Time has passed since Season 7. Jack Bauer’s stem cell treatment at the hands of Kim Bauer has been successful, and he’s living in New York fully recovered. Kim Bauer, her husband, and their daughter Teri have come out to visit from Los Angeles, and Jack makes a decision to move back home with them. In global news, President Allison Taylor and President Omar Hassan of the Islamic Republic of Kamistan (which I suspect is a fictional country) are thiiis close to signing a historic peace treaty.
But as always, **** is beginning to go down. Victor, a once informant for Jack, has some vital information, and finds himself under attack. Showing up at his apartment, Victor derails Jack’s plans to get on a plane with his family when he makes a personal appeal… his safety for the information. What does he know? There is an impending hit on President Hassan’s life, one that threatens to undermine everything the United Nations has been working towards. Jack makes a call to Chloe at CTU at his behest, but finds himself having to transport Victor several blocks to a helicopter pad.
On the way, Victor starts succumbing to a previous gunshot wound, and two of the attackers track them down. Jack fights them off and makes it to the rooftop, and prepares to leave CTU to deal with the situation. That’s when a rocket powered grenade blows CTU’s transport copter to hell, leaving Victor just barely alive enough to divulge one piece of information… there’s an insider close to President Hassan…
So I want to start by saying that after watching these first four hours, it’s looking like Renee Walker is going to carry this season for me. …What? I’m reviewing Episode 1? But she’s not in it until Episode 4. …Well, all right then.
I have to admit, I’ve had a pretty strong premonition of doom about Season 8. Some of it baseless, related to the “Even Season” curse, the fourth return to dealings with the Middle East (and now nukes), and of course, the reported lack of Tony. But mostly, I’ve been listening to the chatter about the new season since May, and while there was a lot of positive buzz leading up Season 7, that wasn’t the case this time. All comments from the producers I heard were related to how difficult it is to come up with new stories, and how Season 8 could and should be the final season of the series. Everyone seemed to be avoiding the question of just how good the show was going to be this year. Gulp.
Having seen the first four episodes now, with the exception of a few pleasant surprises, my expectations have been met: serviceable, but not special.
It’s a nice idea, having a vital peace treaty at stake rather than a threat of a nuclear strike (that might come later). And it’s good to have Jack in a place where he actually is happy and has something to lose (although tradition dictates he’ll be back into the swing of things by Episode 6). But even with something different at stake, at least in the first four episodes, the feel of the story is the same as ever. All the old 24 tropes are in place and there’s a heavy air of predictability. I can’t be sure, since we’ve been seeing that promo since November, but I’m fairly certain I would have predicted that an R.P.G. would take out Jack’s witness just as he got onto the copter, leaving him just enough time to divulge enough exposition to advance the story, but not enough to resolve it instantly. No matter how slickly shot and well acted this stuff is (and it is), nothing can disguise how repetitive it’s getting.
Sometimes a great cast can more than make up for a tired story, as seen by last season’s near perfect mix of old favorites and engaging newbies. Unfortunately, that’s a problem too. It’s not a coincidence that my two favorite seasons, 2 and 5, were the ones that kept virtually the entire cast from the previous year around, the personal investment was already there and we could jump right into the show. But this is the third straight season in which the majority of the cast are new players. I’m already a bit daunted at the idea of having to try and care about them, given that Season 8 could be the last. And even if there’s a Season 9, what are the odds that most of these new guys will carry over?
With the near lack of familiar faces, it’s on Kiefer Sutherland more so than ever to carry the show. I don’t think it even has to be said by now, but he could play the role in his sleep by this point. Thankfully he’s not on autopilot, and he sells Jack’s newfound sense of true peace and his brief (in his mind) return to field work well. And there’s the obligatory “OMG BAUER POWER!” moment when he makes good use of a fire axe and a great big stairwell. So long as they keep moments like those coming, the show will never totally lose its entertainment value.
The best of the bunch of new characters is Anil Kapoor’s President Omar. I’m going to have to restrain myself from talking about that guy’s giant hair, I’m so obsessed with it that I can barely pay attention to his scenes. But since he’s the man at stake for these first four episodes, he must arrive on the scene as someone who is easy to like, and Kapoor has no problem with that. Also set in motion are a number of potentially intriguing family dynamics with his wife, daughter, and brother. Although the mole in the UN is quickly revealed, I’m still keeping an eye on the First Lady… I expect we’ll learn there’s more to her.
