Monday, April 13, 2009

Pay attention: '24' is ticking again, and this one's a blast

A great day is about to get better.

Indeed, anyone with any affection for 24 is likely to love tonight's outing, which finds the series hitting one of its periodic reset buttons. But it's more than just a pivotal episode; it's a nearly ideal one, with some longed-for resolution, an emotional reconciliation, an exciting central sequence, and at least one surprise that's sure to leave you gasping.

And yes, Kim returns. But before you scream "cougar" (poor Elisha Cuthbert, who was really more wronged than wrong), let it be said it's a well-handled, sufficiently well-explained return. And for those who are invested in the series, a necessary one, as there were open questions between Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) and his daughter that needed to be answered.

The hour is built around the showdown between the president (the wonderful Cherry Jones) and Jonas Hodges (Jon Voight, who has created one of the show's more entertaining villains). Jonas is willing to put down his bioweapon, but he wants something in return, and you're about to find out what. (Those who accuse 24 of being a right-wing fascist fantasy haven't been watching; if anything, its view of power-mad executives and duplicitous officials borders on the anarchic.)

Meanwhile, back at the FBI, a bio-infected, office-bound Jack is down but not out. He's still capable of saving the day, even from a distance.

Telling more would be unfair. What matters is that, unlike last season, the dodges and disasters all feel fairly earned and are, for 24, reasonably restrained.

What that leaves you with is a fabulous outing that makes terrific use of all the tricks the medium has to offer, from the score to the editing, and terrific use of some fine actors, Sutherland chief among them. But it pays to remember what you're getting. 24 is a great TV show, but it's not a great drama, nor does it claim to be.

This isn't The Wire; you don't come to 24 for probing insights into the human condition. You come for the ride, the way it brings Jack, the world or the bad guys to the brink of disaster, makes escape seem impossible, and then arranges an escape. Ratchet up the stakes, repeat.

Its skill is in keeping you interested in the game and fooled by its variations on a theme. And this season, it has once again succeeded in making you want to stick around to see the bad guy punished.

Happily, there's more fun to come, as you'll see from tonight's final twist. And who knows, maybe Jack can even kick that lethal virus.

After all, why can't Jack come back from near death? His show sure has.

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