Within the first five minutes of the newest season of 24—or rather, the very first season of 24: Legacy because this is a reboot or remake or whatever—we see Middle Eastern terrorists on American soil murdering an Army Ranger after torturing him for information. Later, we meet a high school student from Chechnya who’s plotting some sort of horror with the aid of her science teacher who she has seduced. If anyone was concerned that the latest iteration of the show that gave us “Jack Bauer proves that torture works!” was going to slow its roll in 2017, you needn’t have worried: The series’ version of reality still features America in constant peril from well-coordinated, highly motivated terrorist attacks, the sort of attacks that make any debate over the justification of means not just unpatriotic but outright lethal. And is there a mole that forces the good guys to distrust one another? Of fucking course there is.
Whether or not it’s still possible to enjoy a story that riffs so feverishly on our nation’s darkest dreams is a matter of personal preference. I’ll admit to being a bit uncomfortable at seeing this particular brand of evil (not only do the bad guys murder soldiers, they also kill people they totally promised they wouldn’t kill!) trotted out so readily. The rhetoric of the dangerous and astonishingly efficient terror threat that forces us to use unsavory tactics to fight back is one that’s no longer easily dismissible as action-show theatrics, if it ever was. And yes, before you comment, not everything is about politics, but this is a program that was used by some very nasty people to defend some very nasty things, and if that doesn’t trouble you at least a little, well, you probably sleep better at night than me.
But I’m here to review this as a TV show and not as a talking point, so with the above rather large caveat aside (and the near certainty that this will probably come up again), let’s talk about how well this pilot works to set up a new day, what we look for in an early episode of 24, and how Corey Hawkins does as Jack Bauer 2.0.
Last things first: Hawkins is fine. He’s got the gravel-voice shtick down cold, and there’s a lethal confidence to his action scenes that makes him a convincing threat. As Eric Carter, ex-Army Ranger and perfect badass, Hawkins shows some warmth to his wife Nicole (Anna Diop) in early scenes before everything goes to hell and the killing starts. And he certainly seems angry and frustrated enough to fill Bauer’s shoes.
But he doesn’t have Sutherland’s “wait is he fucking crazy?” edge yet—a late episode set piece that has him using some construction equipment to take out the bad guys feels like the sort of lunacy that made the show so memorable at its peak, but Hawkins does the job with desperation and intensity and not much else. 24 is such a desperately humorless show that it needs a lead who’s willing to go a little cartoonish to keep his efforts from being a complete slog. Hawkins is solid, but only time will tell if he’ll be able to take advantage of what little room the writing gives him to develop into something more.
The first episode of a new day of 24, especially one with an all new cast, has to work hard to introduce the main players and hang a lot of rifles (and super secret computer files) on a lot of walls. The show is pretty much entirely driven by plot—at its best, it’s a ruthlessly efficient thrill machine that manages to squeeze in just enough pathos and insanity to keep from being entirely mechanical. Characters are archetypes, with relationships and personalities that exist mostly to give the writers something to work with during those dangerous minutes when no one’s being shot or gassed or tasered.
For instance, Rebecca Ingram (Miranda Otto, always a welcome presence), former head of CTU who opens the episode getting an award for the raid that killed dangerous terrorist man Sheik Ibrahim bin-Khalid. That aftermath of that raid is what gets the action going (bin-Khalid’s men are killing the Rangers who killed bin-Khalid because one of them stole a strongbox that has a MacGuffin with the name and contact info of sleeper cells on American soil), which is important, but it’s also important that Ingram is married to Senator John Donovan (Jimmy Smits, also nice to see), a presidential candidate looking for his wife’s support on the campaign trail.
This relationship with Donovan will give the show a way into the political intrigue that usually eats up a third or more of the day. Already we see Ingram promising her husband that she’ll make an important fundraiser, only to cancel a few minutes later when Carter contacts her. If past seasons are any indication, we can look forward to several strained conversations between Ingram and Donovan as she struggles to justify her actions without giving him specific information, and he gets more and more disappointed in her for abandoning him. There’s no way to say for sure where this will end up, but I’m willing to bet that Donovan will be more important than just a guilt-delivery device, and that the threat Carter ultimately uncovers will force Ingram to beg her husband to do something that could put his presidential ambitions, or his life, at risk.
