“Events occur in real time.”
24: Legacy (S1:E1&2): “12:00pm – 2:00pm” – C-
When 24 first returned, you could sort of understand why, even if 4 years was not really enough time to engender the sort of nostalgia and goodwill that precipitates a revival. 24’s first finale was not exactly the kind of barnstormer that a show that was once as important and game-changing as it was really deserved. Oh sure, the season ended strong, with Jack Bauer finally going as rogue as rogue can get, but much of its first two-thirds felt tired and completely bereft of any ideas. The show had floundered post-Day 5, as it both tried to recover from the utterly abysmal Day 6 – the kind of bad season that kills television shows and their respective legacies stone dead – and justify its continued existence in the new Democratic Obama administration, something it could never quite do. The result was a show drained, of shocks, of fun, of any real direction, and a rather strong final back run couldn’t fully disguise that.
So Day 9, or Live Another Day if you want to go by its weird subtitle, carried an air of unfinished business to it. Here was an opportunity to close the saga of Jack Bauer properly, which it managed, barring the occasional misstep. But it also enabled Day 9 to double as a distilled throwback of sorts, a chance to experience 24 in its purest form whilst also somewhat distanced from uncomfortable real world ties because, hey, we live in a more enlightened age and administration now! So when Day 9 went full-loopy right-wing fear-wank – BRITISH MUSLIMS ARE GOING TO STEAL TECHNOLOGY MADE BY EDWARD SNOWDEN-TYPES TO TURN OUR DRONES AGAINST US AND THEN THE RUSSIANS ARE GOING TO TEAM UP WITH CHINESE EXTREMISTS TO MANIPULATE AMERICA AND CHINA INTO WORLD WAR III BECAUSE LAND AND OIL!!!! – it was so goofy, hyper-paranoid, and, most importantly, not influencing real-world counter-terrorism policies that we could sit back and appreciate 24 for what it could be at the best of times: a ridiculous 80s action movie stretched out to a full season of Network Television.
The question, then, when 24: Legacy was first announced in the middle of last year, at a more innocent time when a large percentage of us were still writing off the prospect of a Trump presidency, was simple and to the point: why? 24 not only had its perfect send-off, the capper to the redemption arc that the show needed, but it was also still a relic of a bygone era. I would never try to reduce the show’s politics down to a simplistic “far-right bordering on fascistic” mis-conclusion – the show is far, far more complex, and also paradoxically simplistic, politically than most are willing to acknowledge – but the fact is that, even though it went into full production prior to 9/11, 24 owed its entire existence as the show that it became to George W. Bush’s post-9/11 War on Terror policies and, to put it mildly, lax attitudes towards concepts like “due process” and “the opposite of xenophobic profiling based upon religious beliefs.” Why bring 24 back now?
That answer inadvertently resolved itself once Trump won the electoral college on November 8th 2016. The worst tenants of 24 – the Islamophobia, the xenophobia, the gun-ho patriotism fuelled by America’s victim complex, that everyone in the world is always out to bring down good old America, and its resultant catastrophising that is supposed to excuse such profiling and hatred – have turned out to be rather in vogue again in the political and social climates. That simultaneously makes 24: Legacy, a show that opens with scary foreign Muslim terrorists ransacking the home of an Army Ranger whilst speaking Arabic before killing the bound and helpless man the same way that they killed his family, both incredibly timely and the single most unfortunately timed television show on the air right now. We, in the real world, are still dealing with Trump’s failed attempt at the “Muslim Ban” executive order, which he is currently going back to the drawing board with. Sure, 24: Legacy may effectively be visualising the anxieties and fears of a large group of Americans right now, but should it even be doing so in the first place? Should we be giving valuable air time to dramatizing these intolerant and misdirected fears?
