Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Review: Fox's 24: LIVE ANOTHER DAY

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

written by Evan Katz & Manny Coto (9.1) & Robert Cochran & David Fury (9.2) | directed by Jon Cassar

You may want a refund on your Complete Series box-set, because four years after the clock ran out on tenacious CTU agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), 24's been revived for the Wikileaks era. 24: Live Another Day (hereafter 24LAD) is a "limited event series" consisting of just 12 episodes, thus allowing the storyline to leapfrog the dead time that littered its usual 24-episode run. But the opportunity for the characters to have a meal and use the toilet isn't the only innovation 24LAD brings to the table; as the crew are shooting on the actual streets of London (marking the first time production's left Los Angeles, ignoring the Africa-set Redemption TVM).

Whether or not the above is reason enough to bring 24 out of mothballs is down to viewers, and these alterations certainly can't be accurately gauged a couple of episodes. The hope is that telling a 24 story over half as many episodes will naturally result in a tighter narrative, without the need for superfluous sub-plots marking time, or ridiculous ways to keep particular characters in a holding pattern. (Who will ever forget Jack's daughter Kim and the infamous cougar stand-off?)

In these opening few hours, Jack Bauer resurfaces in London four years after he went on the run after killing two Russian diplomats and threatening the life of the President. (How quickly people forget you stopping World War Three on a few occasions, and prevented the population of L.A dying from a super-virus). Unfortunately, a CIA black-site run by Agent Navarro (Benjamin Bratt) seize Jack and bring him in for questioning as a wanted fugitive, unaware they're mere pawns in his plan to spring old friend Chloe O'Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) from interrogation—so she can help him in protecting visiting President Heller (William Devane) from an assassination attempt on British soil.

If you're expecting the writers of 24 to reinvent the wheel with this miniseries, it feels like you're going to be disappointed. Despite the fact many of them transferred their skills to the award-winning cable drama Homeland ("the thinking man's 24"), these episodes didn't feel especially fresh or invigorating. There were token nods to current buzzwords in the world of espionage and global politics, like Chloe getting a Lisbeth Slander-style makeover as part of a a free information movement led by hacker Adrian Cross (Michael Wincott); or the fact a key part of the plot concerns unmanned drones and the public furore surrounding their use in Afghanistan. But by and large this is just a ninth season of 24, with a grimier suburban backdrop that feels more authentic than when sunny L.A had to double for New York City and Washington, D.C.

You know what you're getting with 24, so I can't complain that 24LAD felt more comforting rather than refreshing. I've always enjoyed this show (only hating the ridiculous sixth season), but it's best days will always be in the rear-view mirror—if only because the things that once made it unique in the TV landscape have almost become commonplace. Its DNA is sprinkled everywhere in pop-culture, so it made a lot of sense for the show to bow out in 2010, four years off its Emmy-winning fifth season apex.

The fact 24's back in business suggests the writers had a compelling story to tell (while Fox were happy to milk an established franchise into the summer), but it remains to be seen if 24LAD will justify its existence creatively. But, if nothing else, it's extraordinary for a US TV show to stage a comeback like this, with so much of the original cast and crew involved in key areas. This helps 24LAD feel like a genuine continuation of the original show (that suffered a strange four-year hiatus), rather than a well-meaning copycat that managed to lure Kiefer Sutherland back with a fat pay cheque.

As for the elements that make 24LAD its own beast, as usually it's the 'non-Jack' plots that have the chance to add colour to the story. It was good to see crumpled William Devane back as James Heller, now Commander-in-Chief, given the character's conflicted history with Jack Bauer (as both ally and enemy), and the idea Heller's battling with the onset of Alzheimer's gave these episodes a touch of humanity amidst the gunfire and explosions.

I really liked the scene where Mark Boudreau (Tate Donovan), the White House Chief of Staff, put Heller through a fake press conference that made it clear his failing memory is going to be a problem. The return of Jack's ex-girlfriend Audrey (Kim Raver) hasn't amounted to much yet, but it was nice to see her back on the show; and the fact she's now married to Boudreau (who hates Jack's guts) should lead to sparky character drama down the line.

The newest addition to the show is Kate Morgan (Dexter's Yvonne Strahovski), a recently widowed CIA operative whose husband committed suicide after being caught selling state secrets to the Chinese. Strahovski played a spook for five years on NBC spy-comedy Chuck, so while 24LAD's a very different show it's clear this background has come in handy. She always looks capable with a gun and as radiant as ever (swoon), but we'll see if there's a real character to play and not just an attractive girl with a token back-story. 24 does tend to just throw "types" at viewers, so far Kate Morgan isn't too far removed from previous 24 females Michelle Dessler or Renee Walker.

Overall, you can debate the pro's and con's of restarting 24's clock in the wake of the planned movie failing to happen, but these were an entertaining double-bill of episodes I enjoyed. I can't say I was on the edge of my seat like in the old days, and it's still sticking to its formula in the vague hope you've since forgotten its tricks, but the true challenge for 24LAD is ahead. If the writers don't take advantage of its two biggest assets (a real London to play in, less episodes to stress over filling with plot), then it'll be a real shame, but as a fan I'm giving 24LAD the benefit of the doubt.

  • Anyone else think it's slightly odd Yvonne Strahovski's playing a character called Kate Morgan, considering the prominence of that surname on Chuck? Or that her female predecessor on the show had the surname Walker, which was her character's surname on Chuck? Is someone working on 24 a big fan of Chuck?
  • Lots of familiar faces appeared in these two episodes: Michelle Fairley (Game of Thrones) as the villain Margot, "that guy" actor Colin Salmon (Arrow) as General Coburn, rising star John Boyega (Attack the Block) as a drone pilot framed for firing on his own people (who's also just been cast in the new Star Wars film), gravel-voiced character actor Michael Wincott (The Crow), and Stephen Fry (QI) as Prime Minister Alastair Davies. The latter's presence did feel a little strange to me, as I associate Fry with comedy far more than I do drama, but I assume the incongruity of seeing him in 24 isn't as strong in the US.
Fox, Mondays; Sky1, Wednesdays