Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dammit! "24" has sucked me in for another season!

Near the beginning of the eighth season premiere of "24," something truly upsetting happens. It's something that will cause a chill in even the most hard-core fans of "24"; something that I never thought I'd see happen on this show.
Someone calls Jack Bauer "Grandpa."
Yes, apparently this show has been on long enough for Jack Bauer to begin creating a dynasty of stubborn, tow-headed troublemakers.
That revelation is less shocking than some of the events that follow, but it still knocked me for a loop. At any rate, when we first see Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) this season, he's napping alongside his perky, bear-obsessed granddaughter, Teri. It's an idyllic scene. Of course, any "24" fan knows it will be only a matter of minutes before Jack is torn away from grandpa duty to help save the world -- again.
This season, Jack's day of hell involves saving a visionary leader of a fictional Middle Eastern country ("Slumdog Millionaire's" Anil Kapoor) from assassination. His latest adventure brings Jack to a new, New York-based version of his former stomping ground, CTU. The new CTU is different from the L.A. version we saw through most of the series' run (there's a lot more glass in the decorating scheme), but there's one similarity -- angry techie Chloe O'Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) is hanging around, sniping at people and making sourpuss faces.
Judging from the four-hour season premiere, the eighth season of "24" is pretty much business as usual. Heavies with accents? Check. Red herrings galore? Check. Bureaucrats standing in Jack's way? Check. Jack exclaiming "Dammit" every time said bureaucrats foil him? Check. CTU employees with personal problems that drag down the narrative every 20 minutes or so? Check.
On the last score, the new season introduces Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Katee Sackhoff as engaged CTU agents. Little can be said about their characters thus far, other than that they are mildly less annoying than Ricky Schroder was in season six.
There's also an appearance late in the premiere by one of last year's cast regulars, who seems to have undergone a shocking transformation (which probably isn't so shocking given the frequency with which characters change loyalties and motivations on this show).
It's not groundbreaking but, so far, the new season of "24" is solidly engaging. There's enough shouting, action and techno speak to satisfy long-time fans of the show and, so far, time-wasting subplots are kept to a minimum (Sackhoff's story line notwithstanding).
Also, Sutherland remains appealingly world-weary as Jack. The Jack we see this season seems a bit more mellow and human than the sweaty, torturing superman we've seen in previous seasons. I have no doubt he'll be up to his old tricks soon, but, so far, I like that the show is at least pretending Jack has evolved.
It's also good to see Cherry Jones back as President Allison Taylor. Jones has enough gravitas to make her often-ridiculous dialogue seem like more than mere exposition, so God bless her.
Overall, the eighth season of "24" is off to a decent start. I'm curious to see where it's going. But if it ends with Jack playing shuffleboard in a retirement community, I'm out.
The four-hour season premiere of "24" begins Sunday at 9 p.m. with a 2-hour episode. Another 2-hour episode airs Monday at 8 p.m.

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