After a wait of seven months, Jack Bauer and 24 return to television with a two-hour fourth season premiere this Sunday, followed by two more hours in its new regular Monday-night slot. I've seen the first three hours, and the premiere starts off with a literal bang, featuring a daring train robbery with echoes of the infamous sequence in THE FUGITIVE. The early plot points involving Middle-Eastern extremists, a possible internet attack, and assassination attempts on American government officials will no doubt be flipped upside down by midseason (and then keep on flipping--that's what makes this show fun), but even three hours in things look to be better on track than season three's listless early episodes.
24 has been following a course strangely parallel to another propulsive spy thriller, ALIAS. Both are entering their fourth season. Both shook up their third season by leaping ahead several years of screen time (although in ALIAS' case, Sydney Bristow was just as in the dark as we were regarding what happened during that gap). Both delayed their fourth season premieres to midseason so as to broadcast the entire season straight through, rather than interspersing new eps with reruns--a choice that should work brilliantly for both their particular storytelling structures. And this season, 24 again echoes its ABC competition by reworking the narrative playground in which the show operates. For Syndey Bristow, that happened in the brilliant post-Superbowl episode, which managed to streamline the show and peel off elements such as the double-agent concept, which worked great at first but had become repetitive and cumbersome. For Jack, it means a new gig outside of field work, the addition of many new faces (including Oscar-nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo), and the loss of many old ones (including most of the CTU staff, President Palmer, and erstwhile cougar- and/or jailbait Kim).
The only CTU holdover from last season is often-annoying Chloe O'Brian. Kim is no longer with CTU, having married her one-handed lover, Chase, and while
Given that we last saw Jack a nearly broken man, weeping in his car at the end of yet another very, very long day, it's all the more surprising to see him genuinely happy in his new life. It's a level of contentment we haven't seen since the writers began putting his life through the shredder in season one with the kidnapping of Kim. And, given the nature of this show, it's no real surprise when that utopic life is in total disarray by the end of hour three.
While I'll miss Tony and Michelle and President Palmer (and Kim, although for entirely different reasons), the show's unevenness last season suggested that it was time to shake the ant farm and let the little buggers start digging some new tunnels. ALIAS' post-Superbowl ep was one of the show's finest hours, and just what it needed at the time. Hopefully, 24 will find similar success after its house cleaning. The showrunners have admitted that they often operate only a few episodes ahead, with only the loosest of overarching plans as to where the season will take them. The downside is the potential to end up spinning your wheels in search of story traction; but the advantage is that it allows you more room to adapt on the fly, exploring unexpected plot twists or character choices. Season three was too much of the former and not enough of the latter--at least for the first half. 24 has a powerful tool in series lead Kiefer Sutherland, the rest of the new cast looks promising, and the show is as ever not shy about delving into storylines both fresh and freshly painful in our society's collective unconscious. Here's hoping that all those checks in the plus column are supported by 24 solid scripts.
Keep your head and hands inside the television, folks...
MONDAY, JANUARY 3
WHO'S YOUR DADDY? (7 PM CST, Fox) Beats me, but this is one show that should never have made it full term.
FEAR FACTOR (7 PM CST, NBC) Another round of couples FEAR FACTOR, because the only thing more fun than watching people eat goat testicles is watching people's relationships disintegrate while they eat goat testicles.
EUROTRIP (7 PM CST, Cinemax) The movie that officially ruined nude beaches for all time.
LAS VEGAS (8 PM CST, NBC) "When You Gotta Go, You Gotta Go." Tonight's ep features dueling Elvises (Elvii?), Duran Duran, and Sly Stallone. And yet somehow, I will still manage not to watch.
MEDIUM (9 PM CST, NBC) "Pilot." Patricia Arquette's Allison DuBois helps locate the body of a murdered boy in this new series from NOW AND AGAIN's Glenn Gordon Caron. (Series premiere)
CSI: MIAMI (9 PM CST, CBS) "Shootout." A firefight in a hospital emergency room leaves two gang members dead, but the investigation reveals there might be a third party involved. Does the hospital have a grassy knoll?
