'24: Live Another Day' Series Review: A New Day, The Same Tired Plot
24 as a franchise was a victim of its own success. 24: Live Another Day is a victim of its own limited imagination. On paper, 24: Live Another Day seemed like a reasonable idea — streamline the series down to 12 episodes that would skip hours in between. This would allow for broader location shoots and keep the show from airing numerous transitional episodes and padding scripts with meaningless subplots and tangents. The problem is that so little of this season felt new.
In its waning years, FOX and 24’s creative brain trust decided to move Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) to different locations; season 7 was in Washington, DC, season 8 in New York, and now London. What they didn’t realize then – and only slightly understand now – is that different sets and different shooting locations do not create a new show. It just creates new scenery. The show, in all these iterations, remained unchanged. Jack was always right, would get arrested, would go on the lam; there would be a mole operating within CTU/FBI/CIA or the White House staff. Characterization would be exchanged for reused plots about nukes or bio-agents. Chloe would be shoe-horned in because…I don’t know. I don’t understand her character’s appeal.
What Live Another Day amended was the realization of its setting. London was a character in the show as much as Jack; the politics, procedures and problems of a foreign nation figured largely into the story. How certain threats blow back on other countries just for being an ally to someone else’s enemy was crucial to the season. Margot Al-Harazi (Michelle Fairley) was as much a problem for America as she was for the United Kingdom. Fairley played her masterfully, and it was apparent the writers enjoyed writing her character as much as Fairley enjoyed playing her. As a villain Al-Harazi had a strange sense of honor and bizarre affection for her family. Her own strange worry of what her life would be after her vendetta against President Heller (William Devane) echoes the sadness of the revenger: When the task is complete, what’s left to live for? Unfortunately, her scenes playing against Heller and Jack were sparse, and while her death was shocking it was a bit premature.
While the common tropes of the series remained, the streamlined structure allowed for these plot developments to bloom and die in very short order. The mole story surrounding Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski) and Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt) could have meant more than it did. It certainly had an interesting backstory, but it was never really developed in the main thrust of the show, and was only a conduit to move to the next villain in Adrian Cross (Michael Wincott). We couldn’t get emotionally invested in either of these plots because they were so familiar (having appeared in other forms in literally every season of the show). That is, unfortunately, also the case with Jack Bauer himself.
Four years passed in real time, and in show time, between season 8 of 24 and LAD. The series picked back up in Live Another Day giving the audience no hint as to what Jack’s life was like on the run besides from a terse line or two about being unhappy and wanting to see his family. Jack is forever unchanging; he’s as stoic and unflinching as always. If anything has changed over the years it’s that his bloodlust has increased notably since the death of his wife, Teri, in season 1. Jack’s actions have increased in both their illogical desperation and operatic violence. This, however, isn’t plot; nor is it drama.
With the 24 movie likely as dead as David Palmer, it’s a wonder why the writers this time around didn’t go for broke. They simply rehashed (in an admittedly faster manner) the same things we’d seen before. Rather than feature the long overdue death of Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) — who is as redundant as Jack is — or the return of Tony Almeida, we were given very little new or familiar to enjoy. This season could have been about closure, and making use of the “representative day” structure could have opened Jack Bauer’s world. I think we all imagined that given the 12-hour version of a 24-hour day, we would have a time jump every few episodes, and have Jack Bauer schlepping all over Europe in an attempt to avert some new and exciting disaster. It would give both Jack and the few remaining living characters in the show a chance to take one last bow in one final adventure, but, oddly, there were no major breaks — no new application to the old gimmick. Indeed, purgatory is a 24 marathon.
While so much of this miniseries was a letdown, there were specific highpoints. By season 3, the show had essentially given up on the idea of character development, saving it for a single moment every year where Jack would have a brief, emotional talk with someone — David Palmer, George Mason, Tony Almeida, Kim or Chloe — and there were actually a number of emotional character driven scenes this time around. The scenes were few but were in the vein of closure that I mentioned before; there was a sense of solemn finality to these moments, and so much could have come from this. Everything clicked into place in these scenes — the writing, the acting, the score, the story — and showed in a microcosm what 24 was capable of when firing on all cylinders. Jack had a few tender moments with Audrey (Kim Raver) and a peace-making conversation with President Heller; in his “goodbye” to her, both Audrey and Heller had some strong character work that both actors seemed to enjoy playing; even Mark Boudreau (Tate Donovan) — the very definition of an obvious 24 empty suit weasel managed to become three dimensional if only for a moment.
The top of the ninth inning inclusion of popular 24 bad guy Cheng Zhi (always played with understated menace by Tzi Ma) was a welcome eddy of fresh air, as it raised the personal stakes for both Jack and Audrey. His motives were rather shortsighted and verging on comic book-y, but the point was to bring emotion into this, and the writers succeeded. They even came close to commenting on the strange, almost Munchausen-like, relationship that can develop between the torturer and the tortured. Of course, this is 24, so they scratch up against a meaningful idea, mostly on accident, and continue on with Chloe talking to a computer screen in truly wretched makeup.
So, in a fairly underwhelming finale, Audrey dies. For some reason, Morgan decides she needs to immediately call Jack and tell him the news despite knowing he’s on a dangerous mission. Honestly, who does that? Who thinks the best thing to do is to call a field agent — distracting them with the call itself —and tell them the love of his life was shot and killed? Then again, continuity must be served, and like all odd numbered seasons, we need to see Jack weep quietly for no more than fifteen seconds.
Heller finds out Audrey’s dead and faints, but seems to recover quickly enough for a relatively poignant conversation with Stephen Fry, who was absolutely wasted on this series playing Prime Minister Alastair Davies. Heller, like the rest of the cast and the writers, seems to have forgotten he has a son. Too late now, I guess.
Chloe gets kidnapped by the Russians and they trade her for Jack and he flies away in a helicopter to be tortured or something. The only other thing worth referencing as a positive is the method of Cheng Zhi’s death (all barges naturally have samurai swords), though he and Jack didn’t say anything to each other, so it wasn’t particularly cathartic or compelling. Jack’s summary execution of him isn’t exactly proof of Cheng Zhi’s wrongdoing that could hold up in court, and, no, there’s no one left to get a confession from, so, yeah. Thanks, Jack.
I sometimes wonder what 24 would have been had the decision been made to focus on character and suspense over spectacle. Given the cartoony nature of the show, it is open to big emotions, though they often played them quietly. They weren’t always subtle but they felt genuine. The Shield tempered plot and character while also dealing with a bombastic reality. Had 24: Live Another Day embraced totally the idea of new concepts and closure to an aging franchise, perhaps there would be something more to hold on to, something more to care about other than what brand of messenger bag Jack Bauer is carrying this season.
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