For addictive and downright entertaining shows, you need not look much further than 24 – the Kiefer Sutherland lead programme that took an entire season of 24 episodes and set them all over the course of a day from hell. Protagonist Jack Bauer (Sutherland), a TV badass that mastered the use of never needing to eat, sleep or use a toilet for a full turn of the Earth, endured several days of terrorists, kidnapped families, assassination attempts and even, at one point, having to fake his own death. Gripping, exciting and thrilling from start to finish, the early season of 24 were something very unique for their time, with a layered anti-hero in Bauer and shit tonnes of pretty well done action.
Alas, like most great ideas, they cannot stay great forever. After a hugely successful first five seasons, 24 did begin to suffer from what seemed to be creative stalling. Though still enjoyable as hell, the previously unpredictable plots and storylines seemed to start to become the opposite. When before shock deaths of major characters would come out of nowhere, it now seemed that you expected someone’s hasty demise, and could probably even point to the character who’s number was almost up. Therefore, the original 24 sadly ended at the conclusion of it’s 8th season, with Bauer having gone full on psycho on a number of Russian politicians and going on the run.
Despite a quick skirmish in London in 2014, that looked to be the end of 24. Whispers of a film adaptation were heard stemming from Hollywood, but these quickly dissipated into the ether. It truly did look like Sutherland was done with playing Jack Bauer, and the only way 24 would return would be without him. Thus, in January 2016, 24: Legacy was announced. A triumphant return for the show, following the same format and structure, but without it’s much loved main character. A risky venture, one that was received with a mix response from the fan community. And, five episodes into the show, one that may not have paid off.
Indeed, ratings haven’t been too great for 24: Legacy, with Fox itself actually publicly coming out to express its disappointment. Fan reaction has also been mixed, praising the performances and talented cast but ultimately lamenting that this updated version of 24 has simply inherited many of the issues that led to its predecessor being cancelled. So, as we are now five episodes in (thankfully both in the UK and the US), is 24: Legacy a failure, or does it deserve a little more credit?
Well, it does seem the thing people can agree on is the casting choices. Corey Hawkings is the new Jack, this time a tough ex Army Ranger named Eric Carter, who to be fair is every bit as bad-ass as Bauer was. This guy can take down multiple enemies at once, being deadly at hand to hand and dangerously efficient with weapons. Hawkings also plays him pretty well, showing us a man who on the outside looks to be suffering from PTSD after his experiences in the army, but actually misses the action. Whilst this is something we have seen a million times before in shows like this, it does make it easier to identify with him, and helps us to accept a new hero. With Bauer, one of the most effective ideals the original show looked at was his willingness to do horrible things for the greater good, such as torturing and even killing the bad guys if he needed to. Whilst not quite on the level of taking a criminal mastermind’s daughter and marching her into a building full of a deadly virus, Carter will still bend the rules if he needs to, being prepared to break into a police station and break friends out of prison.
The rest of the characters are also as fun and interesting as the 24 folk of old. Miranda Otto shines as Rebecca Ingram, the former head of CTU (Counter Terrorism Unit), whom Hawkings regularly turns to for aid. Jimmy Smits is doing a fine job as Presidential Candidate John Donovan, reminding us of another 24 trope of the trials and tribulations of its doomed Presidents (I’m still bitter over what happened to the Palmer brothers!). Teddy Sears is as good as he ever is playing recently promoted CTU lead Keith Mullins, and special mention to UK actress and former Skins star Kathryn Prescott as radicalised teen Amira Dudayev. It’s a shame the same cannot be said for the show’s villains, who’s few scenes are incredibly dull and make you long for the Charles Logan (Gregory Itzen) days. Hell, even 2014’s Live Another Day had the superb Michelle Fairly for us to appreciate!
The plot is, well – it’s a 24 plot. Terrorists are planning an attack on American soil, someone high up in Government is helping them, and it’s a race against time to find and stop them. Said bad guys oh so smartly decide to also get even with a few old Army Rangers who killed their former leader just as they are about to put their dastardly plan into motion, which of course means that the entire country is now after them. Seriously, what a dumb move, but at least it gives us a nice new story of Carter tracking down the monsters who killed his former army buddies, in a race against time before they activate all the cells in the country. CTU is pretty much the same – a place with all the toys but, at times, utterly useless. There’s a morally perfect nice man trying to get into the White House, and also two other subplots that will lead into the main story arc as the season progresses. In short, there’s nothing really that wrong here. So what’s the problem?
The answer is simple. We’ve seen it all before.
