The thriller 24 was so many things during its storied eight-year run, but most of all, it was ahead of its time. As it returns to TV on Monday night, the big question is: Has its time passed?
If ever a TV show was created for binge viewing, it was the tension-filled story of rogue agent Jack Bauer told in real time. Cliffhangers were many and maddening, and we couldn't wait till next week for the clock to start ticking again, right where it left off the week before.
The thing was, binge watching was a startup concept at the time. People were binge-watching full seasons of TV shows on DVDs in 2001, when 24 premiered. Once Netflix shook up the whole TV equation by making full seasons of its original content available all at once for streaming, binge-watching came into its own.
That makes 24 seem almost prehistoric, but it's a testament to how brilliantly manipulative the series was that it lasted from 2001 to 2010, with a two-hour film between the sixth and seventh seasons. True, the ratings were up and down over the show's history. By the final season, it seemed fitting for 24 to stop the clock.
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The reboot of the show, the limited series 24: Live Another Day, begins, appropriately, four years after Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) disappeared off the drone camera feed that Chloe O'Brien (Mary Lynn Rajskub) was watching. Once again, world peace hangs in the balance as the United States is about to sign an important treaty with Great Britain.
President James Heller (William Devane) is in London to sign the pact, but the CIA uncovers a threat to assassinate him.
Head of operations Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt) is tracking agents as they close in on a suspected terrorist. On the outskirts of the action is Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski of Chuck and Dexter), who is working her final week at the agency because she failed to realize her now-dead husband was selling secrets to the enemy.
With tiny camera drones running around the darkened warehouse, we follow undercover agents as they break in and set about rousting a shadowy hooded figure. Kate should be packing but is drawn into observing the action with Navarro. The hooded figure darts here and there, and then, in the moment we've been conditioned to anticipate, he raises his face to the camera.
As everyone's eyes are glued to the screen watching the undercover agents pursue Bauer through the warehouse, only Kate sees something different in his pattern. Once everyone else realizes she's right, the 24 we knew and loved is back again.
All the familiar elements are in place: the digital clock signaling the ends and beginnings of segments to remind us it's all happening in real time, the unrelenting background music, the high-level bureaucrats not trusting Bauer, Bauer's elusive allegiances, and, best of all, the return of Chloe and Audrey Raines (Kim Raver).
Chloe is now part of a free- information underground led by her current Julian Assange-like boyfriend, Adrian Cross (Michael Wincott). Audrey is in London to support her father, and, with her husband, chief of staff Mark Boudreau (Tate Donovan), she is among the very few people who know the president is in the early stages of dementia. Boudreau is determined to protect his wife from ever seeing Jack again.
The 24 reboot is being called a limited series, but with 12 episodes, it might as well be a full series. The question is whether creators Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran will get a chance for Jack to live yet another day.
24 was never a perfect show, and it still isn't. There were extraneous subplots and credibility issues, and no one ever accused the series of being too intellectual. But what it did, it did well. What's more, it coincidentally tapped into the post-9/11 unease, in a way that certainly its creators couldn't have predicted when they were hatching the idea of a show that would premiere two months after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
Because of its real-time format, it became destination TV for its fans, and, for its detractors, not worth following. That hasn't changed with 24: Live Another Day, but it remains a well-made and potentially addictive drama, whether you watch it in real time or on your DVR. Time is still on its side.