It’s funny—watching the show now—how familiar all of this still is. Nearly every bit of dialogue, every character introduction, every slight wrinkle, is fodder to feed the plot machine. Ingram is handing the reins of CTU over to a new man, presumably so she can work full time on her husband’s campaign. But when Carter discovers that he and his fellow Rangers’ cover has been blown, they realize that the new CTU boss (Keith Mullins, played by Teddy Sears) is one of the few people who had access to their real names. Which of course makes him a suspect, which forces Ingram to work in secret with Andy (Dan Bucatinsky), a tech she trusts. When Andy’s efforts are discovered by the hot new hire (who happens to be Edgar Stiles cousin, which, apart from CTU itself, is the only explicit reference to 24 “mythology” in the episode), Ingram ends up shooting Mullins with a Taser gun, trussing him up with bungee cords, and leaving him in a supply closet.
The Taser gun was a hoot, but this isn’t really new ground for the franchise. CTU bosses have been forced to endure just about every indignity imaginable at this point, and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that this kind of aggressive workplace behavior is commonplace for the company, which puts 24: Legacy in a difficult spot. It doesn’t necessarily need to top previous installments (and working too hard to do so would be a terrible idea), but there’s also a certain rote quality to the storytelling at this point. This isn’t Jack Bauer cutting off a dude’s head in a boardroom, after all.
Still, the pacing is strong at this point, and the show doesn’t waste time in getting Carter on the move and giving him clear goals. After he drops his wife off with his brother’s gang—well, okay, I guess I can’t really just elide over that bit, because clearly, Isaac Carter (Ashley Thomas) is going to be important. He used to date Nicole, then Eric swooped in and wooed her away and left the gang, and now it’s all a thing. At some point, we’ll probably have to deal with Isaac trying to put the moves on the distraught Nicole (who, for some reason, immediately confesses to Isaac about how she’s worried about her husband’s sanity; it’s a bizarre, forced character turn that serves no better purpose than to make us suspect her loyalties), which will drive his current girlfriend (wife?) Aisha (Tiffany Hines) to blab about Nicole’s whereabouts to the wrong people. I’m guessing, anyway.
But to get back on the exciting stuff: Carter drops his wife off, and then (with the help of CTU’s magical tech) tracks down the only over survivor from his unit, Ben Grimes (Charlie Hofheimer), who just so happens to have the strongbox the bad guys are looking for. The bad guys show up, there’s a shoot-out that looks a bit like a cut scene from an Uncharted game, and Grimes, who’s fucked in the head and wants to punish the government, steals the drive with all the sleeper cell info on it, and we’re off and running.
As pilots go, this is serviceable with a low fat content. But the zero-to-60 storytelling gives the reboot precious little chance to establish its own identity in the first hour. Carter seems like a good guy, and if his wife is right about him still being obsessed with his old job, he definitely fits the Bauer mold. But there’s no real spark to him or his situation yet. The old “oh no, terrorists” canard would be uninspired even without all those awful real world events circling around our heads. The cast seems game, and all of this is certainly watchable, but it’s just boilerplate so far. Here’s hoping Carter, or someone, breaks the mold soon.
- So what’s the over/under on at least one of the Carters ending up in Nicole’s boss’ cabin before the end of the day?
- Didn’t really get into the high school subplot, but it has all the hallmarks of a storyline where everybody dies in a few episodes just so we know how real the threat is.
- “Running CTU is like a drug. It’s hard to come down from.” Well, duh.
- Nicole’s switch from effective fighter to shrieky mess to husband-doubter does not bode well for her future development. (It’s not so much that any individual element of her character doesn’t work, it’s just, right now, she seems to exist solely as a function for the characters around her. Which isn’t great.)
- Ben Grimes is a paranoid jerk, but in his defense, the bad guys did totally murder the only family he had left. Stupid bad guys.
- “Because right now I’m the only one I can trust.” Well, that was fast.