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Starring: Kieffer Sutherland, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Kim Raver, Yvonne Strahovski, William Devane, Benjamin Bratt

24: Live Another Day represents a fascinating turn in television. It’s certainly not the first time a series has been cancelled and returned but this one didn’t just get cancelled it ended. The show has had great lead up marketing and actually built up strong buzz. It’s funny to see this high of a level of excitement for a show that was properly ended. Sutherland has done some film work and attempted another television project but nothing has stuck for him since 24.

The original series ran for eight seasons and it broke ground in television story telling having at least as much influence as shows like LOST and The Sopranos. 24 doesn’t get talked about as being that influential by critics but no other show was as serialized as 24 and the cinematic and stylized production is still being replicated by other shows. The serialization of 24 often turned people off because if you missed an episode it could be a little tough to catch up with what’s going on. Each one hour episode was truly like a mini movie. By season eight the show had built up its own share of cheesy characters failed subplots and silly moments. Based on the first two hours of this new abbreviated season the four year break has been good for the show. Right away this return feels just like the best of 24 and the style, pace, and tone of the show is not only intact but it’s fresh and at its best. The presentation doesn’t feel dated surprisingly; it feels fresh and still cutting edge compared to anything similar on television right now.

This season is twelve episodes rather than twenty-four so the classic each episode is an hour in the story has to be tweaked to make it all work. The show almost always did that though. You know right at the beginning of the episode if what you’re about to watch happens in real-time because the Kieffer Sutherland voice-over tells you so. In the episodes that aren’t real-time many of the events that are portrayed one after the other can actually be perceived as happening simultaneously but it’s impossible to represent those simultaneous events in an hour episode and keep everything running at real-time, so seeing the formula tweaked is nothing new. The word is that there will be points in the season where some hours are skipped in some way. It’ll be interesting to see how that works because the biggest tool in the suspense toolbox for 24 is that countdown clock. When the episode gets to its most riveting and that countdown clock pops onscreen and ticks off the last few seconds of the hour it can be painful, jarring, and thrilling.

The first two hours of this new season blaze by at a breakneck pace setting up the characters and the main plot with very little fluff along the way. The action is first rate, still some of the best on TV and Sutherland is at top form. Jack has been on the run for the last four years, he’s much harder than ever was and more determined and so focused that he has tunnel vision. At one point when asked about a friend he replies “I have no friends”. Being separated from his daughter and the country he has given everything to protect has made him cold and the only reason he’s out of hiding is one tiny memory, a debt that he must repay. If you aren’t a 24 fan from before it’s ok. The first hour perfectly sets up the story and informs you on all of the important hows and whys.

Behind the scenes the entire team that made 24 great is back for this mini season and so are some of the show’s most important onscreen characters. Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) is back too. She’s not the annoying pouty faced computer nerd that we knew and loved though. After the events of the eight seasons of 24 she too has changed in a major way. Visually the wardrobe and makeup people went a little overboard with her but her new attitude and character makes sense for her story arc and should prove interesting for this season. Other actors returning include William Devane and Kim Raver. Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck, I. Frankenstein) is new to the series and she represents the only real sticky point for the first two hours of the show. She’s a genre TV fan favorite due to her run in the show Chuck and because of that show we know she can handle the action scenes. The problem is that she seems to be having a little trouble settling into this role as an actor. She plays a sort of female version of Jack Bauer. She’s desperate to catch Jack and she’s willing to push to not the fringes of legality but to the fringes of morality to catch him. It’s a classic it takes one to catch one sort of characterization. We like her and feel strongly that she will soon find her footing. As of the first two hours though, these shoes seem a little uncomfortable on her, so much so that her accent even creeps in on one scene.

Overall this first two hours was outstanding. There was great action, the suspense fell right into place and the potential for some great plot twists is also there. The show feels slimmed down and to the point which is probably due in part to the abbreviated season, and that’s a good thing. 24 seemed to always fall off the tracks in the mid-season when there had to be a little filler to take the story all the way to twenty-four episodes. That’s not going to be a problem with this season obviously. If these first two hours are an indication of what we are to expect from the next ten then this is going to be an exciting summer.

Jack’s back baby!