TV: 24: Live Another Day

live another day

Say what you will about 24, it changed the landscape of television. It changed TV so drastically, in fact, that 24: Live Another Day (2014) — the resurrected, sort-of ninth season of the medium’s longest-running spy franchise — tracks so comfortably now that I’m almost able to background it, and this for a show that once required rapt attention.

In keeping with other late-run seasons, Live Another Day relocates the franchise to a new city. This time it’s London, where ever-indestructible Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) resurfaces after four years on the run. Bauer is captured by the local CIA presence, headed by station chief Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt), who quickly learns, with the help of his disgraced, but obviously best, field agent Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski), that Bauer only gets caught when he wants to get caught. He’s served himself up because he knows the CIA has, in their custody, snarky hacker extraordinaire Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub), perhaps his only friend in the world. He needs her help to stop a threat against the visiting US president, James Heller (William Devane).

Sound familiar yet? It should. 24: Live Another Day serves up its familiar stew of ingredients, freshening the flavor with new characters and scenery. You’ve got your presidential track, your agency-that’s-one-step-behind track, and your villain track, headed up here quite formidably by Game of Thrones’ Michelle Fairley as a sociopathic jihadist, hellbent on revenge. Of course, there’s also Jack and Chloe, scrambling chaotically between them all, flagrantly breaking laws and cracking skulls, their ends ever justifying their means.

It’s contrived, kinetic, preposterous, and pretty fun. The mercifully shortened length (12 episodes rather than 24) tightens the proceedings. London makes for an attractive new backdrop, and its familiar streets, along with roles (sadly miniscule) for Miranda Raison and Alex Lanipekun, made this feel a little like an MI-5 crossover. After years of male-gazey ass-kicking on Chuck, Strahovski proves she can play it serious as well playing something of a protégé loose cannon for Bauer. Fairley goes all-in with her villainy, and her clan of fanatics gives the heroes a good run for their money. For the feels, there’s the return of Jack’s tragically shattered love, Audrey (Kim Raver), moved on now and married to the president’s scheming chief of staff, Mark Boudreau (Tate Donovan). The moments between Sutherland and Raver are exquisite, little islands of humanity in a sea of plot mechanics. Also: Stephen Fry as the prime minister? Why not!

On the other hand, like most of 24’s seasons, it’s chock full of flaws. The plot contrivances are pretty ludicrous. The scripts are so busy delivering repetitive exposition that the characters often feel more like information conduits than actual people. Logistical implausibility abounds, and late plot twists and shocking surprises spiral the narrative into video-game violence territory. When its structure and concept were fresh, 24 could dazzle its way past these hiccups, but alas, everyone watches television differently these days. The seams show now.

That said, in a rather laid back and nostalgic way, I enjoyed it. It doesn’t live up to the series’ earlier heights, of course, but it’s good enough to wash away the bad taste of that disappointing eighth year. I was happy to revisit.

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