Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Keep calm and...dammit!

Fasten your seatbelts, 24 fans; it's time to get Jacked up in jolly old England

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The beeping digital clock is back. So is the multi-split-screen gimmick. So are the frantic pace, high stakes and constant delivery of "Dammit!"-inducing plot twists and surprises.

And so, of course, is Jack Bauer.

But when the much-beloved (and, in most viewers' minds, long-gone) Fox drama 24 is revived this week, don't be surprised if the familiar beep-punctuated passage of time is augmented by a few Big Ben bongs to mark the quarter-hours.

The 12-part "event series" thriller, 24: Live Another Day, which premières Monday, May 5, at 7 p.m. on Fox and Global, finds Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) in London, England, resurfacing suddenly after having been off the grid for about (in the 24-world timeline) four years.

It's a different time and a different place, but that doesn't mean Jack's a man alone when he makes his anything-but-subtle re-entry into the world of espionage and terrorism. Also still in the picture is computer geek Chloe O'Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub), who's bitter and all gothed up and has joined the ranks of Edward Snowden-ish hacker activists. Also present are James Heller (William Devane), who now affixes the title "President" to his name, and first daughter Audrey Raines (Kim Raver), who has emerged from the coma she was in when last we saw her, but is still clearly damaged by having allowed herself to get too close, on too many levels, to Jack.

All of them, as luck and narrative necessity would have it, are in England. Chloe is part of London's hacker underground, and POTUS is about to engage in some high-level diplomatic meetings with Prime Minister Alastair Davies (Stephen Fry).

Among the key new players in the 24 ensemble is Tate Donovan as Heller's chief of staff, Mark Boudreau, whose political agenda might at some point become compromised by his deepening personal relationship with Audrey.

As the story opens, Jack's seemingly careless reappearance -- particularly in a city chock-full of closed-circuit security cameras -- causes quite a jolt in the CIA's London office. They can't believe their luck; of course, where Jack Bauer is concerned, luck probably has very little to do with it.

The CIA types, including straight-shooting bureau chief Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt) and about-to-be-transferred agent Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski), toss around terms like "fugitive," "traitor" and "terrorist" as they consider how to deal with Bauer's presence in London.

A strike team descends on Jack's last known location. Whether he's captured will likely depend very much on how determined he is to remain un-captured. Jack is, after all, Jack.

Without a doubt, treachery and terrorism will abound as the story unfolds, and Jack's place in the midst of it will be misunderstood right up until the final digital-clock beep.

The locale is different and the passage of time is obvious, but 24 fans will be gratified to know that all the things that made the series so maddeningly addictive during its eight-season run are solidly in place. From the opening moments, 24: Live Another Day begins the process of cranking up the action and suspense.

As always, a complete willingness to suspend disbelief is required. But if you're able to let loose of your usual demand for narrative logic, you're in for another crazy-fun ride.

When Sutherland, castmate Rajskub and 24's producers met with the press last January during Fox's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles, there was a shared feeling that a limited-run "event" series -- rather than the long-discussed feature-film spinoff that has yet to materialize -- is the best format for reviving the 24 franchise.

"The script for the film is very, very different," Sutherland explained, "and the film is an ongoing kind of situation. There's always an opportunity to do that. But (executive producer) Howard (Gordon) came up with an idea for a 12-episode run at this, and it was the opportunity that presented itself first.

"It's a fantastic idea, and it's something we're very excited about doing ... (and) if this ends up rebooting the show or causing a film to be made, so be it."

Gordon added that with Jack Bauer as its conscience and (somewhat) moral centre, 24 is able to adjust to the times and incorporate ongoing themes into its storylines.

"I think Jack is sort of the Rorschach test," he offered. "He's been politicized, but when you think about it, he's really this remarkably apolitical character. We accept that the world has become more complex than it was when we started 24; things seemed simpler at that time (in 2001).

"Jack has, I think, acted in ways that have challenged his behaviour; Jack has grown with it. And this is really about Jack and where he is 12 years later. I think we're introducing some very exciting topics and current things -- we have analogues for the Snowden affair, and we have the drone issue as a backdrop.

"But as always, it's really all about the characters who make up our show."

Gordon added that the biggest challenge facing 24's writers is making sure the story doesn't repeat itself -- and given all the various ways the world has been threatened by terrorists and saved by Jack during the show's wildly adrenalized eight-season run, that's quite a demand.

"It has always been the trick and the challenge of this show to tell the story of our characters and make sure that that story is being told forward, and that there are always new places to go," he said. "With Jack, I think we have found a place that eluded us four years ago when we might have considered going on to a ninth season.

"What was so exciting to us is that we found a place to locate Jack emotionally and to locate Jack physically. And the same for Chloe, who is not just his sidekick and most trusted friend. (She is) someone who has been quite damaged and has now joined the 'free information' movement. ... There's a complexity to these issues. And as long as we are bringing them up honestly, it's not Jack's job to adjudicate what's right or what's wrong. We just have to put them out there and enjoy the complexity of these things."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 1, 2014 C1

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