FORTRESS 2: RE-ENTRY (10 PM CST, Sci-Fi) HIGHLANDER alum Christopher Lambert tries to escape a futuristic orbiting prison, even as his career continues to incinerate on reentry.
TUESDAY, JANUARY 4
STEPHEN KING'S 'IT' (6 PM CST, Sci-Fi) Tim Curry as demonic clown: scary. Big animatronic spider: not so much. If only this two part miniseries had stopped with part one...
VERONICA MARS (8 PM CST, UPN) "Silence of the Lamb." Keith looks into the return of a serial killer from his days as sheriff, while Veronica tries to get a hold of a tape that implicated Abel Koontz.
THE RELIC (8 PM CST, USA) Museum setting. Slimy monsters. Bad acting. This should be a perfect preparation for Uwe "Please make the hurting stop" Boll's upcoming ALONE IN THE DARK.
COMMITTED (8:30 PM CST, NBC) "Pilot." A pair of neurotic New Yorkers meet-cute and embark on an equally neurotic relationship. Quirkiness to ensue. (Series premiere)
NOVA (PBC, check local listings) "Welcome to Mars." The team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory examines data from the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 5
THAT '70S SHOW (7 PM CST, Fox) "Don't Lie to Me." Erik offers to help get Hyde's sister away from Kelso. It may all be an elaborate Punk'ing.
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED SWIMSUIT MODEL SEARCH (7 PM CST, NBC) Now that's Must-See TV.
LOST (7 PM CST, ABC) "Whatever the Case May Be." More of Kate's background is brought to light when Sawyer turns up with a briefcase from the crash containing information about her. Or possibly Marcellus Wallace's soul.
MAD MAX (7 PM CST, AMC) Years before he was beating up Jesus, Mel was beating up evil bikers.
THE WEST WING (8 PM CST, NBC) "Faith Based Initiative." It's hot-button topic week on WEST WING as rumors that C.J. is a lesbian result in a Republican senator trying to force the issue of banning gay marriage.
ALIAS (8 PM CST, ABC) "Authorized Personnel Only."
GOODFELLAS (8 PM CST, Lifetime) Could somebody please tell me why this is on Lifetime? Anybody?
LAW & ORDER (9 PM CST, NBC) "Mammon." A wealthy young man's murder casts suspicion on his wife and the contractor with whom she was having an affair. And a moment of silence of L&O vet Jerry Orbach, who passed away last week.
CSI: NY (9 PM CST, CBS) "Tri-Borough." Three murders for the price of one, with a Brooklyn man found dead on the train tracks, a Manhattan art dealer dead in his gallery, and a murdered Queens construction worker just to round things out.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 6
THE O.C. (7 PM CST, Fox) "The Family Ties." I wonder if the O.C. writers were upset that those Chrismuhanuhkwanzakah commercials were cutting into their Chrismukkah action?
LIFE AS WE KNOW IT (7 PM CST, ABC) "A Little Problem." Not sure what to make of ABC moving this mature-content-heavy show to an earlier timeslot.
KING KONG (7 PM CST, TCM) Will the upcoming remake recreate the same magic of the original that enraptured a young Peter Jackson? Either way, it will probably still be Beauty that kills the Beast.
BARB WIRE (7 PM CST, Showtime) Best comic book adaptation ever? As long as you limit it to comic adaptations starring Pamela Anderson, absolutely.
COMMITTED (7:30 PM CST, NBC) "The Return of Todd Episode." NBC obviously wants this new sitcom hyped out the wazoo, offering up two episodes in the show's first week.
CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION (8 PM CST, CBS) "Who Shot Sherlock?" The series pays homage to those who came before when a Sherlock Holmes impersonator is murdered.