Unless things overstep any further than that, that’s going to be the last time I talk about the politics of 24: Legacy in these pieces (if this becomes a regular feature). Watching 24 at all means reconciling the genuine enjoyment that the series is capable of bringing with the knowledge that the show is “problematic” at the very least. This is something that I have managed to come to terms with over the years, and it’s what enables me to be a devoted fan of the series without becoming the personification of White Guilt or the personification of An Arsehole. What’s more pressing is the fact that 24: Legacy still has no real reason dramatically to exist. 24 revolutionised the American Television Drama, helping to popularise strong serialisation, cliffhangers, and a heavy influence of Film stylistic techniques on American Dramas, all without losing the Primetime Soap at its core. Of course, as mentioned, 24 eventually ran out of tricks, ran out of steam, and all of its once novel innovations were expanded upon and sometimes even bettered by other television shows – first through mystery-box-dramas like Lost, now more with the blatant Soaps of ABC’s Shonda-land programming and FOX’s own Empire. Whilst it was fun to see the old tricks trotted out for Live Another Day, as a sort of do-over epilogue nostalgia tour, Legacy is trying to establish itself as a new show altogether, albeit with the 24 trappings.
Worse still, the opening two hours of Legacy don’t do a strong enough job in providing a reason to be invested other than “24’s back!” Even at its most tired late into the original run, 24 was able to draw upon reserves of past weight and investment through Jack Bauer, Chloe O’Brian, and whichever of the main cast were still alive at that point in time for its premieres in order to hit the ground running. The amount of time that we had spent with these characters, seeing them be ground into the dirt, shouldering endless amounts of pain and guilt, gave an inherent weight that meant the show could dive straight into something like the Day 5 premiere – murdering David Palmer and Michelle Dessler, Chloe barely escaping assassination herself, Jack being framed for all of said, and that final shoot-out at the construction site – without having to do too much work to get there. That’s the benefit of being a mid-series opener.
Legacy, though, is supposed to be its own thing, yet moves like one of those mid-series premieres. It takes all of 10 minutes for bin-Khalid’s people to come a-knockin’ on Eric Carter’s door, another 10 minutes from that for Carter and his wife Nicole to murder them, and one commercial break after that for Carter and Former CTU Director Rebecca Ingram to deduce that there is definitely a mole and that nobody else can be trusted. Except that far more important questions than any of those revelations have yet to be addressed: who are any of these people? What are they like outside of chaos? Why are we supposed to care about them? What are the stakes? Sure, we get rudimentary answers, but they’re not enough to create investment. Think back to the pilot for Day 1 of 24, or even the first hour of Day 9. Note how controlled they are with their pacing, how they work to shade in their cast so that we can connect with and care about them enough so that the eventual bursts of action carry more than just spectacle to themselves.
All of that is missing in the first hour of Legacy, which goes from 0 – 100 so fast that almost all of its dialogue, which has often been a problem with 24 in general anyway, ends up being hastily-yelled exposition designed to plug in the holes where “characterisation” is supposed to be, to an often-laughable degree. Some of this could be excused by the pilot’s nature as a Post-Superbowl lead-out, something which was decided basically from the outset of the show’s existence and which must’ve been a major pain in the arse to try and work with, but that doesn’t really excuse just how terribly directed the first episode is in general. Stephen Hopkins, who directed half of the original Day 1, returns to the director’s chair here and his attempts to update the visual style of 24, that was set in stone a good decade and a half ago, with the visual style of a 2017 FOX Soap instead lead to a borderline-incoherent mess. Trading in the steady rhythm of cuts and edits that 24 initially established for the sorts of rapid cuts normally associated with noted hack Olivier Megaton does not do the manic pacing of what one could charitably call a narrative any favours at all.
Things end up on a better footing in the show’s second hour, as it slows way down to instead base itself around a pair of 24 staples: the crazed plan against the clock in a constrained place that has little chance of succeeding, and the double-switchback – where a character is accused of being a terrorist, only to profess their innocence with total sincerity to the accuser, only to find out that, whoops, evidence proves that they really might be a terrorist after all! It’s also directed by series mainstay Jon Cassar who gets straight to work in re-establishing the series’ usual visual language and rhythms, even if it lacks anything as understatedly stylish as the post-action oner from the pilot. But that in and of itself doesn’t fix the major systemic issues at the show’s core. All it does is take a spectacularly bad television show and turn it into a watchable but empty television show, something we’re not exactly in short supply of with regards to television at the moment.
