The risk paid off! 24 is back without Jack Bauer – and it's incredible

I started watching the first Jack-less episode of 24: Legacy with trepidation in my heart. By the end, I was all but punching the air with delight

The new series of 24 – officially titled, for reasons that aren’t immediately apparent, 24: Legacy – represents the biggest risk in the show’s history. It’s bigger than Nina killing Jack’s wife, or Jack’s dad blowing up on an oil rig. It’s bigger than the move to London, bigger than the decision to cut each series down to 12 episodes and bigger than any number of hokey subplots where a mountain lion terrorises a teenage girl for LOLs.

The new reluctant psychopathic superhero … Eric Carter, played by Corey Hawkins.
Your new beloved psychopathic superhero … Eric Carter, played by Corey Hawkins. Photograph: FOX

Because in 24: Legacy, Jack Bauer is nowhere to be seen. It’s someone else’s voice gravely intoning when the following will take place. It’s someone else driving like a maniac while yelling about moles. There’s shooting and torture aplenty, but Jack Bauer – my beloved Jack Bauer, my reluctant psychopathic superhero Jack Bauer – is entirely out of the picture. That’s an incredible risk for 24 to take.

Reader, the risk paid off. I’ve seen the first Jack-less episode of 24: Legacy, and I am here to tell you that it is incredible.

Now, a quick caveat. You’ll probably only agree if you liked all the other seasons of 24. In my book, thanks to its format and movie star lead and endless dramatic rug-pulling, 24 deserves to be recognised as one of the shows that helped transform television from cinema’s poor cousin into the most creatively satisfying medium in entertainment. I love how gonzo 24 is. I love the constant march of plot, so relentless that the show usually ends up throwing itself under its own wheels to service the story. I love the blood and the death and the soft perimeters and the damnits. 24, no matter how improbable it gets, is my show.

If you disagree – if you’ve never got on with 24, or checked out when Jack chopped Chase’s arm off, or pedantically wondered when anyone went to the toilet – 24: Legacy is not for you. It is exactly the same as Kiefer-era 24. There are terrorists, there’s a presidential candidate, there’s a mole and, at the centre of it all, there’s a hero who seems reluctant to save the day even though his heart yearns for the binary clarity of violent justice.

The first episode is 24 by numbers … there are terrorists, there’s a presidential candidate, there’s a mole and, at the centre of it all, there’s a hero who seems reluctant to save the day.
The first episode is 24 by numbers … there are terrorists, there’s a presidential candidate, there’s a mole and there’s a hero who seems reluctant to save the day. Photograph: Michael Becker/FOX

The first episode is 24 by numbers. Our new hero – Eric Carter, played by Corey Hawkins – is in witness protection after helping to kill an Osama bin Laden analogue. Some terrorists come for him in revenge, and it seems likely that they did so on the orders of someone at CTU. Carter can trust nobody, but he’s got a gun and a friend with a surveillance drone, so the game is on.

It all unpacks in such a hurry, kicking into high gear with a breathless home invasion scene less than 10 minutes in, that you don’t have time to miss Kiefer Sutherland. When the pace eventually drops (at least as much as 24 will allow it to) you might find yourself yearning for the moments of shy sincerity that occasionally punctured Bauer’s bravado. However, even then you can’t deny that it’s refreshing to have a newcomer like Hawkins at the helm. By the end of the last series, Jack had lost everything. He’d been physically and emotionally brutalised to the point that he was just a scar, an unfeeling weapon light years from his family-man origins. He had no stakes left.

Carter, though, has everything to lose. He’s a real person with a wife, friends, and a life that he’s come to rely on. There is not a chance that he’ll still have all three by the end of these 12 episodes, but that’s probably the point.

Everything to lose … Carter is a real person with a wife, friends, and a life that he’s come to rely on.
Everything to lose … Carter is a real person with a wife, friends, and a life that he’s come to rely on. Photograph: John P Fleenor/FOX

Oh sure, if we’re nitpicking then I could point out the handful of undeniably cringeworthy moments in the pilot. The exposition, so artless that a senator basically introduces himself by saying “I’m a senator”. The improbable tech. The teen subplot that feels precision-designed to infuriate viewers.

But that’s part and parcel of 24. If you’re a fan you’ll have long ago accepted these flaws as part of the show’s charm, just as you’ll be braced for the inevitable episode where the show gets itself in a tangle and has to kill off its primary antagonist to get things moving again, or Tony Almeida being played with enough ambiguity to get the writers out of a hole four episodes in.

I started watching 24: Legacy with a huge amount of trepidation in my heart. But by the end of the episode, where almost every single cast member gets a close-up of them looking away suspiciously, just in case they turn out to be the mole, I was all but punching the air with delight. 24 – my stupid, wonderful 24 – is back. Wild horses couldn’t stop me from watching this.

24: Legacy starts on Fox in the US on 5 February after the Superbowl, and in the UK at 9pm on 15 February.


Stuart Heritage

The GuardianTramp

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