Saturday, 10 January 2009

Second, Minute or Bauer - The Return of 24

After a two year break, a show that has had every superlative out there thrown at it over the years is returning to our screens…

…No, I’m not talking about ‘Celebrity Big Brother’, or The Coolio Show as it should be renamed, I’m referring to relentless, real-time, Emmy-bogarting ‘24’, which after a writer’s strike induced hibernation last winter, returns bigger and badder than ever this Monday.

Jack Bauer’s return will be like welcoming back an old friend, his recent little jaunt to Africa definitely showed flickers of the old Bauer magic, even if ‘24: Redemption’ was overlong and for the most part; pretty boring.

We’ve literally spent almost a whole week of our lives watching this man’s ups and downs (mostly downs) in some kind of pervy voyeuristic style. And it’s safe to say that Jack Bauer has done some serious living, he’s squeezed more into 6 days or 144 hours/episodes than most people would in a lifetime; we’ve seen him lose his wife to a murderous co-worker, become a heroin addict, ‘die’ at least twice, torture countless people and display a canny skill for not needing to eat, sleep, drink or urinate for a whole day.

Bauer’s appeal lies squarely at Kiefer Sutherland’s feet, sure it’s impossible now to imagine anyone else playing Bauer, but I firmly believe that Sutherland took Jack Bauer and made him the cult hero he is today right from the start, I often wonder how much of Bauer is actually Sutherland. Just imagine if some other 80’s washed up brat-packer had been offered the role of Jack Bauer; you think ‘24’ would be as popular as it is with Judd Nelson as Jack Bauer? What about Emilio Estevez? Or Molly Ringwald?

I personally think a show centred around Kiefer Sutherland’s personal life would be a bigger hit than ‘24’ is, the guy comes across so humble and well-spoken in interviews and then you hear stories about his drinking and see videos of him dropping his pants in the middle of a bar or fighting a Christmas tree and you just think, “is that the same person?”

Sutherland’s eccentricities make Jack Bauer seem like a down-to-earth, emotionally stable, well-rounded guy and this is a man who will torture a man using nothing more than some tin foil and a smoked Salmon. Bauer has rightfully been the resurrection of Kiefer’s career but since 24 his film work has been patchy to say the least; ‘Taking Lives’ took liberties with it’s audience’s attention spans, ‘The Sentinel’ saw Sutherland play the antithesis of Jack Bauer as a by the books special agent, while sugar daddy Michael Douglas got to run around, well I say run, it was more like a light jog, breaking rules Bauer style and I wonder if his most recent effort ‘Mirrors’ took it’s name because it’s quite clearly a poor man’s ‘The Ring’.

So although Jack Bauer may have been the resuscitation of Kiefer Sutherland’s career it could also be it’s death, as no one wants to see him playing a security guard who gets scared by some mirrors anymore, they want to see him shooting terrorists and shouting “Damn it, Chloe” down the phone at least twice an episode and anything else just ain’t gonna cut it.

But ‘24’ is not just the Jack Bauer show, the writing for the most part is sharp and very rarely do the writers make a mis-step with a storyline that isn’t in-keeping with the show’s breakneck pace. Add to the mix the consistently good casting choices, even casting an ex-Goonie as a Government agent didn’t hurt the show, and the still unrivalled real-time, split screen aspect of the show and you have the recipe for one of the best shows of the 21st century and arguably the best serialised show not on HBO.

‘24’ was the pioneer of the now commonplace serialised continuous drama on primetime; and while the likes of ‘Prison Break’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Lost’ have struggled to maintain their promise after spectacular first season debuts, ‘24’ has continued to thrill. Sure there are those out there who’d argue that the magic of that first season has never been emulated, and let’s be honest if they were to take their case to court, they’d have plenty of evidence; Kim and the Cougar, Behrooz and his creepy family in season 4, Jack’s family last season and of course who can forget the travesty of Tony being killed… Or was he?

That’s right, Everyone’s favourite Chicago Cubs fan Tony Almeida is back for season 7. The lack of silent clock for him after his ‘death’ fuelled speculation immediately that he wasn’t actually dead and now the producers have pulled the trigger on that exact storyline, with Almeida back from the ‘grave’ for the new season, those close to the show are assuring fans that this back from the dead storyline won’t wear out the already pretty weak suspension of disbelief that viewers need to watch this show already, but do we really care about the ‘how’, Tony’s back, and that’s good enough for me.

Almeida looks set to be the series villain judging by trailers, but I can’t help but feel that he’s going to come good in the end and help Jack go after Jon Voight’s big baddie – that’s what the die hards want to see anyway.

If they don’t go down the predictable route and they actually keep Tony evil, there’s going to be some serious opposition to Bauer this series, because, and I’m going out on a limb here, while casual viewers may think Jack Bauer is the coolest guy on TV, true ‘24’ fans know that Tony Almeida is the true heart and soul of the show and no one can tell a story with a lingering look like Carlos Bernard.

After the break last year, like many other fans, I’m expecting big things from this series of 24, so can it deliver?

Season 6 was by no means vintage, and a lot of fans let the producers know just that, and it looks like they listened; bringing back Tony is a sure sign that they want to give the fans what they want this time around. Having read snippets of what is in store for the first episode it sounds very much like, ‘24’ won’t be going down the soap opera route they meandered down last year with Jack’s family all showing up and that whole “is his nephew actually his son” subtext they seemed to be trying to set up.

I’m a little disappointed with Sky1’s decision to stick it on Monday nights this year to be honest, it reminds me of when they first got hold of ‘24’ from the BBC and bizarrely sent it out on a Thursday, Sunday night is traditionally ‘24’ night, but at least we’re only going to be a week behind America this time around.

Whatever season 7 of ‘24’ has in it’s Jack-pack for us, it’s just good to have Jack Bauer back on our screens, and come Monday night (Sunday in the States) all the speculation will stop and we’ll finally get season 7 of ‘24’ stuffed in our tele box, and while it might be a year late, for a show with such a heavy emphasis on ‘time’ I suppose it’s better late than never…


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