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Jack is back!

October 2007 SITE MAP   SEARCH

24 - season six
cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Peter MacNicol, Powers Boothe, and James Morrison

creators: Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran

1001 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 1.78:1 20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Jeff Young
Despite being obviously derived from Hollywood blockbusters such as Air Force One (1997), the ever popular Die Hard movie series, and those intricately plotted story-arcs from television series La Femme Nikita (1997 - 2001), and Alias (2001-6), the ultimate US espionage drama and L.A. action-thriller combination of 24 (which debuted with extreme prescience during the post-9/11 season of 2001) has long since evolved into its very own class of non-stop, comic-book styled, happily addictive (according to many, including your reviewer), high tension compressed narratives in which all hell breaks loose, one bad day at a time. Indeed, the trendy show has been so successful at outgrowing its influences, including those blatant 007 super-spy references, that its charismatic star Kiefer Sutherland could appear in The Sentinel while playing more-or-less the self same federal agent character, and so the 'cannibalistic' feedback loop between cinema and television media, is once again revealed with tiny details. So here we go again, anyway, with day six, as the invisibly traumatised 'superman' Jack Bauer is granted a negotiated release from the Chinese prison where he's been tortured and interrogated - probably in no particular order ('uh, can I have fries with that?' I'd imagine stoic captive Jack asking his Asian tormentors) - and with little effect on his maximum security psyche, anyhow, for the last 20 months...

This season's main threat is posed by yet another brand of Islamic terrorism as, with shocking ease, formidably grim-faced Abu Fayed (Adoni Maropis) gets his bloodthirsty gang armed up with a dodgy batch of second-hand Russian suitcase nukes, and so he's all set to become no-nonsense Jack's latest adversary. Typically, the stakes are sky high when major cities are targeted for square-mile devastation and widespread fallout. And the risk is genuine, sure enough, as just four hours into the day, there's a mushroom cloud over populated California killing many thousands, instantly. We are spared depictions of hellish scenes from ground zero (probably more down to this TV show's budgetary restrictions than any particular squeamishness by the programme's makers), however and, instead, the potentially horrifying moment of a nuked American city is quietly marked by Jack finally deciding that, having failed to prevent the atom-bombing, it must surely his turn for an emotional breakdown. Shortly thereafter, the coolly recovering Jack is under such immensely staggering personal and professional pressure to get the federal agency's thankless job done, and forget about the moral questions, that he is provoked into shooting his own partner. But never fear and not to worry, as the stalwart Curtis (Roger R. Cross), is promptly replaced by yet another gung-ho field agent, Mike Doyle (Ricky Schroder, last seen, or at least noticed, playing rookie detective Sorenson in NYPD Blue).

With Jack's own brother Graem (Paul McCrane, looking and sounding like a Batman villain whose costume is at the dry-cleaners) now utterly guilty of vile betrayals and expressly involved with the ongoing nuclear treason, while their outlaw father upsets everyone concerned by tricking the vice president into ignominious failure, eagerly trashes all-American family values by revealing an unhealthily patriarchal obsession with his surviving nephew, and then plots his own exodus to China, this sequence of revelations about the Bauer clan depicted here almost makes me want to cry out (in a typically angst-ridden comedic manner of Denis Leary's infamously ironic and incredulous rant about the Jacksons)... 'the Bauers are dysfunctional? Not the Bauers!' Yes, it's a bit of a shame that the casting producers of 24 couldn't have got Sutherland's own father Donald to play Philip Bauer, but James Cromwell (space pioneer Zefram Cochrane in various Star Trek incarnations) is a more than acceptable substitute, at once sinisterly humourless and brutally calculating in his renegade behaviour, with witheringly judgemental expressions of disappointment and suitably volatile streaks of temper in ethical debate or physical confrontations with his estranged but earnestly doubtless son.

