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John Doyle: After the Super Bowl, the real TV event

First, there's the Super Bowl LI shindig (Sunday, Fox, CTV, 6:30 p.m.), which lasts, from preshow to postgame, about 14 hours. As the whole world knows, the game is an excuse to eat snacks and drink beer. There are so few opportunities to do that.

Also, hereabouts, it is about the commercials, a toxic topic in Canada. Broadcasters have been summoning lawyers and making growling noises about the commercials. Listen, if you want to enjoy the commercials, knock yourself out. Not literally – the booze and snacks will do that. Really, it's just that the issue of watching American commercials in the Canadian broadcast is tiresome. Broadcasters want to make money with Canadian ads. A segment of the population remains in a permanent state of outrage about not being able to see the American ads. Canadian problems, don't you know. What we get outraged about. We should be mortified, really.

But after the Super Bowl comes the real TV event. It is obligatory, lo these many years, that a new show is launched or a special episode of a hot show is aired to take advantage of the huge audience that has just watched the game in a stupor. This year, two notable launches.

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24: Legacy (Sunday, Fox, City, 10:30 p.m.) gets the prized post-Super Bowl slot. Its existence tells us several things. First, the Fox network seems to be running on fumes. Second, the Fox network is brazen as brass for relaunching the 24 franchise. And third, there is an appetite for more 24.

The appetite thing is interesting. The original 24, with Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer, had considerable heft, no matter how ridiculous it became. Launched post-9/11, it eerily captured the paranoia about terrorism and uncannily mirrored public discourse about torture. Also, it was vastly entertaining, with its ticking clock and wild plot twists and turns. At times, it was a deft satire of office politics as the show's Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) boiled over into internecine betrayals and infighting.

The reboot is good entertainment – slick, fast-moving and as bizarre as ever. There is a ticking clock, a use of split-screen perspective and, of course, both lurid subplots and much scheming and treachery at the CTU. If you just want action, speed and narrow escapes, 24 remains torridly entertaining.

There's no Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer. He's moved on to the vaguely Bauerish president in ABC's Designated Survivor. Instead, the new hero is one Eric Carter (Corey Hawkins from the film Straight Outta Compton). Carter led a squad of U.S. Army Rangers on a mission in Afghanistan that took out a terrorist leader. Back in the United States now, it's months later and everyone in the squad has a new identity to protect them from terrorist revenge.

As the action starts, a terrorist group has been hunting down and eliminating the squad and is heading for Carter's home. How did that happen? Well, obviously there's a mole inside the CTU. Carter, who has family to protect, contacts Rebecca Ingram (Miranda Otto), who has just left her post as CTU director because her husband, Senator John Donovan (Jimmy Smits), is the Democratic nominee for president. Ingram tells Carter, basically, "Trust nobody at CTU."

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Thus we have the recipe for a typical season of 24: terrorists, a hero on the run, desperate attempts to stop another killing, in-house duplicity and presidential politics. But the recipe is enhanced by having a younger hero in Carter, who is also African-American. He's more idealistic and much less world-weary than Bauer. Mind you, Bauer's weariness was representative – the United States itself was weary from the politics of fighting terrorism. This Carter guy just did his duty, followed orders and is now furious that he's been duped.

On the one hand, Fox can be mocked for reviving yet another old show. (It revives Prison Break this year, too.) But it's the appeal of 24 that's fascinating. There is the instinctual appeal of the chase and the cliffhangers. But there is also some political commentary done in very, very broad strokes. And, as usual, some will view it as a right-wing fantasy and others will see it as an indictment of government agencies run amok, fuelled by the fear of terrorism.

Letterkenny (Sunday, CTV, 10:30 p.m.) is introduced, post-Super Bowl, to those who don't see it on CraveTV. This is a marketing stroke by CTV but a clever move, given the Super Bowl audience. Letterkenny is a work of comic genius and originality, and the more viewers know about it, the better.

As I've written about the series, "small-town and rural Canada is where it's set and what it's about. Not since Trailer Park Boys launched have we heard the flavourful, salty Canadian vernacular used with such aplomb and abandon." And there is little doubt that viewers left exhausted by the Super Bowl experience will be rudely awakened by the verbal dexterity and hilarity of this unique creation. (It's season one, episode one on Sunday). Guys talking, fighting, playing hockey and stuff – that's it. But not all-male, it must be said – Michelle Mylett struts through it as the short-shorts-wearing, brutally sarcastic female voice, with aplomb.

On Super Bowl Sunday or any other day, in Letterkenny parlance, it's a "great day for hay."

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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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