Saturday, 11 May 2013

Should 24 restart its clock?

Saturday, 11 May 2013
In the wake of Fox axing Touch after two seasons (the sci-fi drama starring Kiefer Sutherland as the father of an autistic boy who can predict the future), it appears the network's offering Sutherland the opportunity to reprise his role of super-agent Jack Bauer in a ninth season of 24, which was cancelled in 2010.

Original executive producer Howard Gordon is apparently on-board (having posited the idea of a return to Fox), along with fellow exec/writer David Fury. Talks are very early, but it appears to hinge on Sutherland agreeing to return to his most famous role, in light of 24 failing to make the hoped-for transfer to cinema. The reasons for that have been a mix of unsuccessful scripts, together with difficulty working around Sutherland's work schedule. Well, the latter isn't a problem now, but maybe those script issues were bigger than we thought. Did the writers struggle to create something that would work as a satisfying two-hour movie, bearing in mind the unique aspect of 24 was its "real time" format?

Interestingly, the plan for '24 redux' is to have it return as a "limited event series" of 12 episodes. Naturally that suggests 24 will have to alter its "real time" format: either telling a 12-hour story (and only keeping the 24 title for brand recognition), or perhaps stretching the show's signature gimmick by having each hour-long episode tell two-hour's worth of plot?

I also have to wonder why Gordon's so keen to resurrect 24 after three years. He doesn't need the money or additional workload. Maybe the success of Showtime's Homeland (which Gordon produces) has given him a cool idea about how to retool 24 for today's audience? The original was forged in the George W. era; almost as a right-wing fantasy response to 9/11. On a pop-cultural level, we needed the ruthless Jack Bauer on our screens as the threat of global terrorism dominated the headlines. He was our poster boy in the same way Rambo was in the 1980s, but has he outstayed his usefulness? The last few seasons of 24 felt oddly out of step with Obama-style politics, which is perhaps why something more cerebral like Homeland came along to replace it (an Emmy-winning drama full of erstwhile 24 crew).

So maybe this new 24 will be a touch more realistic post-Homeland? Then again, part of the show's appeal was its sense of preposterousness and anything-goes surprises. This was the first drama I recall detonating a nuclear bomb on US soil... twice. Would fans enjoy a version of 24 closer to the comparatively sedate first season nowadays? It's hard to gauge.

As a passionate fan of 24 from the moment it arrived (it famously became a UK phenomenon before US audiences started to take notice), I can't deny I'm excited by the idea of Jack Bauer making a return. The show ended with Jack on the run from the government, so purely as an unresolved cliffhanger it would be nice to continue the story.

24 gave me too many weekly thrills for me to feel unhappy about its potential return... and yet, we all know the show began to devour itself. Is there a way to keep 24 going without once again recycling its tropes and clich├ęs, like the infamous number of 'moles' who keep managing to gain employment in a counter-terrorism agency? Are there any storylines and threats 24 didn't cover over 192 episodes, after so many variations on poison gas, killer viruses, and suitcase nukes? I have serious doubts.

I'd actually still prefer to see 24: The Movie, but I have a feeling 20th Century Fox think the moment has passed. They failed to strike while the iron was hot in 2011, so it's more likely to flop the longer they leave it. However, they apparently won't be retooling the aborted movie's script for use in this "event series", but will start again from scratch with a fresh story.

Maybe the issue is that 24's uniqueness always came from its narrative format (ideal for TV, perfect for DVD box-set), and you simply can't translate that to the big-screen without it being... well, Olympus Has Fallen (ironically directed by Antoine Fuqau, who was attached to direct the 24 film before he left the project, and a movie that used the 'White House under siege' plot from 24's seventh season).