Loading...

24/Six 

Our Jack of all terrorist trades returns

Wednesday, Jan 10 2007
Comments

Traditional action-hero movies seem more and more to be a thing of the multiplex past, with studios not even bothering to replace Ford, Eastwood, Schwarzenegger and Willis. No wonder Sunday’s arrival of Kiefer Sutherland as terrorist vanquisher Jack Bauer feels momentous, like the end of a drought.

When 24 was legendarily unleashed back in the fall of 2001 as a presciently timed weekly hit of danger right after September 11, its zigzag-thriller immediacy felt fresh and new. At the same time, the storytelling chops needed to sustain a real-time, save-the-day conceit weren’t as sharp as they should have been. The show often felt undercooked and disorganized, even accepting the inherent silliness of that much shit happening to one secret agent. But something started to click a few seasons ago, when the creators figured out that a grand, season-worthy hazard like a potential nuke explosion could be the frame for several smaller, fire-dowsing storylines — find this or that bad guy, clear Jack’s name, get some crucial piece of information — that could resolve themselves after only a few episodes. And, most crucially, within those subplots, there are one-episode micro-adventures — will they get to that warehouse in Glendale in time? — that are like the adventure equivalent of Russian nesting dolls. (Note how many times on 24 you’ll hear someone say, “I’ll get it to you within the hour” or “It should only take you 30 minutes.” It’s not only viewer code for “We’ll give you a satisfying ending for sure this episode,” but also a funny in-joke for Angelenos about the time we always think it takes to get from point A to point B in our homey sprawl.)

Coupled with the fourth-year decision to launch seasons in January with multihour blastoffs, followed by fresh explosions, bullet play, showdowns and torture every week, the effect has been of a show successfully maturing even as it instills a genuine childlike sense of excitement among its viewers. Last year was the series’ best season yet, from the juicy helpings of betrayal, derring-do and character-killing shock to the memorable characterizations of schemers in power (Gregory Itzin’s weaselly president), allegiance-shifting mysteriosos (Peter Weller’s brutal businessman) and unlikely heroes (Jean Smart’s neurotic first lady). While a serialized TV cousin like Lost too often seems held captive by its devotion to back-story drama at the expense of forward motion, 24 has become the sleekest, sharpest freight train in prime time, its exploitative qualities addictive, its fantasy pungent, until its flaws (emotional thinness, CTU boss incompetence, cell phone exposition) weirdly become its guilty-pleasure virtues.

Where does that leave Season 6, then, when the show has stemmed major disasters for five years running and its intensity level of choice is 11? As well-oiled as before, actually, and, judging from the four hours airing over Sunday and Monday, unafraid of edging its parallel-universe America ever closer toward a world war nightmare of mass hysteria. While Jack Bauer has been a prisoner of the Chinese in the nearly two years that have transpired since last we saw him — his back a Jackson Pollock array of scars — terrorists have started a campaign of bombings in different American cities, with death tolls reaching nearly 1,000. The populace, naturally, is nervy and suspicious. (The first scene is a young Middle Eastern–looking man who can’t convince a xenophobic bus driver to let him on after the doors have closed.)

What is to be done? This year’s president is Wayne Palmer (D.B. Woodside), brother to the assassinated commander in chief from earlier seasons, David Palmer — and his team in the Oval Office is involved in intense debate (ah, the unreality of TV) over retaliation, especially the establishment of concentration camps — or “detention centers,” as Peter MacNicol’s White House official prefers to call them — for Muslim Americans. MacNicol is shaping up to be the best new casting decision so far — and that includes the solid additions of Regina King and Harry J. Lennix — because unlike the tendency of 24 actors to start sounding alike when they discuss imminent terror, he delivers nearly every hawkish, Constitution-shredding opinion with a hilarious weariness. He’s the dangerously bored apparatchik it’s easy to imagine really exists in the corridors of power.