On the American side of the political arena, President Taylor is back. It’s nice just to have Cherry Jones around, but she feels like a supporting character in these four episodes, which I think is a shame considering she emerged as one of last season’s best and most prominent new characters. Her new Chief of Staff, Rob Weiss, has a minor role as well, he’s established as someone a little blunt and hard edged, but there isn’t much beyond that. And I wound up liking Ethan by the end of the last season, so between the pill popping and Bob Gunton being in the guest cast, I’m concerned for him. He does survive the first four hours though, which was more than I was expecting.
The new cast at CTU makes kind of a mixed impression as well. Continuing the new tradition of bosses with on-the-nose names, Brian Hastings is the CTU director who wants everything to be done much faster. Regarding “Dana Walsh,” I haven’t seen Battlestar Galactica yet, but Katee Sackhoff’s reputation precedes itself. She’s clearly a really good actress, but there’s been some grunts of annoyance with her subplot so far, and justifiably so. And finally we get Arlo Glass, and despite a memorable introduction, he doesn’t make too much of an impression. He does contribute to the funniest moment of the hour though, when he earns looks of disbelief from the other CTU leads when he asks who Jack Bauer is. Hee. Frankly, it would have been unrealistic if the whole world DIDN’T know who he was by this point.
Surpassing my expectations in this premiere: Chloe O’Brian, Freddie Prinze Jr, and the new CTU set. In order:
For reasons related to misguided attempts to tone down the character and/or outside circumstances, every Chloe reappearance since Season 5 has felt like a diminishing return. There wasn’t much reason to believe her return to the CTU fold in Season 8 would yield anything special, but seeing her out of her element in the ultra futuristic setting is a brilliant move. It allows her to get believably frustrated (especially with Dana patronizing her), and that means the return of her snippy side without reneging on her development over the years. And I love that she and Jack actually seem to have maintained a friendship between seasons for once.
Like everyone, I said “Freddie Prinze Jr? Why?” when I heard the announcement he’d be on the show. But 24 has made some unorthodox casting choices in the past, and they almost always pan out, so I was fine with giving him a chance here. And sure enough, he’s better than I’ve ever seen him in the show, playing a character that strongly resembles a more likable version of Chase Edmunds.
And I hadn’t seen the CTU set outside of pixel-y handheld videos from Comic Con, and seeing it in all its glory here… Holy ****. Taxpayer money at work… Sure, the FBI offices were a much more realistic depiction of a government office, a place where people aren’t distracted by curving post modern walls and cubicles that glow for no reason. But CTU 2.0 is pure eye candy, and I love it. My only disappointment, no giant oil painting of Bill Buchanan to inspire the workers (the three people who remember that reference… you’re welcome).
But again, my problem is related to the lack of a good hook. I’ve come to believe that the 24 Formula was been taken about as far as it could possibly go, somewhere in Year 4 or 5, and if they don’t want to change the type of story, variables that are fresh and easy for the audience to sink their teeth into must constantly be plugged in. For example, last season was business as usual made compelling because questions of Tony’s revival and loyalty were bouncing around. And before that story could play itself out, the writers were smart enough to introduce some other great elements unique to Season 7 to give it its own flavor.
In comparison, look at Season 6. Like Season 8, it didn’t have a hook on the level of Palmer being assassinated or Tony being a terrorist, it just promised some chillingly depicted widespread violence. And when that couldn’t sustain itself past the first four episodes, and the show went back to same ole same ole, displeasure set in and the rest is history. I don’t expect Season 8 to repeat the writing mistakes of that year, because they’ve had so much pre-production time to iron out any serious kinks, but I’m a little skeptical that they’ll be able to bring too much that’s new to the table. Certainly, the first four episodes don’t offer much evidence of that.
Tony’s not in the season, and I guess we’re just gonna have to deal with it. But it just wouldn’t be right if we didn’t invoke the guy whenever possible. So here’s a new feature we’ll all be doing called “What Would Tony Do?” wherein things from the episodes remind us of Tony and we ponder/lament that he’s not in the season.
Right now, Tony is not amused that there is not ONE MENTION of him in the entire first episode. We’ve got all that awful exposition between Allison and Ethan scene in which we’re brought up to speed on Henry and Olivia. We couldn’t have had one awkward line shoehorned in about Tony being in jail or something?
In the latter years of the show, the four hour premiere is typically equal to or better than what’s to come in the rest of the season, so it’s a little discouraging that this one was less than spectacular. But remember that I still like and will watch theshow to the end, and if there’s a downbeat tone to this summary, it’s only because 24 is capable of being so much better than a
7.5/10. 24 baby, I hit yah cuz I love yah, we both know that, right?