"24" off to strong start after dud season

Thu Jan 8, 2009 4:00am EST
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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Considering the jump-the-shark pronouncements that accompanied Season 6 of "24" two years ago, the clamor for the return of Fox's real-time thriller has been notably muted.

The good news is that the now customary two-night, four-hour kickoff on Sunday and Monday finds the series returning to its heart-in-your-throat best, replete with old villains, intricate conspiracies, moral quandaries and political intrigue. What easily could have devolved into self-parody has again become a riveting thriller that hits the ground sprinting. Of course, that also was the case at the beginning of the sixth season, and it didn't last, so we'll have to see if "24" can avoid the dreaded March and April qualitative blues this time around.

Things kick off with former Counter Terrorism Unit badass Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) in court, his beloved CTU having been disbanded; now he's forced to answer for his excesses before a Senate subcommittee. He sits there essentially justifying his torture techniques. But it won't be long before Bauer is pressed back into service.

A scientist has been kidnapped, and the nation's air travel is suddenly under siege (sound familiar?). Moreover, the threat is emanating from his longtime pal Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard), thought to be in the ground but, well, this is "24," where the difference between life and death is measured in minutes. Pretty soon, Jack is having to play more or less by the rules with an FBI agent (Annie Wersching) while the president (Cherry Jones) faces off with a Mugabe-like African dictator.

Through the first four hours, the twists and turns and squirms fly around with the usual swiftness as the clock ominously ticks ever forward. But as the series is called "24" rather than "4," it's next week when the real creative challenge begins.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

<p>Actor Kiefer Sutherland arrives at singer-songwriter Elton John's 60th birthday party in New York March 24, 2007. REUTERS/Eric Thayer</p>