Stars: Kiefer Sutherland, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Tate Donovan, Yvonne Strahovski, William Devane, Benjamin Bratt, Michelle Fairley, Stephen Fry, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Michael Wincott, Giles Matthey, Kim Raver

This could've gone so wrong24 could've returned and reminded everyone of why it needed to go off in the first place. Instead, the anxiety and wariness were unnecessary: Live Another Day is damn near perfect.

Wisely, Fox cut the series' usual episode amount in half, yet the comeback series remains true to the one hour/one day format. The result is a truncated season that neatly does away with all the narrative fat that slogged down many an otherwise great 24 day in the past. The success isn't just in the numbers. Gordon and his writers clearly focused on subverting typical tropes and twists to make this season feel fresh. The inevitable mole's motivations actually make sense. The bureaucrats are less stubborn. People put two and two together much quicker to see the setup before their eyes (RIP, Jordan the analyst). You can notice the little zigs where 24 used to zag.

Some complained about a lack of urgency and forward momentum—this is the longest the story has stayed with one villain, with only one diabolical goal since Day 1. But those doubts were put to rest when the main conflict climaxed in a breathtaking 30-minute sequence that elicited more visceral, physical reactions from me than anything on broadcast TV has in a long time.

As for that inkling that this season would end on a lightweight positive note, because this may be the last time we ever see the great Jack Bauer again, and because, you know, the guy's long overdue for a sliver of good fortune, well, shit. The season closed with an unimaginably depressing denouement in a bleak twist on season five's classic cliffhanger. But instead of being kidnapped, our boy Bauer willingly hands himself over to his enemies (this time, the Russians) because what else is his life but paying for our country's sins?

Good ratings indicate there may be more 24 on the way, but if this is the curtain call for TV's last action hero, then bravo. —Frazier Tharpe