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Jack is back in 24, TV’s most compellingly weird action drama

Holy mother of j, he's back. The bucko himself, the boyo with nerves of steel and a noggin that takes a knocking but keeps on rocking. It's Jack Bauer, people.

Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) is back in 24: Live Another Day (Fox, Global, 8 p.m.), and it's bloody good – better than anticipated and keeping the core elements of the 24 formula alive and kicking.

Set in London, it starts with manic action. As the whole world knows, Jack got shafted, was deemed a terrorist threat, and the CIA and many other enemies have been looking for him. Jack has a lot of enemies. A lot. But, as anyone who watched the original series over any season must realize, he always had one true friend – Chloe O'Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub), the technical wizard whose withering glance can be as punishing as Jack's fists.

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And thus, without much ado – except for stuff exploding and a lot of gunfire – Jack is reunited with Chloe. Why? Well, there's a plot to do terrible things with those unmanned drones used to kill terrorists in places where terrorists allegedly hang out. And other crazy schemes.

It's not a coincidence that Jack is in London while the U.S president (William Devane) is also there, striking some military co-operation deal. And jiminy, the president's daughter is there too – the intriguing Audrey (Kim Raver), with whom Jack has a helluva history.

That's enough plot to be going on with: 24 was always delicately balanced between absurd action-thriller and provocative political drama. Plus, it also had a layer that was firmly set within an identifiable world of office politics – whether it was the White House or the Counter Terrorism Unit's bunker headquarters, elements of the plot resembled the manoeuvering and betrayals that unfold in any office environment where high-stress work is done.

Everything that made 24 great is here in this new excursion into Jack Bauer's world. It feels contemporary because a key figure is a Julian Assange-type character who's intent on releasing classified information to the public. That's also why Chloe, with her stunning computer skills, is vital to the plot. The drone issue is also handled well and nicely enmeshed into the plot. And then there is the U.S. president, a Reagan-like figure who doesn't actually have a grip on what's going on around him.

It's a relief to see 24 rebooted with skill. In its first season and beyond (the first episode aired in November, 2001), the hyperdramatic, ticking-clock storylines about terrorist attacks dovetailed with Bush-era American preoccupations. The show connected perfectly with the collective consciousness of the Bush era. The essence of the show was a recognition that the United States was under sustained terrorist attack.

There was always a comic-book quality, but the show dealt with the issues of torture and evaporating civil liberties. Then along came Barack Obama with his "hope and change" message. When 24 ended in 2010, it felt old, out of its time.

Yet this incarnation reminds us why 24 was, for years, the most compellingly weird action drama on TV. In the opening two hours (there are 12 episodes this time, not 24), there's a sense of familiarity, but it has been refreshed. The CIA station in London, where a lot of action happens, is run by a tightly wound guy (Benjamin Bratt), but in the background, someone who is supposed to be leaving her job seems to know better than anyone what's really happening. That's Kate (Yvonne Strahovski, who was Hannah McKay on Dexter), a woman who epitomizes the underappreciated people in any office. That's one of the viewer's paths into this bizarre world.

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Then come the recognizable connections to contemporary politics and world events – drones, data collection, the spying that takes place quietly, all the time, as all of our online and wireless communications are gathered by others.

Given the sharp alignment with current events, 24 could return every year with new, plausible plots.

But as its core is Jack Bauer. As legend has it, there are three leading causes of death among terrorists. The first two are Jack Bauer, and the third one is heart attack from hearing that Jack Bauer is coming for them. So beware, no-goodniks, Jack's back.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More


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