In my day job, Januaries are mostly indescribably awful (self-assessment tax returns are due. Joy), but they do herald the start of one of the TV events of the year: the new season of 24.
*SPOILERS FOR THE OPENING 2 HOURS AHEAD. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!*
Yes, Mr Jack Bauer may be second only to God in the killing stakes and endured as many soap-opera moments as Jim Robinson (Terri’s amnesia lol) over the last 7 seasons, but his return is always a momentous day. Will it be a Season 7 or a Season 6? Will it be as mental as Season 5, as different as the first half of Season 3, or go back to the considered pace of Season 1? And how much older will Kiefer look this year, his haggard eyes and lined face really starting to betray the signs of his partying and generally having far too much fun playing the role of his life, particularly in High Craggynition?
For the past few years, the Season has launched with 4 episodes showing over 2 nights. This has allowed the writers to both open with a bang and to slow things right down when they’ve needed to, knowing that with double episodes they have the time to set things up and build the tension that they simply don’t have in the single hours. The trouble with the individual episodes over the following weeks is that it’s perceived that things need to happen and keep on happening in short order. Bauer may not have the luxury of time, but the writers have often taken this to the nth degree, culminating in the lunacy of Season 5 when every single episode seemed to end with a massive shootout. Entertaining, to be sure, but when watched in a block on DVD, utterly ridiculous (though: Robocop!). Season 6 in particular suffered from some terrible writing, with subplot after subplot disappearing in the blink of an eye, character motivations flip-flopping around like Linford Christie’s lunchbox, and coincidences piling up so thick and fast that you’d swear Russell T Davies was writing the thing on autopilot inbetween thinking up new deus ex machina endings for Doctor Who.
Just based on the first 2 episodes, though, Season 8 has a lot of potential. The emotional highs of Jack’s longing for a family life (even the scenes with Kim Bauer’s little kid weren’t anywhere near as awful as they arguably should have been) really tugged at the heartstrings, given the audience’s long investment in the character, and even though nearly every fibre of my being was screaming at him to kick the same ass as he does every year, there was still a part of me that wanted him to go with Kim, to make the show 24: Waltons Edition. Hasn’t the poor guy suffered enough?
But no, he’s destined to help the motley crew of new characters (Katee Sackhoff from Battlestar Galactica is looking particularly foxy in this) in a brand new New York based CTU, which features all sorts of natty technology that’s bound to date this season massively by the time the next iPhone model’s out. There’s the latest asshole to head the unit, following the likes of George Mason (dead) and Ryan Chappelle (dead), so expect him either to be up for the chop at any moment or turn into an amazing character that you don’t know how you ever hated; yet another shady analyst, but he-can’t-be-a-mole-surely-cos-the-analyst-last-season-was-a-mole; and Freddie Prinze Jnr, who I still don’t forgive for marrying Sarah Michelle Gellar. Or for Scooby Doo. Oh, and Chloe’s still there, if anything whining even more than she did back in Season 3. And still no proper full return for her husband Morris, who I’ve always thought is awesome.
So it’s the usual game of whack-a-mole for the audience as we try to guess who are the goodies and baddies in the US Government and CTU this time around, try to work out exactly who the endless exposition is aimed at (does anyone seriously turn the kettle on and piss off for 10 minutes while watching this show?), cringe at the soap opera-esque “emotional dilemmas” – Katee Sackhoff has changed her name (which you’d think might be… er… found out in the hiring process for the Counter Fucking Terrorism Unit) and is being harrassed/blackmailed by a hick ex-boyfriend who’s threatening to reveal her true identity; Anil Kapoor, the Indian Chris Tarrant turned president of Middle Eastern Made-up-istan, is trying to boink a New York Times reporter, who’s then framed by Kapoor’s brother for an assassination plot that the brother himself is involved with for reasons unknown (yes, really. Maybe Kapoor refused to pay for him to go to the barber’s); meanwhile, Chloe O’Brian is struggling to get up to speed with CTU’s new systems and should really have a word with HR about workplace bullying.
And poor Jack’s already surviving exploding helicopters, screaming “Who’s the informant?!” at everyone (it’s Matt Damon, silly) and is surely destined to KILL MORE GUYS before the day is out. And maybe take on a resurrected zombified Nina Myers in the finale.
Bring it on. 24’s a flawed, batshit mental show, but it’s still the most exciting thing on television by a long way, and even though you’ve already seen all the twists, all the contrivances, and more shootouts than the love child of John Woo and Michael Bay could ever dream of, it somehow still manages to feel as fresh as ever.
There are even rumours of a Season 9 in the air. Oh, go on then.