24: Live Another Day Advance Review

Every year around this time, network executives prance in front of advertisers and television critics to showcase their wares for the upcoming year. It’s mostly a dance for ad money, but it also gives the world at large a chance to look at some vague trailers for the shows about to hit their dial. With the television year continuing to expand with shorter run series and more summer programming, the demand for the next big thing continues to swell. In response, network executives have been left mostly grasping at air as they continue to fall. Despite their increasing failure rate, shows continue to take big swings on big concepts, big names, and big reboots (Sorry NBC: You have good examples of all three).

Instead of making a splash, networks are mostly making thuds. In 2014, it’s increasingly difficult to get shows off the ground. In an ever-fracturing TV environment, it becomes harder and harder to convince the viewing public to invest in your new product. Big ideas don’t get time to develop, and big names don’t get the opportunity to learn on their new job. If you don’t have a reason for people to need to come back inside of 22 minutes, you’re done. Therefore, it stands to reason a network’s biggest asset in 2014 may not be a big name or a big idea. Instead, the biggest asset to have in 2014 may be big properties.

Tonight, Fox trots out one of its biggest properties with the return of 24 (now titled 24: Live Another Day) for a limited run of 12 episodes. People may remember the show as one that stumbled to the finish, but it’s important to remember that 24 didn’t leave our lives because the ratings were bad. Even in the final season, the show was still catching plenty of eyeballs. Instead, the show was ended because it was time for it to go. It was too expensive, and the show had milked everything it could out of a series where each season plays out over a single, 24 hour period. The show may have become stale creatively, but most people in America didn’t seem to mind. While we were unaware we needed more 24 in our lives, a general polling of the zeitgeist shows people more than happy to watch Jack Bauer do some more Jack Bauer things. For example, when I texted my brother that he needed to watch the return of 24, he responded “Should I continue to breathe also?” (In case he’s reading this column, yes Scott, yes you should.)

While Jack is returning, he’s not returning in his usual capacity. With only 12 episodes to play with, we won’t be watching the entirety of Jack’s day (I assume they freed up some hours for him to take a nap). Instead, the show will experience time jumps in between episodes. It should free up the show to play around a bit with its characters and take things a notch backwards on the ridiculous scale.

If you’re worried that too much will change in the new format, let me assuage your fears. The two episodes that air tonight feel very much like a return to the world of 24. Yes, we’re four years into the future, but Jack Bauer appears to have not aged a day while spending his entire life on the run from all of the authorities. Kiefer Sutherland still knows how to play Bauer, and his performance possesses that familiar, hot-burning intensity. As we work through the usual exposition to help identify ourselves in the new world, Jack doesn’t speak. He doesn’t need to speak. The performance and his presence are that iconic. Even the first time he speaks consists of the line “You know who I am”. The show knows exactly what it has, and it plays to it very well in the first two hours.

The pieces surrounding Jack are the usual mix of meh. Chloe’s back as Edward Snowden-lite, and she’s every bit as mousy as you remember. Benjamin Bratt plays the competent head of CIA Operations who I’m sure will find a way to be disgraced or blown up. Yvonne Strahovski’s particular skills are not a great fit with the world of 24, but she does a good job of acclimating as best she can. Michelle Fairley pops up briefly in the first two hours. We’re not sure if she has plans to move on King’s Landing, but she’s a competent presence in the series. Most of the other parts of the cast do a good job of saying all the key buzz words to help you know the show knows what’s going on in 2014.

Ultimately, the particulars of 24‘s new normal don’t really matter. All that matters is Jack is back. For the first two hours, it feels like he never left.

24: Live Another Day premieres May 5th at 8pm on FOX.