The solid main casts and frequently astounding line-up of guest stars on 24 have always provided good talking points and plenty of standout characters from actors. For the sixth day out, the show is blessed with the presence of Peter MacNicol (Ally McBeal, Numb3rs) as the believably honest, only rarely misguided, White House chief of staff, Tom Lennox; James Morrison as the totally unflappable CTU boss Bill Buchanan; and D.B. Woodside - as new US President Wayne Palmer - a black character who seemed designed just to irritate when he was merely the president's brother (David Palmer was portrayed with tremendous gravitas and popular statesman-like appeal by Dennis Haysbert, now a regular on The Unit), but has since grown into a fairly watchable chief executive figurehead gifted with a quietly intense sincerity. It must be said, though, that Woodside's acting chops are no match for those of Powers Boothe, who plays a hawkish vice president learning some hard character-reforming lessons about sitting in the 'big chair', and so it's left up to MacNicol's performance as the cunning Tom, to balance out the story's heavyweight dramatics at cabinet level.

From its earliest days, the makers of 24 have always had a keen eye for TV babes, but (as a fan of girls with guns) I find it a shame only a few have demonstrated much competence with firearms. It started with Elisha Cuthbert as Jack's wayward daughter Kim, and Sarah Clarke as Nina Myers - surely the evil bitch queen of Jack Bauer's universe, and continued in later seasons with the likes of Reiko Aylesworth as CTU cutie Michelle Dessler, delectable Sarah Wynter as Kate Warner, Kim Raver as the unfortunately simpering Audrey Raines, and who could forget the ravishing Mia Kirshner as TV's hippest assassin, Mandy? This season's newcomers include Marisol Nichols as racially profiled office exec Nadia, who nonetheless does a fine job leading CTU through a hostage crisis after her boss Bill is unfairly dismissed in a coldly unpleasant political manoeuvre; Rena Sofer (who also stars in Heroes) as Jack's old flame but now sister-in-law, Marilyn; and blonde Kari Matchett as the vice president's deceitful aide Lisa Miller. In fact, even the infamously 'sulky' Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub), is now considered a 'hottie' (proof that female techies are sexy, indeed?), at least by her screen beau Morris (Carlo Rota, who, like recent 24 guest star Alberta Watson, is yet another spy game player imported from Canada's La Femme Nikita).

Whereas previous romantic subplots, unrelated to Jack Bauer, have concentrated on glamorous younger characters (particularly that of Tony and Michelle, who got married), and, indeed, this season features a doomed affair between techies Milo (Eric Balfour) and Nadia, it's interesting to note here that 24's writers are courting mature viewers with an emphasis on the emotional struggles of the long-distance marriage between CTU's Bill, and the Department of Homeland Security's Karen Hayes (Jane Atkinson). While his wife's advising the president in Washington D.C., Bill is stuck in L.A., and their phone conversations always carry undercurrents of the strain and tension that living apart puts on their relationship, even as they drift closer to retirement age, and both Morrison and Atkinson deserve our respect for managing the difficult task of generating warmth and humanity, especially while they discuss matters of 'realpolitik' on the opposite ends of a microwave link. These are exactly the kind of supporting characters that make TV shows like this actually function as dramatic entertainment, and it should not go unnoticed or uncelebrated how their always worthwhile contributions bring verisimilitude to such a generally fantastical premise.

There's one nasty showdown fight scene with both actors working hard to sell it as a particularly violent death struggle, numerous chaotic gun battles and shootouts, and several spectacular action set pieces per hour, but a sense of repetition and of sour-tinged predictability hovers closer now than was evident in previous seasons. In the end, with Bauer's teenage nephew safe from harm, and the world saved (not without effort or cost, though) from a series of potential disasters, once more, Jack regrettably epilogues all the preceding dramas with a succinct but turgidly patriotic Rambo style speech, but then he also copes with a wordless moment for the quietly intense coda which finally reveals Jack Bauer as a desperately lonely hero, stricken almost dead inside by the romantic and familial conflicts arising from the burdens of his genuine social conscience.

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