Elsewhere, because 24 also likes to throw in everyday folk whose lives are touched by the day’s crises, we see the effect of the country’s mood on a young suburban Muslim named Ahmed (Kal Penn), whose father is suddenly arrested by the authorities, and who begins to encounter vigilante brutishness from neighbors down the road. Will the family across the street come to his rescue? And then, of course, there’s CTU, that hotbed of clacking keyboards, grid-controlling masterminds and inopportunely timed office politics. It’s where we are reunited with — yes! — beloved scowling analyst Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub), whose snarling impatience with rules and lesser-thans may be more iconically powerful with 24 fans than Jack Bauer’s whispery machismo. Having survived more workplace upheaval than a grunt on the frontlines, she now sports a grown-out brunette do, management-style clothes, more control-room responsibility and a protective, equally arrogant boyfriend/underling who calls her a “hottie” and grabs her ass. Love your new power, Chloe, but please don’t get distracted by boy problems when the world’s going to need every furrowed brow and deft touch with satellite uplinks you can muster over the next day! (I worry, that’s all.) There’ll be time to rest 23 hours from now.

As for Jack, of course he finds his way back into the thick of things: defying expectations, pissing off superiors. And there’s a determinedly delivered “Put me through to the president” in your future, viewers. Sutherland, who has become as expert at communicating pain as Harrison Ford, as adept at mumbly resolve as Eastwood and Willis, and as believably unstoppable as Schwarzenegger, is also comfortable enough in his career-defining role that he even takes a few chances with some cracks in our hero’s armor. We get hints of deep shame, an unexpected lack of nerve interrogating a suspect and, in one scene, a teary breakdown — all of which do their part in keeping Jack human in times that call for the superhuman. During one moment of weakness, though, Jack mutters, “I don’t know how to do this anymore.” Yikes. If Jack of all people needs a pep talk, we’re in bigger trouble than I thought.

24 | FOX | Four-hour season premiere Sun., Jan. 14, 8-10 p.m. & Mon., Jan. 15, 8-10 p.m. | Regular-season airtime Mon., 9 p.m.

Related Content

Now Showing

  1. Wed 20
  2. Thu 21
  3. Fri 22
  4. Sat 23
  5. Sun 24
  6. Mon 25
  7. Tue 26

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office Report

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!

Slideshows

  • 20 Neo-Noir Films You Have to See
    The Voice's J. Hoberman was more mixed than most on Sin City when he reviewed it in 2005, but his description of the film as "hyper-noir" helps explain why this week's release of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For has us thinking back on the neo-noir genre. Broadly speaking, neo-noir encompasses those films made outside of film noir's classic period -- the 1940s and '50s -- that nevertheless engage with the standard trappings of the genre. As with most generic labels, there isn't some universal yardstick that measures what constitutes a neo-noir film: Where the genre might begin in the '60s with films like Le Samourai and Point Blank for one person, another might argue that the genre didn't find its roots until 1974's Chinatown. Our list falls closer to the latter stance, mainly featuring works from the '80s, '90s, and 2000s. Though a number of the films mentioned here will no doubt be familiar to readers, it's our hope that we've also highlighted several titles that have been under-represented on lists of this nature. --Danny King

    See also:
    35 Music Documentaries Worth Seeing

    15 Documentaries That Help You Understand the World Right Now
  • Emmy-Nominated Costumes on Display
    On Saturday, the Television Academy and FIDM Museum and Galleries kicked off the Eighth Annual exhibition of "The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design" with an exclusive preview and reception party. 100 costumes are featured from over 20 shows representing the nominees of the 66th Emmy Awards. The free to the public exhibition is located downtown at FIDM and runs from today through Saturday, September 20th. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Cowabunga! 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    The COWABUNGA! - 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tribute show opened Friday night at Iam8bit. Guests donned their beloved turtle graphic tees, onesies and a couple April O'Neils were there to report on all the mean, green, fighting machine action. Artist included Jude Buffum, Tony Mora, Nan Lawson, leesasaur, Jim Rucc, Mitch Ansara, Guin Thompson, Stratman, Gabe Swarr, Joseph Harmon, Alex Solis, Allison Hoffman, Jose Emroca Flores, Jack Teagle and more. All photos by Shannon Cottrell.

Now Trending