The main issue with the later seasons of 24 was just how predictable they got. There was always a mole working in CTU, Jack was always having to go against his superiors to get the job done, the terrorists would always annoyingly escape right at the last second and someone would be getting bloody kidnapped every week. Hell, it’s the reason why season 8 ended up being it’s last regular season – after a Season 7 that seemed determined to change the tired dated tropes and do something new with the format, Season 8 just went right back to basics and did the same old stuff. It was not that the whole ideas and structure of classic 24 were bad – quite the opposite in fact. It was just that they had been done to death. 24: Legacy offered a chance for the show to return not only with a fresh cast, but with fresh ideas. Keep the real time, keep the terrorists, but change the tired plot lines. Sadly, this just hasn’t been the case.
It’s almost like you can list each repetitive thing from the original show and pin point it to this one. A CTU lead who doesn’t trust Carter and therefore has to be disobeyed, before grudgingly accepting him anyway? Check. A seemingly good guy who’s been working with the terrorists? Check. Someone finds out what some bad guys are up to, but ends up annoyingly dying before he can tell anyone (in a drawn out death that takes two sodding episodes)? Check. The good guys storm the bad guy’s hideout, but they see them coming at the very last second and have some infernal hidden tunnel or van to escape down (memories of this happening continuously in Season 4 spring to mind)? Check. An annoying sub plot that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the rest of what is going on, that doesn’t end up actually really going anywhere (that’s you I’m talking about, Carter’s gangster brother Isaac (Ashley Thomas))? Check.
It actually boarders on annoying when you can see a so called twist coming from a mile away, and know the episode will take its merry time to get there. Unfortunately, 24: Legacy doesn’t seem to want to offer anything new in this area, which places a lot of pressure on its cast. If, indeed, the updated show we were looking for is only going to come from them, then we at least have to really get behind their characters. As said above, there is nothing wrong with the cast, or their individual stories. It’s just – we don’t know these people. Coupling the fact that we are essentially watching a bunch of strangers with the tired and tested old 24 traditions popping up all over the place, you are left feeling like you cannot truly get invested in what’s going on.
Let me be frank. I don’t want to be the type of fan that thinks 24 cannot work without it’s lead character of Jack Bauer. There is no reason why it shouldn’t. But there is no denying that one of the main reasons that people kept coming back to 24, even after it started getting just a little too repetitive, was its multi-layered anti-hero. We loved watching Jack kick ass. Watching him have to go to hell and back to get the job done. We cheered him on when he single handily saved America, and we were horrified when he lost it and went crazy. 24 was Jack’s story – the tale of a man who would do anything if he had to. Of a man who lost his wife, his lovers, his daughter and his freedom in the name of the greater good. We’d been through so much with Jack over the years that it was just a treat to catch up with him and see what horrors his next Day of Terror would provide. So to have a new series of 24 without him does grate, especially when the last we saw of him was his being carted away to a Russian prison. Is this really how we are going to leave our tough hero from the previous nine seasons guys??
It’s not even just the lack of Jack that 24: Legacy suffers from, but the lack of anyone familiar. There’s no Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub). No familiar former politician turned President. No old CTU agent to catch up with. I know that a certain big 24 character may be returning soon, but this is a look at how the first five episodes have shaped up, and so far this doesn’t feel like a continuation of 24. This just feels like a show using the weaker aspects of old 24 and not offering any of the things we actually enjoyed. Take a look at arguably the original show’s strongest season: it’s fifth. I love the hell out of Season 5. It has a fantastic bad guy, a brilliant story arc for Jack, and it’s just so well put together as pretty much every single major character from Seasons 1 – 4 comes back to play a role (and a good chunk of them die). Because we are watching characters we have been invested in from previous seasons, it really helps to make the events of Day 5 feel massive – a shake up to the whole world of 24 that means it will never be the same again. Season 5 has lasting consequences, not just for Jack but for other long running characters too. It serves as a homage to all of the great stuff the show had done up until that point, and is not afraid to blow a hole through all of it.
24: Legacy doesn’t have any of that to fall back on. What it’s delivering is the same old annoying plot twists, the same old situations, but with no established character to draw us back in. And, as such, it’s suffering.
In all, 24: Legacy is not a failure. It’s a well done show, with a solid cast and potential to develop and grow. What let’s it down is the fact that it has all of the issues of it’s predecessor, but not necessarily any of its strengths. Without the original show looming over it, no doubt Legacy would have been much better received than it has been. Whilst ultimately still worth a watch, it does unfortunately state that maybe 24 has truly had its day, and should probably have stayed locked away somewhere with its former lead.