This review contains spoilers.
The more everything changes, the more everything stays the same. There are but two notable alterations to the format for 24: Live Another Day. Firstly, it’s spread over 12 hours, rather than 24. That’s a long overdue move that should help navigate nagging criticisms of narrative being spread thin.
The other is that the show has moved its location to London for this ‘event’ (we’re not allowed to call it a series anymore). After sitting through the first two hours – well, 80-odd minutes – of 24: Live Another Day, that doesn’t seem to have made the blindest bit of difference to the show though.
Sure, ‘projects’ are now ‘council estates’, and there’s a red bus never more than a few minutes away. A few lustful shots of the London skyline are potent clues that the geography has changed. But in terms of how the show does its business? There’s a CIA office in London that looks like it’s had the old CTU decorators in. There’s a secret place where people are held prisoner, which could be in Dudley as much as it could London. And there are the same old 24 rules coming into play.
Example? As soon as the apparently lacking in intelligence ‘girlfriend’ character was introduced in this opening double header, even 24 novices would have been well versed in the upcoming twist. Every 24 drinking game should start with ‘down everything when a seemingly dim person turns out to be one of the cleverest’. That’s assuming said drinking game has abandoned the need to consume a beverage every time Bauer says “dammit” or “copy that”. You’d be pissed in no time otherwise.
Bauer himself remains the show’s biggest asset and problem. Heck, if you needed any clue as to who the movie star of the piece was, look at the extended reintroduction to Bauer we got in episode one. Other characters explain what’s been going on – he’s got another grandchild! He’s been off the grid for years! – while he gets to look moody. For make no mistake: Sutherland is the star here. What’s more, he’s treated as an 80s movie star, so threaded is the material with him at the centre of it.
The problem, of course, is that we’ve seen so many people die or have their lives otherwise ruined by the consequences of Bauer’s actions over the previous 192 episodes of the show that there’s never really any peril when the character is around. The same is true here. Everybody hates him and doesn’t trust him at the start? That’ll change. He’s held prisoner? He’ll escape. There’s no excitement to this anymore: he’s the Terminator of primetime television.
So, as always, it’s left to those around him to inject more interest. And to be fair to 24: Live Another Day‘s first two episodes, that’s where it strikes gold. In particular, the wonderful William Devane as the latest US President, this one suffering the early onset of Alzheimer’s. Devane is brilliant here, and in the scenes with Tate Donovan’s chief of staff Mark Boudreau, Live Another Day was very much at its finest.
We also get the return of Chloe, played by Mary Lynn Rajskub. Mind you, at first you wonder if her performance has been mixed up with her audition tape for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Chloe, as long time 24 fans will know, used to hack computers and bite people’s heads off. Now, she’s 24‘s Swiss army knife. She can pretty much do anything, and look angry while she does it. We genuinely love Chloe, and can’t get a spin-off series quickly enough.
Of the new additions, a few stood out. Yvonne Strahovski’s transfer orders from Chuck came through, and she’s the olive branch to Bauer here, the only one in the entire office of intelligent people to even get close to guessing what he’s up to (another entry in the 24 drinking game: down mineral water, or at most a weak shandy, when characters fail to adequately suspect that Bauer might be up to no good). Strahovski isn’t given much distinctive to work with here, but she gives it everything she’s got. The most interesting part of her character thus far is her deceased, disloyal husband. That’s one of many threads that the writers efficiently get into place here.
Then there’s Michael Wincott, who pops up briefly in episode two. He seems all nice and reasonable here, which instantly will have those who watch Michael Wincott films chuckling to themselves.
We should note too that we get a brief introduction to Stephen Fry, as the Prime Minister of Great Britain. The overarching threat this time in the show is an attempt to take out the US President on British soil, we’re told, but if the foes targeted Stephen Fry, the UK would be in uproar. Talk about opting for the lower story stakes.
Anyway, it’s a very efficient, perfectly entertaining two-parter to welcome 24 back. It does what 24 does, threads in some deeper points about drones (which are ripe for further exploration), ends with a moment that will put a grin on the face of any Game Of Thrones fan and leaves you thinking nothing has really changed.
The concession to making Live Another Day a standalone series is lots of exposition, and we’d argue that it certainly helps to have had a little schooling in the show. It’s not tricky to pick up though, and as long as you realise that everything has a twist in the tail, you’ll be fine.
Final thought though: if the makers of 24 really wanted to pull the rug from under our feet, there wouldn’t a single twist in the rest of the series. Now that would be unexpected.
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