Don’t stay another day: why TV doesn’t need a 24 revival

Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer was a mainstay of the golden age of television, but reboots of the franchise have been witless. Worse still, there’s now talk of another

In two months, 24 will be 20 years old. This presents the world with two options. The first is an opportunity for misty-eyed retrospectives and an excuse for viewers to rewatch the first season. A chance to rediscover Jack Bauer’s first – and most personally devastating plummet from warm-hearted family man to state-sanctioned killing machine. And maybe some additional context; to remind viewers just how integral 24 was to the golden age of television, or how its 9/11-adjacent debut caught the public’s taste for blood.

The second option is to make more 24, which is a terrible idea. Even during its initial run, 24 became too silly for its own good. Characters were offed and revived without any real care or thought. Storylines went haywire; a nuclear bomb went off in a city one morning and was forgotten about by lunchtime; Jack Bauer beat a heroin addiction in approximately 90 minutes. Subsequent efforts to revive the show – the season set in a cartoon approximation of London, the season that didn’t feature Jack Bauer at all – only saw 24 become less and less vital. Surely everyone knows that making more 24 would be a huge waste of time.

Or maybe not everyone, since Deadline is reporting that Fox Entertainment president Michael Thorn is hungry for a revival. “There’s still a possibility,” he said. “There [are] some active creative discussions that are happening.”

This lines up with comments from 24 executive producer Howard Gordon, who said that new ideas for 24 were “always percolating”. So we should probably just assume that 24 will return to television. The question is in what form.

24: Legacy was cancelled after just one season in 2017, possibly because it didn’t have a strong enough identity. It was a full-steam, all-guns-blazing season which saw Kiefer Sutherland replaced with Eric Carter, played by Corey Hawkins. But Carter wasn’t distinct in any way at all – it often felt like the writers had done a search and replace of the word “Jack” seconds before handing in the scripts – and it struggled as a result. So hopefully another witless reboot is out of the question.

Two ideas that won’t make it to screen are mentioned in the Deadline piece. One – a prequel that traces Jack Bauer’s origin story – is probably best left for dead. Not only are prequels quite tawdry as a form, but it would necessitate the recasting of Jack Bauer and I don’t think viewers would go for that. As the 2017 series proved, 24 is nothing without Sutherland.

Corey Hawkins in 24: Legacy.
Corey Hawkins in 24: Legacy. Photograph: AP

What’s more, the series would have to follow Bauer’s long and brutal military career, and that probably means dropping the real-time format. If you ever saw the 2008 TV movie 24: Redemption – where Jack Bauer basically saves Africa – then you’ll know that this is a bad idea. Without a ticking clock to propel the narrative, Redemption became intolerably generic. All the urgency was gone. It was like a Chuck Norris film.

A better idea, although still kiboshed, was the idea of reinventing 24 as a real-time legal thriller. This actually sounds like it had some potential. We’d get all of the tension of a real-time drama without any of the dreary tropes – the soft perimeters, the imperilled side characters, the truth serum – that often suffocated the previous version.

This new approach actually sounds sustainable, too. It sounds like an anthology series, able to reset and recast with each new iteration. Even by the second season of 24, you started to get the impression that Bauer must be supernaturally unlucky to have to relive his worst-ever day all over again. A fresh start like this might just breathe some life into the old dog.

Of course, the most sensible idea of them all would be to not make any more of it. I don’t say that lightly. I love 24 more than most. The first season deserves to be remembered as one of the most important television programmes ever made. The other Bauer seasons – even at their silliest – retained a gormlessly propulsive charm. I’d even stump for the heroically stupid London season if push came to shove.

But that’s enough now. I hate to say it, but 24 is spent. Instead of digging it up and forcing it back to life, let’s just remember the good times instead. Jack Bauer chopping a man’s head off. Jack Bauer chopping his daughter’s boyfriend’s hand off. Jack Bauer murdering his boss without so much as a moment of introspection. Truly, these were the good times. Please, Fox, don’t sully perfection.


Stuart Heritage

The GuardianTramp

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