In the US: Starts Sunday, January 14th 8/7c, Fox
In the UK: Starts Sunday, January 21st 9pm, Sky One.
Characters re-cast: 0
Major characters gotten rid of: 1 so far
Major new characters: Loads. I've lost count. They'll be dead soon, though.
Format change percentage: 10%. Jack!
It's a good word, isn't it? It means the perfectly normal feelings of admiration and envy a completely straight, heterosexual, utterly non-gay man might feel for another completely straight, heterosexual, utterly non-gay man.
Apart from anything else, it's good because it allows us men to make jokes about feelings we're not comfortable with - which we all love, right, because manly men like jokes? - and it conjures up far fewer bad thought-scenarios than the phrase “homo-erotic stirrings”.
There are many legitimate targets for mancrushes. Chuck Norris, Steven Segal, Gordon Ramsay: all acceptable. Milo Ventimiglia in Heroes? Absolutely not. That floppy haired girl's super secret superhero power is empathy, for Heaven's sake. Real men don't have empathy – everyone knows that.
Some mancrushes are acceptable at certain times but not at others. It's perfectly acceptable, for instance, to have a mancrush on Captain Jack in Doctor Who. Under no circumstances is it acceptable to have a mancrush on him in Torchwood. It's just unnatural at every level.
Then there's Jack Bauer. Once a time, he was the ultimate mancrush. Any self-respecting man could say he wanted to stay in to watch Jack Bauer, because, you know, he's just so hard and so dutiful and so stoic... The way he chopped off Chase's hand and only cried about it later... Let's face it, he's just so sway, isn't he?
But now, the first four episodes of the latest season of 24 have actually called this into question. Jack Bauer has become a girly-man.
Two years have passed since season five, when Jack was carted off to a Chinese prison. Bad terrorists have arrived in the US. It's an even-numbered season, so they're Islamic fanatics rather than Eurotrash. But since Jack Bauer was suffering at the hands of the cursed foreigners at the time, the whole of the US is doomed and atrocities are being committed every five minutes for the last three months or something. President Wayne Palmer doesn't know what to do, but then someone suggests he get Jack back. But it's not for the reason you might be thinking...
Are they any good?
First off, it would be wrong to view the first four episodes of this new season in isolation. The middle two episodes in particular are clearly filler to get us from episodes one and four. Watch only the first three episodes, and you'd experience a growing sense of ennui. It's all very much, been there, done that.
We've got massive geek infighting thanks to the CTU dweebs. Season one irregular Milo (Eric Balfour) is now in middle management and ordering everyone around. Chloe's ex- has been shipped in to help out, and guess what? He has even fewer social skills than she does.
We've also got another happy little family of tolerant Fox viewers caught up in events by their Islamic neighbours, as we always do. We have various liberals wandering around, talking in speeches about the effects on liberty of their actions. If it weren't the fact that the arch-conservative of the piece is Ally McBeal's boss, they might seem a bit ineffective compared to the “lock up everyone Muslim” arguments being bandied around by the opposition as hundreds die every week.
We've even got the death of a favourite regular character. Yet it feels so manufactured and perfunctory. It's the producers of 24 killing favourites because they know we expect it now, not because it's required by the plot.
At first, Jack's return seems similarly tired and familiar. He's summoned back under a thin pretext and is soon doing his usual Jack-act with glee, escaping from jailers in the nastiest and most entertaining way possible, despite incarceration in a prison that I doubt has a full multi-gym or suitable target range.
Jack starts to let people off the torture hook (that's not a literal torture hook, I hope you understand)
But then, things go wrong. Jack starts to let people off the torture hook (that's not a literal torture hook, I hope you understand). He doubts whether he's up to the job. He shoots a close friend and actually vomits, despite the fact Killing Him Was The Right Thing To Do.
The Chinese have turned Jack Bauer into a woman. Those cursed foreigners.
But then, just as episode four ends, we see Jack reborn in an episode-ending to end all episode-endings. Just as you thought 24 couldn't surprise you any more, it does. Now Jack knows only he can save the world. No more girly feelings for him. There's terrorist ass-kicking to be done.
New viewers: probably not the best season to start with, since you won't be aware of the man majesty that is Jack Bauer at his peek. Get a DVD box set of season four or two and then join in. Or at least be prepared to watch at least five hours of television to get the full flavour.
Old viewers: you'll be saddened at first to see what's been done to Jack. But glory in his resurrection. He shall be our messiah, once again. But as per always, brace yourself for an ever-growing roster of deaths among the brave and the good.
Here's a YouTube trailer with that perfect man hunk Kiefer Sutherland.
- January 14, 2009: Review: 24 - 7x1-7x4
A review of the first four episodes of season seven of 24