24 Legacy REVIEW
- Airing in the US on 5 February on FOX
- Airing in the UK on 15 February on FOX
Jack Bauer’s longest day began in 2001. The Counter Terrorism Unit agent, husband, father and eternally tormented doombringer was dragged back into his old life and into a revolutionary piece of TV drama. 24 unfolded across 24 episodes, each one taking place either in real time or as close to real time as you could get with ad breaks and none of the characters needing the loo.
Multiple plotlines would often be on screen at once through split screen and the show excelled at moving a mile a minute, throwing cliffhangers and twists out at every turn and telling a breathlessly exciting and often brutal story.
It looked, and moved, like nothing else on TV. A multi-signal pulp adventure for the smartphone and post-9/11 age.
The first one of those defining factors remained a boon throughout the show’s eight and a half year run. The second soon became an albatross around its neck. 24, at its worst, embraced its pulp roots in absolutely the way it shouldn’t have. The show always operated with multiple tiers of villain and at least one of them was always straight out of central casting and frequently Middle Eastern. Like all pop culture, 24 was defined by its times so this was understandable. Plus the show pulled off some very pleasant surprises with several of its Middle Eastern characters, writing them as nuanced people rather than mouthpieces or cardboard cutouts.
Nonetheless, combined with 24’s tremendous fondness (And Jack’s tremendous aptitude) for violence, it gave the show a hyper right wing sheen that it struggled to lose for much of its run time. Worse still, the show quickly developed a deserved reputation for leaning on certain default plot points. New CTU agent? Almost certainly a mole. Apparently reasonable politician? Dead, bad guy or both by the end of the season. Female character? Eternal victim, pluckily brilliant and doomed or Chloe, CTU’s toughest tech. Throw in Jack having to knock out or kill a friend at least once a season and you’ve got yourself a really angry, violent, 24-hour long party.
Inevitably, as it does for everyone, the clock ran out and after eight full years, Jack vanished into the morally grey shadowlands between right and wrong, agent and criminal. He resurfaced four years later in a shorter season, subtitled Live Another Day. A change of location to London, a welcome promotion for the always-great Chloe and some fun guest turns including a pre-TFA John Boyega made it a strong final day’s work for Bauer. He left the stage, at least what was left of it, and surrendered to Russian custody as the clock finally wound down.
Two years later, it’s started ticking again.
24: Legacy is set in the same universe as the previous show. CTU is still an intelligence agency that specialises in dealing with high information, high stress attacks on US soil but this time, Bauer is nowhere to be seen. At least not in front of the camera. Kiefer Sutherland has remained on board as a producer but has surrendered the spotlight to former Army Ranger Eric Carter, played by Corey Hawkins. Hawkins did staggering work in NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton and looked set to do the same when he was cast as Heath in The Walking Dead.
This show is the reason why his presence there was oddly truncated and it’s easy to see why. He’s on screen almost constantly and as Kiefer Sutherland would no doubt attest, the role is a physically demanding one from day (or hour) one.
The set-up is subtly different too. Carter was the leader of an Army Ranger unit that killed a terrorist leader as part of a CTU run operation. He and his men were all placed on a hit list and moved into witness protection. The CTU officer running the op, Rebecca Ingram, is almost retired and preparing for a probable life of public service as the First Lady to Presidential Candidate John Donovan. No one’s happy; Carter hasn’t adjusted to civilian life, his wife Nicole is all too aware of it and Ingram isn’t quite ready to be done yet.
And then, Carter’s unit start disappearing…
It’s a great premise but unfortunately it gets off to a shaky start. Inside the first two minutes we’ve met terrorists who are so generic they may as well be chasing Doc Brown and his stolen plutonium. Inside the first four minutes we meet a Presidential candidate so nice he’s almost certainly the secret bad guy. Inside the first six minutes we’ve had stunningly clunky exposition about Carter’s past delivered, very nearly to camera, by his wife. These are the worst excesses of the old version of the show writ large; offensively generic villains and flat characterisation and writing. The interesting moral ambiguity of Live Another Day is giving way to what seems like a cover version of the show’s earliest seasons.
Then, two really interesting things happen…
The first is that Carter’s life is saved by Nicole (Anna Diop). The second is that Carter finds out that the terrorists chasing him have a much more complicated agenda than simply revenge. His Ranger unit, responsible for a hit on their leader, stole something. Something they need back…
This puts the show pretty solidly in Mission: Impossible 3 territory rather than early 24 and that’s a really good thing. It also cleverly builds on and upends what you expect to happen. The basic premise – badass field officer has worst day of his life helped and hindered by CTU Senior Agent – is the same. The execution, at least in the pilot, looks to be much more interesting and complicated than it first seemed.
That being said, the show still has a lot of its old problems. CTU is still a hilariously high pressure place to work. No one’s shoved a dead body into a vent yet but the day is young. There’s a nice salute to the original show too, in the form of Marianna Stiles. Played by Coral Peña she’s the cousin of the late, great Edgar and already one of the most fun elements of that plot. Teddy Sears, fresh off his great turn in The Flash’s second season is also good value and is so clearly evil that he’s almost certainly a good guy.
CTU and the world’s most violent office politics are – if a little over the top – at least entertaining, whereas the revelation that Carter’s brother is a high-end drug dealer will just make your eyes roll. 24 is 21st century pulp and while that makes it fast-paced, exciting and incident-heavy it also means the show still sprints for the lowest common denominator. Black lead? Obviously has connections with “the street”. And a love triangle. And a probably drug deal gone bad sub plot. Sigh.
However, despite these off the peg elements, the show works.
A huge part of that is down to Corey Hawkins.
The Walking Dead and Straight Outta Compton star is brilliant from the get go. He’s utterly at home with the physical side of things and brings a real intelligence and moral weight to Carter. He also, and this is really interesting for longterm fans, pings as genuinely young. There’s none of the battered ideology of Jack Bauer to Eric Carter. Rather, he’s a young former officer who is far more at home in the field than he’s prepared to admit. This is his first bad day and so far he’s okay with it. How long that will last remains to be seen.
A lot of the rest of the cast impress too. Jimmy Smits is pathologically incapable of turning in bad work, as is Miranda Otto, here playing Ingram, Carter’s boss. The dynamic between her and Smits’s character, Senator John Donovan, is especially interesting. Donovan is her husband and a presidential candidate. She’s a career spook, who, like Carter, isn’t ready to leave the field yet. That’s a welcome change and one of the places where the show’s favourite trope (Political Family With A Secret in this case) is neatly upended. Likewise, the reveal on just what the terrorists are looking for and who has it has surprising nuance to it. Ben Grimes, one of Carter’s squadmates suffers from PTSD and ends up viewing what he stole as simply what he’s due. The fascinating thing about this is you can see his point and it’ll be really interesting to see the duel of equals, albeit with different morals, play out between him and Carter.
24: Legacy is at its best when it does what you don’t expect. A subplot involving a possibly imminent attack on a high school pulls not one but two twists out of less than ten minutes of screen time and it’s great. On the other hand, Carter’s brother’s sub plot is one bad narrative choice from turning outright racist instead of just being dull.
Regardless, if you’re a fan then there’s lots here that will be familiar and lots of new fun elements. If you’re new to the show, there’s a couple of great central performances, some great ideas and some stuff you’ll be shaking your head at. Hopefully that will fall away and we’ll end up with Eric Carter’s bad day being a very good season of drama.