Corey Hawkins is a worthy successor for Kiefer Sutherland as Fox’s ’24’ franchise reboot has both the strengths and weaknesses of the original.
Your results may vary on when Fox’s 24: Legacy produces its first squeal of “Yay, 24 is back!”
For some fans, it may accompany the first sound effect of the ticking clock or the first utterance of “events occur in real time.”
For others, it may be the first superfluous split-screen in which nobody is exactly doing anything in either frame, but somebody thought it was crucial for maintaining the illusion of simultaneity.
For me, it came around two-thirds of the way in, the first time a character did something that made no sense in context and even less sense for the character in question, but fell under the show’s pervasive “The ends justify the means” ethos (which demands that no straining of credulity is too great when it comes to hypothetically saving the world). It’s silly, but it’s 24-silly.
Premiering after the Super Bowl on February 5, 24: Legacy marks an on-brand return for a franchise Fox has refused to let lay fallow long enough for any real nostalgic yearning to set in. Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer is gone, but even in his absence 24: Legacy sports 24 aesthetics, 24 urgency, 24 illogical internal logic and that reliable 24 tendency to balance five or six plotlines at once — even when two or three of them are downright awful. For better and for worse, 24: Legacy sure feels like 24.
In Jack Bauer’s absence, 24: Legacy focuses on Corey Hawkins’ Eric Carter, a former Army Ranger who comes to suspect that members of his team are being targeted six months after carrying out a mission to assassinate terrorist leader Sheik Ibrahim Bin-Khalid. He suspects this because, well, it’s true. Who’s after them? Who gave up their identity? What is their endgame? And what does it have to do with former CTU chief Rebecca Ingram (Miranda Otto), newly resigned from the intelligence field to help her husband, Senator John Donovan (Jimmy Smits) campaign for the presidency?
Something 24 has always done, even in weaker seasons, was set high stakes fairy early on. Legacy creators and longtime 24 veterans Evan Katz and Manny Coto have, at least through the first three episodes sent to critics, chosen to keep the long-term prospects vague. Yes, Carter is trying to get in the way of what could be a string of attacks, but there’s nothing as pronounced or concrete as a threat on an individual world leader or mentions of a nuke or biological warfare. Something bad is happening and only Eric Carter can keep us safe, like Jack Bauer before him.
Of course, Jack Bauer only kept us safe within certain parameters. No, the world never fully ended under his watch, but politicians were still assassinated, Valencia was rendered a swath of radioactive waste and every government agency experienced repeated breaches of epic proportions. At best, Jack Bauer staved off a handful of worst-case scenarios and repeatedly avoided laying down his life, while many around him sacrificed heroically. Though they could still bring the character back someday and it might be interesting, Jack Bauer and his rhythms had grown familiar and even stale years ago, and new blood was a necessity.
Eric Carter is not Jack Bauer, even though his military service is directly related to the impending catastrophe, just as Bauer’s past came back to haunt him on many occasions. For one thing, Carter has no daughter to get menaced by feral kittens or taken hostage. He does have a loving wife (Anna Diop’s Nicole), whom he decides to leave for his shady older brother (Ashley Thomas’ Isaac) to babysit when things get hairy in what is probably the second worst of the show’s secondary storylines. Carter’s military background is more recent, so in addition to fresh butt-kicking training, he initially has a more rigid code of ethics than ever encumbered Bauer. Of course, it takes all of two episodes before Carter has discarded his former sense of right and wrong to adapt to the show’s “anything goes” mantra.
Just as Bauer probably would never have flown as a character without Sutherland’s gritty determination, Hawkins is what holds 24: Legacy together. He’s physically convincing and barks out clunky dialogue with total authority. Bauer was perhaps a more sympathetic character initially, what with early family jeopardy as a backdrop, but Hawkins gives Carter interesting notes of PTSD to keep him from just being a relentless fighting machine. If the writers give Hawkins a well-earned “Damnit,” which hadn’t happened yet, I have no doubt he’ll deliver it with confidence.
The early 24: Legacy episodes aren’t invested in that sort of winking acknowledgement of the original series. Bauer hasn’t been mentioned, nor have any of the President Palmers, and even when there’s immediate concern that there’s a mole in CTU, nobody is so meta as to mutter, “Dude, there’s always a mole in CTU.” There’s an inexplicable shout-out to the late Edgar Stiles, as if anybody is going to remember one CTU analyst who died over the legion of other CTU fatalities during the Bauer Era, but it isn’t belabored. Instead, continuity mostly comes via early directors Stephen Hopkins and Jon Cassar, both masters of 24 pacing and visual vernacular, plus the return of composer Sean Callery, whose contributions can and should never be understated.
The show also continues its smartness when it comes to casting actors who, at any given moment, could be expected to unveil ulterior motives. When you line up an ensemble featuring Otto, Smits, Teddy Sears, Dan Bucatinsky, Gerald McRaney and more, the assumption that anybody and everybody is probably a mole creates a tension of its own.
Defusing the tension, then, is the unwanted job of the flailing B-plots. Carter’s wife twiddling her thumbs as a third banana in an unconnected Scarface reboot? Pass. A high school-set love triangle with ties to Chechen terrorists? Blech. Double-pass. It isn’t a new 24 thing to constantly force the main dramatic stakes to compete against half-baked threads that sometimes coalesce into the greater whole and mostly don’t, but these duds are extra weak — and Carter’s story in the second and third episodes is already driven by such an outlandish bit of 24 logic that I was using the dead spots to overthink the rest of the story. One of the advantages of doing small batch seasons of 24 like this and 2014’s 24: Live Another Day was supposed to be that narrative fat wouldn’t be necessary. So much for that.
Why not layer in more complexity to a few main stories? Unclear. In its finer moments, 24 sometimes caught topical lightning in a bottle, which then emboldened its spiritual sibling Homeland to become a headline-ripping machine. If anything, 24: Legacy feels like it’s ducking away from anything likely to feel too real. The election has nothing Trump-esque about it, the international backdrop is nebulous and non-confrontational and the mentions of Islamophobia are 24-standard rather than reflective of our particular reality in 2017.
It’s action escapism, not homework, and with Hawkins as a sturdy lead and a string of chases, gunfights and a couple of decent stunts, 24: Legacy mostly does its job.
Cast: Corey Hawkins, Miranda Otto, Jimmy Smits, Teddy Sears, Dan Bucatinsky, Anna Diop, Sheila Vand, Ashley Thomas.
Creators: Evan Katz and Manny Coto
Airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox. Premieres Sunday, February 5 after the Super Bowl.