MEDIUM (9 PM CST, NBC) "Suspicions and Certainties." Geez, NBC's all about doubling up this week. Tonight, Allison thinks she may have helped put the wrong man on death row.
WITHOUT A TRACE (9 PM CST, CBS) "4.0." The team investigates the disappearance of an academically driven young student. Nuts, there goes her perfect attendance record.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 7
JOAN OF ARCADIA (7 PM CST, CBS) "Game Theory." Joan wonders about her future beyond high school, and God steers her toward a handsome college-age tutor. That's a helluva reference.
FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL (7 PM CST, Oxygen) Back when Hugh Grant was still in his floppy-haired, awkward goofball period, as opposed to his current floppy-haired, devilishly charming cad period.
TOY STORY (7 PM CST, Disney) Without this, there might be no INCREDIBLES, which would make it worthwhile even if it weren't a classic in its own right.
STARGATE ATLANTIS (7 PM CST, Sci-Fi)
STARGATE (7 PM CST, Showtime) Or you can watch the film that started it all.
MEDICAL INVESTIGATION (9 PM CST, NBC) "Spiked." Both seals and beachgoers begin to sicken in California, which worries a prominent marine biologist. I'll take my medical mysteries leavened by the bitter-sharp wit of Hugh Laurie over on HOUSE, thank you kindly.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 8
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (7 PM CST, NBC) In case you missed it last year, or just don't have the Sci-Fi Channel, here's another chance to see the gritty miniseries that lays the groundwork for next week's new ongoing series. The crew of the outdated Galactica must rally a ragtag fleet after a devastating Cylon attack on their homeworld.
THE WILL (7 PM CST, CBS) A bunch of despicable people fight over the spoils of their deceased rancher father. Classy. (Series premiere)
DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (7 PM CST, TCM) Preserve your precious bodily fluids from the godless Commies by watching Peter Sellers play damn near everybody in this classic dark comedy.
CANTERBURY TALES (7 PM CST, BBC America) Let the BBC refresh those memories of high school reading assignments. Tonight starts off with an adaptation of "The Wife of Bath," starring LOVE ACTUALLY's Bill Nighy (soon to be Slartibartfast in next summer's HITCHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY).
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT (8 PM CST, Starz) Skip it and check out the far-superior Director's Cut on DVD, including the daring original ending, as opposed to the Hollywood "mega-happy" ending.
UNDERWORLD (8:30 PM CST, HBO) Not even Kate Beckinsale in skintight leather could save this dour, stuntman-scripted supernatural thriller from its lack of a sense of humor.
MI-5 (9 PM CST, A&E) "Project Friendly Fire." Britain's answer to 24 returns with its third season. (Season premiere)
TAPE (9 PM CST, IFC) An intense and riveting drama as former high-school friends open old wounds in a single hotel room.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 9
24 (7 PM CST, Fox) Jack Bauer's fourth sleep- and bathroom break-free day begins with Jack retired from CTU. But just when he thinks he's out, they pull him back in. (Season premiere)
LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT (8 PM CST, NBC) "Gone." A former chess prodigy is the prime suspect in the murder of a woman whose body is found in a garbage bin.
DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES (8 PM CST, ABC) "Move On." Not to be confused with the activist group, tonight's ep sees the late Mrs. Huber's sister turn up on Wisteria Lane.
CARNIVALE (8 PM CST, HBO) "Los Moscos." As the second season kicks off, the circus folk try to recover with the aftermath of the season-ending fire, and Brother Justin's fame grows as he reaches new converts via the radio. (Season premiere)
BOSTON LEGAL (9 PM CST, ABC) "Schmidt Happens." Candice Bergen begins her turn as a former flame of Denny Crane, who also happens to be a founding partner of the law firm.
UNSCRIPTED (9 PM CST, HBO) Three actors struggle in the Hollywood trenches in this "semi-scripted" show from George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh. (Season premiere)
This concludes our broadcast.
TV Wasteland is our weekly Television column. The identities of all CTU employees used for the making of this column have been protected.