"24: Live Another Day" Is Everything You Want It to Be, Perhaps Too Much So

"24: Live Another Day" is a fine return to form for Kiefer Sutherland's Jack Bauer...for now, at least.

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Man, am I glad I didn’t marathon 24 on Netflix.

When 24: Live Another Day (premiering tonight on Fox at 8 p.m. EST) was announced, my initial instinct as a Team Bauer fanboy was to race through the entire series and relive one gloriously bad day after another. As it stands, I watch too much current TV to allow for a extracurricular binge course. And it’s great that I prioritized stuff like work, socializing, and rapping loudly in bars over re-watching Jack Bauer’s (Kiefer Sutherland) shootout in the L.A. Coliseum or the absurdly enjoyable White House siege. Coming into 24: Live Another Day cold is the biggest thrill in a premiere that's full of them.

We may never know what the originally planned 24 movie had in store, but make no mistake, Live Another Day is a sequel for the fans, franchise future be damned. The series hasn’t had this much fun putting characters together and back in their element after a hard reset since Day 4, which started with Jack on his suit-and-tie shit and most of the surviving original cast shuffled off to parts unknown. By the end of the season, nearly everyone of note had at least one rock star cameo moment, from past allies all the way down to the show’s very first villain from the pilot.

But those moments probably didn’t mean much to one of the many audience members brought in by a friend who wrongly described the show as one that didn’t require watching previous seasons. With its always changing format of new conflicts and new bad guys, 24 has always endured the misconception that each season is a fresh day that can be experienced by new eyes with minor confusion. Strange, seeing as how it’s basically the forefather of serialized television.

For a show with such a high mortality rate and a constantly refreshing cast, 24's strength ultimately relies on the rich histories between its characters. The most enduring love story comes front and center early into Live Another Day: the platonic partnership between Bauer and his loyal, longest-living ally, Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub), of course. Live Another Day wastes no time putting the two-person band back together to combat a terrorist plot that's practically photocopied from the headlines thinkpieces, that none of the people in power believe is actually in motion. The setting may have switched continents, but to the die-hard fan it will feel like everything is the same.

But it’s that familiarity that also, ironically, threatens to mire the show in the same formulaic constraints that ended up exhausting even the most loyal fans. 24 left in an odd place: it wasn't cancelled but it was at least on the verge of wearing out its welcome. This whole limited engagement wave is a very interesting trend that explores the possibility of a luxury TV series usually don't get to enjoy: a break. Who knows, maybe the film's script was (is?) fire, but it only ever came into play because it was about time the series go on its way after nine breakneck years. A movie was the next logical step. But would it have actually felt right? A one-off return four years later, though, now that feels right. So far.

Things are certainly off to a promising start, especially with inspired new character casting like the wonderfully badass Yvonne Strahovski, (hopefully) finally in a role worthy of her femme fatale talents since Chuck went off the airwaves; Michelle Fairley (the actress formerly known as Catelyn Stark on Game of Thrones) as the first piece in the Russian doll game of bad guys (Live Another Day better give her a moment to flex that's half as hardcore as her last one on GoT); and Tate Donovan as a shady-at-best Chief of Staff, because one doesn't call on Jimmy Cooper to play trustworthy people.

Even on a truncated season, it’s unfair to view the first few hours as anything more than set-up. (The only season that truly came roaring out the gate was 24's fifth one.) The crown jewel of tonight's two-hour premiere comes early, and it’s a knockout not just because it serves as a nice "welcome back" to this universe where things explode real good and people taser first and ask questions later, but it also implies a precedent. If things start off with the writers throwing out a few classics from their bag of tricks, surely they have new shit up their sleeve to really make this whole “limited engagement” endeavor into a real event and not just season nine.

And yet, there will surely be a mole or three. Bull-headed agents and their bureaucratic bosses will refuse to listen to reason while reporting back to White House officials who give even less of a fuck, and that’s if they’re not in cahoots with the bad guys for their own improbable reasons.

As the sub-title suggests, though, Live Another Day is about hope. Jack has no delusions. “There’s no going back for me,” he utters grimly but genuinely. He may not get a presidential pardon (William Devane’s President Heller has been staving off the 24 reaper since Day 4; a subplot concerning early onset dementia all but confirms he'll get that silent clock), but maybe he’ll emerge from all of this better than he came into it. Maybe Chloe will stop swagger-jacking Lisbeth Salander and go back to her family (strangely, the fact that she’s basically a deadbeat mom now doesn’t come up). And maybe the time off will have recharged executive producer Howard Gordon and company’s batteries enough so that Live Another Day transcends being little more than a nostalgic 24 rehash that ultimately just makes us want to rewatch Days 2-5.

So far, so good.

Frazier Tharpe is a Complex staff writer. His 24 season rank is 5-2-4-7-3-1-8------------6. Follow him on Twitter here.

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