I’ve had pretty much the same relationship with the TV show 24 as most people. For five seasons, it was unmissable, culminating in the quite wonderful season five, where all of the tensions, characterisation, twistyness and willingness to be just a little barmy all joined together exquisitely well. After that, as the producers and writers threw anything in that would sound like a vaguely plausible plot, it lost all vitality. I’m half way through season eight, and only progressing at a rate of one episode every two months. I do not feel at this stage that I’ve missed out.
But I do love the show at its best, and the announcement that it’s set to return next year as a mini-series is a very welcome one. Removing the need to pad out 24 hours of narrative (well, 16 if you count the ad breaks) in favour of a tighter story should reduce some of the dafter cliffhangers, the subplots you know would never lead anywhere, and the usual reveal of just who the big baddy of the season was around the episode 17-18 mark.
But then, we learn that the new series of 24 is coming to London instead of its natural Los Angeles home. There’s logic to this: there’s only so much more carnage that can be wreaked upon America by the assorted actors on US casting agents’ books, who fulfil the key criteria of repressed anger and facial hair.
As such, London is Hollywood’s current go-to place for wanton destruction. Star Trek Into Darkness was the last movie to blow the place up, and Thor: The Dark World is the next. But is London prepared for Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer? Well, sort of.
There are some notable problems about moving a show from its base to far-off climes. British sitcoms, for instance, have sent Victor Meldrew to the Algarve, Del Boy and Rodney to Miami and the entire cast of Are You Being Served? on holiday in the past, only for them to return with less than they went with. 24, whilst not a comedy (appreciating it’s had its moments), will no doubt have some fun with the fish out of water Jack Bauer story it tries to tell, but it faces similar cultural issues. Just look at how muddled it all felt when 24 decamped to Cape Town for a one-off telemovie.
The biggest problem is the ongoing one with 24, though, and that’s the indestructible nature of its lead character. It was fairly early on in 24‘s run that one of the show’s cliffhangers saw Bauer dying. Then, in the spirit of a Saturday morning cinema serial, he came back to life the week after. Once you’ve done that, and killed all his mates and family, what’s left? I maintain that the best thing that 24 could do would be to follow the Alfred Hitchcock model, and kill off Jack Bauer early in a season. If it did that, then everything’s suddenly up for grabs, and nobody is safe. As it stands, Jack Bauer feels like the computer game character that’s taken the infinite lives cheat, and there’s pretty much no tension around him as a consequence of that. In the 100+ hours we’ve spent in his company, every button barring the one that would outright kill him appears to have been pressed. He could outlive John McClane in Chernobyl at this rate.
On top of that, there are issues surrounding relocating Bauer to London anyway, that the producers need to consider. Take these for starters…
London Zoo doesn’t have any cougars
This may yet be the deal breaker. When all of those in the writer’s room are struggling to come up with a) a cliffhanger for a mid-season episode and b) something to do with Kim Bauer, previously, they’ve infamously tied her up and left her at the mercy of a prowling cougar. But cougars don’t prowl London. In fact, even though London Zoo has a wide variety of creatures, there’s not a single cougar in any one of its enclosures.
What’s Kim Bauer to do? Obviously, she could be woven into an intricate, interesting plot of which she’s a full and vital part. But 24 is only changing countries, it’s not changing its entire raison d’etre. Thus, we’re pleased to confirm to the writers of 24 that London Zoo has some fine, angry looking tortoises, a pygmy hippo that looks like it could do a bit of damage, and some really cute otters. There must be something there to keep junior Bauer away from the real action for a bit.
Hmmm. It’s a good job that the real time mechanic is under review come 24: Live Another Day. Ask any Londoner, and they’ll tell you that simply getting across the city in rush hour would comfortably eat up at least two episodes of the show. Jack Bauer may have been able to dash around Los Angeles in double quick time, but helicopters aren’t at hand when you’re caught in the crush at Tottenham Court Road tube station, and then there’s the problem of making sure your Oyster Card (the pre-paid transportation pass for us non-Londoners) up to date.
Moreover, getting from A to B in London is generally quicker by tube, but is likely to involve changing trains a few times.
London’s not 24 hours, Jack
The producers of 24: Live Another Day have wisely opted to focus on a fewer number of hours in the day. That’s very sensible, and we have to assume that they’ll go for daytime hours. After all, whilst they could have gone to New York for 24, the city that apparently never sleeps, London quite likes a kip. As such, if Jack Bauer got peckish and wanted a Marks And Sparks sandwich past 9 o’clock at night, then he’s going to have to wait for his local branch to open again at 9 in the morning. Unless he fancies a jaunt to motorway services on the M6, but again, that might not make for the most thrilling TV drama. Ginsters Pasties might be up for sponsoring an episode though.
Mobile Phone Reception
One of the narrative devices that 24 uses to keep things bubbling along at speed is a constant stream of phone calls, e-mails and secret communications going to whatever handheld contraption Mr Bauer is equpped with at the time. But in London? No dice, Jack. You just try getting some mobile phone reception when an Arsenal game has just finished, and the mobile network is utterly clogged. You’re better off finding a phone box that hasn’t been vandalised, or decorated with the business cards of ladies that wouldn’t mind a look at Jack’s American Express card.
You’re not allowed to shoot things in London
On a practical level here, people don’t walk around London with guns as a rule. The police aren’t armed. People would notice if that bloke out of Flatliners started walking around the Westfield Centre with a firearm. They might not do anything about it, and might just politely talk to security. But the trademark 24 shootouts aren’t likely to go down particularly well.
People will get annoyed with him
The thing about walking around London, especially the crowded bits, is that no matter how fast you walk and run in London, there’s someone going faster than you, who will see you as an obstacle and an inconvenience. However, this is London, and as a result, people will not shout in a way that creates compelling television drama. Instead, they will tut, mutter under their breath, then go and tell their mates in the pub later how they firmly told Donald Sutherland’s son where to go, in spite of the fact that the most they could really muster was a traditional British scowl.
If whatever plot Bauer is trying to foil takes place on a Bank Holiday Monday, then Jack may as well surrender straight away. Unless he fancies visiting the aforementioned zoo to release his daughter.
All that said, there’s a chance for 24 to reinvent itself with its new miniseries, and a chance to shake up its formula a little. All of these are good things, and may yet lead to the full-on movie that you suspect those behind the show really want to make. Until then, Jack Bauer needs to get his Union Jack T-shirt, a dodgy Dick Van Dyke-esque accent, and a fresh supply of patience for when he arrives at the security gate at Heathrow Airport. Good luck, Jack…
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