Quite simply, who is Eric Carter? I am not one of those people who believes that 24 cannot survive without Jack Bauer, I think that the central real-time crisis gimmick is strong enough that you could theoretically keep it going without keeping Bauer around; think back to how everybody was clamouring for Kate Morgan or Renee Walker to take over the reins halfway into their respective debut seasons. What you do need, though, is a compelling enough central character to fill that void, and Carter so far is a cipher. If I am being charitable, he is sort of being shaped into being Black Bauer 2.0 – R.I.P. Curtis Manning – and Corey Hawkins is trying his absolute damndest to make what little scraps he’s got to work with better than they read, but I currently know very little about him because I have been told very little about him. The brief moment where he deadpans to Rebecca about how it won’t be too hard for him, an imposing-looking Black man in a rough neighbourhood, to attract police interest in order to carry out his plan is the one flash of actual characterisation I have seen from him across both hours so far. Characters can yell “he misses this [violence]” at the viewer all they want, but that kind of deeper pain and torment needs to have a baseline to measure against, and Legacy has provided no baseline for Carter so far outside of this action.
That’s ultimately what all of the problems with Legacy can come down to at the moment. This is a new show, for all intents and purposes – the titles pull a “Based on the TV Series 24” credit rather than treating it like a continuation, which is something that Live Another Day didn’t do, and the colour of the digits on the clock have changed from Orange to Deep Blue – but it’s not acting like a new show. It’s far too busy self-consciously invoking the spirit of old 24, in both its plot choices and in things like having a random CTU staffer be Edgar Stiles’ cousin (somehow), rather than creating reasons to care about it as its own thing. So even when the show is pulling off one of 24’s signature spectacular setpieces, such as at the end of the pilot when Carter uses a giant construction pipe as moving cover, one can’t help but feel a tangible sense of emptiness to proceedings. Why am I supposed to care? Why has 24 returned again? I’ll give it a chance for the time being, mainly because I will only stop consuming 24 once the whole brand is dead and buried for good, but there’s very little in these first two hours to suggest that there are answers to those first two questions, let alone positive ones.
“12:00pm – 1:00pm”: D
“1:00pm – 2:00pm”: C+
- As mentioned on Twitter, I am not going to guarantee that this will become a regular weekly fixture, mainly because I don’t promise anything with regards to regular content anymore, but I will guarantee that I shall at least try. After all, I keep talking myself into and out of writing a full-length critical book on 24 at some point, so it’s not like I need extra incentive to write about 24.
- If we do keep going, I do promise you that future recap/reviews will be less wordy than this and more specific in terms of characters and plots. I just felt that, for the ostensible pilot, we should lay all of the big general questions and themes out on the table so that a) if I do keep going, then I don’t have to address them every single week, and b) if I don’t keep going, then this works as a standalone vague review. Everybody wins!
- The other reason why I fear that my hope may be misplaced is because everything to do with the High School terrorism subplot, where a Muslim Chechen immigrant seduces a chemistry teacher into becoming part of a sleeper cell with her that is awaiting activation, is the absolute worst plot that 24 has ever come up with. Not only does it hit all three of 24’s unholy trifecta – Islamophobia, xenophobia, and misogyny – the writing and acting from everybody involved is especially bad. The moment when Genetically-Enhanced Adam DeVine first pulls the teacher aside to tell him his fears over Amira, I actually burst out laughing, and nearly did the same for the interrupted blowjob scene that preceded GEADV’s utterly inept murder. I normally have a very high tolerance for 24’s bullshit, you’re looking at somebody who has watched every season of the show multiple times, but this is currently the worst plot they’ve done. …excepting almost all of Day 6, obviously.
- Speaking of which: Day 3 > Day 5 > Day 2 > Day 9 > Day 1 > Day 4 > Day 7 > Day 8 >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Day 6
- Oh, hey! That’s Tiffany Hines of The CW’s Nikita in the role of Isaac’s duplicitous backstabbing girlfriend! She didn’t get too much to do on that show either, sadly, but she was a vital part of the moment where it became the heir-apparent to 24’s legacy – as a great action series that was willing to upend everything at a moment’s notice in a good way, I mean, not in the iffy politics and xenophobia way – so I’m glad to see her get some work, at least.
- Dan Bucatinsky looks way too much like a discount Ed Helms and it’s bugging the shit out of me and he needs to stop that somehow.
- You’d better believe that 24 made it abundantly clear that not all police officers are excessive racist douchebags! This, after all, is the show that introduces our first Big Bad praying to Allah, in the dark, surrounded in shadow, whilst speaking unsubtitled Arabic. 24 does not really understand subtlety.
Callum Petch settled in slowly to this house that you call home. Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!