Long waits for original episodes of beloved shows can be a perilous game in our short-attention-span era of ratings erosion and viewer fragmentation. But the new seasons of the Emmy-winning Damages, which began this week after a year away, and action stalwart 24, which kicks off with four hours Sunday and Monday after a two-year hiatus, slip back into the consciousness with the ease of old tennis shoes, albeit ones that get you running around the minute you put them on. On Damages, set in the viperish Manhattan world of high-rise, high-stakes litigation that surrounds lawyer Patty Hewes (Glenn Close), you have a combustible mixture of slow-boil vengeance in Patty’s scheming protégée Ellen (Rose Byrne), freshly scented mystery in the dire situation of a paranoid scientist from Patty’s past (William Hurt), and a tart new adversary for Patty in Marcia Gay Harden’s corporate attorney. This is the kind of show in which seeing new cast member Timothy Olyphant stare at Byrne from across a grief-support-group circle feels like both an act of violence and empathy, and this is before you even know who the hell he is. Since this is the secret-filled Damages, chances are we may never fully know. Would you want this knife’s-edge thriller any other way?
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As for 24, which skipped last year’s shortened, WGA-strike-affected season to ensure a full day’s worth of mayhem, there’s the sense of fresh avenues being tried, beginning with Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) being grilled in front of a Senate committee on his less-than-orthodox evil-fighting methods — and not lying about it. (See, no enhanced interrogation needed!) There are also a new location (Washington, D.C.), a new prez (Cherry Jones), new cast members (Janeane Garofalo, Colm Feore, Bob Gunton), a peek inside a different homeland-security bureaucracy (the FBI, since CTU has been disbanded), a resurrected character in a twisty guise, and a threat center that — so far — seems devoid of Muslim terrorists. Treachery and action still abound on 24 — its brand is crisis, after all — but the nail-biting, espionage-like first four hours erect a scenario that promises a recharged season built on smarter suspense gambits than the tiresome 24 (and, by extension, Bushian) tropes of outlandish risk, torture and Armageddon-mongering.