’s a very welcome change to Sutherland’s Bauer. But the clue to this escapist entertainment is in the title: the real star of 24 never was Jack, but that ticking clock, driving the narrative forwards at a ridiculous, but undeniably gripping, speed. One hour into Carter’s day and Legacy is 24, mostly as we know it. And that’s no bad thing.
24: Legacy is available to buy and download as a box set on pay-per-view VOD.