But after almost four years, little has changed.
The steely-eyed way Kiefer Sutherland plays Bauer and the complicated story lines of spy vs. spy are still there. The action has shifted to London, and instead of the season running 24 one-hour episodes, it will only be 12 two-hour episodes. But everything else is pure high-octane Bauer.
This isn’t a kinder, gentler Bauer on the verge of retirement. As “24: Live Another Day” begins, Bauer faces an impossible mission: breaking into an ultra-secure government facility. Nothing can stop him, from high-tech security systems to determined agents like Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski). His efforts are important to unlocking a plot to assassinate President James Heller (William Devane) while he’s on British soil.
It’s obvious Bauer hasn’t been sitting around the past few years waiting for Social Security to kick in. The series ended with Bauer a fugitive. But the big question is whether he’s on this new mission to save the world on his own or working for a larger group.
Talking about the plot —except in very general terms — is hard without giving away spoilers. Plus, any “24” script is so wickedly woven that it really isn’t clear who the bad and good guys are until many hours into the season.
It’s safe to say “24” works so well because Sutherland has found the right mixture of patriot, renegade, humanitarian and rebel. All it takes is one look from him to know that what seems like the end of his days is just another super hurdle to climb. Sutherland claims the series would work without Jack Bauer because the structure is what keeps fans watching, but that’s absurd. A “24” without Bauer would be like a “Rambo” movie without Sylvester Stallone or a “Die Hard” without Bruce Willis.
But he is right about the show’s strong structure. The use of split and multiple screens not only makes it easier to relay more information in a small amount of time, but it creates a sense of tension as the story bounces from character to character. A standard cop show edit would never work.
The solid writing will benefit from there being only half the usual number of episodes. There were times in the 24-hour seasons that the writers struggled to fill some of the middle episodes — such as the unforgettable situation in season two where Kim Bauer (Elisha Cuthbert) faced down a mountain lion.
It helps that along with the new cast of villains, could-be-villains and probable heroes are some familiar faces, including Heller and Audrey Raines (Kim Raver). They are good conduits to connect Bauer between his old life and new role as vigilante savior.
It’s been awhile — really too long — since Bauer has saved TV at least one day a week with his reluctant hero antics. Even if he’s only back for half the time, the series is still twice as good as most of the action shows on network and cable television.
“24: Live Another Day,” premieres at 8 p.m. Monday on Fox
©2014 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)
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