Jack Bauer is back, and enthusiasm regarding “24: Live Another Day” (or really, at 12 episodes, another half-day) will likely be split, depending on whether news of the project evoked, “Wow! Can’t wait!” or, “Seriously? Again? Just how desperate is Fox?” As a member of the latter camp — why not let the man find a nice beach somewhere instead of dragging this out into “Expendables” territory? — it’s safe to note that the two-hour premiere is ably executed and effectively paced, which is to say, like sundry past seasons. For Fox, along with comfort-and-catharsis-seeking viewers, that’s probably enough.
Set in London, an opening sequence in which Kiefer Sutherland’s signature, much-politicized hero takes on a group of CIA-station operatives quickly demonstrates Jack hasn’t lost his knack for mayhem during his hiatus from TV. But his arrival creates headaches for the station chief (Benjamin Bratt) and the only agent with a brain in her head (Yvonne Strahovski), who, naturally, is in the process of being drummed out of the service when the chaos begins.
It gives away nothing to say the plot hinges on the fact the U.S. president (William Devane, promoted from his earlier stint as Secretary of Defense, and invariably classing up the joint) is visiting London, representing a ripe target for a terrorist attack. Moreover, there’s the little matter of Jack’s history with both him and his daughter/Jack’s former girlfriend, Audrey (Kim Raver), which is only one of the several degrees of difficulty — a few of marginal value — producers introduce into the proceedings.
As usual, “24” draws some of its kick from its references to real-life concerns, from “enhanced interrogation” techniques to drone strikes. That said, showrunner Howard Gordon upped that bar with his Showtime series “Homeland,” and whatever its patina of seriousness, “24” ultimately works best as James Bond-type fare, with Mary Lynn Rajskub once again on hand as Jack’s Moneypenny and Q rolled into one.
The opening two episodes are characteristically entertaining, and snap along pretty briskly (the first is in real time), but it’s hard to escape a sense of creative malaise around all this. Essentially, the limited series became the consolation prize for a proposed movie that never came to fruition, while offering Fox — coming off a season where its ratings have experienced their own countdown — a highly promotable title heading into the upfronts and summer.
So while Jack might continue to nobly hammer away out of a sense of duty and inherent goodness despite receiving a cold shoulder from an ungrateful nation, this “24” revival seems motivated by more pragmatic and mercenary considerations: trying to wring a few more nuggets out of a played-out goldmine.