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(Sunday, January 11 & Monday, January 12 at 8:00/7:00c; then Mondays at 9:00/8:00c beginning January 19)
The network's description (January 11): "Season Seven picks up in the months following 24: REDMEPTION after Jack Bauer sacrificed his freedom for the safety of innocent children in Africa. As the ongoing international crisis intensifies, the new day is set in Washington, D.C., where Bauer is on trial, CTU is disbanded and new president Allison Taylor leads the country through a day of unthinkable circumstances. Jack's morning takes a shocking a turn when the nation's security is breached and it's discovered that former colleague Tony Almeida has been resurrected and is responsible for the terrifying threat. Although CTU is no longer, computer whiz Chloe O'Brian and former CTU chief Bill Buchanan return this season along with FBI Agents Renee Walker, Larry Moss, Janis Gold and Sean Hillinger to begin an astonishing, nail-biting day in the "8:00 AM-9:00 AM"/"9:00 AM-10:00 AM" episode of 24 for the special 2-night, 4-hour premiere event airing Sunday, Jan. 11 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX."
The network's description (January 12): "Since Jack Bauer has been pulled from his senate sub-committee hearing to assist with the deadly domestic threat and the investigation of former colleague Tony Almeida, his new undefined role is to help secure the nation. Meanwhile, President Allison Taylor presides over the escalating time-sensitive dilemmas linked to the unrest in Sangala. Chloe O'Brian and Bill Buchanan are on hand this season as well as FBI Agents Renee Walker, Larry Moss, Janis Gold and Sean Hillinger to cope with the unthinkable events in the "10:00-11:00 AM"/"11:00 AM-12:00 PM" episode of 24 for the second part of the special 2-night, 4-hour premiere event airing Monday, Jan. 12 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX."
What did they leave out? The "Redemption" prequel turns out to be near essential viewing as characters like Dubaku (Hakeem Kae-Kazim), Samantha Roth (Carly Pope) and especially Roger Taylor (Eric Lively) don't get much on an introduction without it.
The plot in a nutshell: Following the events of "Redemption," Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) is brought before a Senate sub-committee where a grandstanding senator (Kurtwood Smith) hopes to make an example of him and the now disbanded CTU. The FBI however has more pressing needs, as Special Agent Renee Walker (Annie Wersching) pulls Jack out during his testimony to assist with a national security issue. It seems a band of domestic terrorists has kidnapped the chief architect (John Billingsley) behind the government's firewall system and it's all but inevitable that they'll find a way to use his skills to get inside. Walker then hopes to use Jack's expertise to track down their ringleader - none other than Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard), long thought dead. Meanwhile at the White House, incoming president Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones) has a crisis of her own - whether or not to send troops to Sangala, where General Juma (Tony Todd) continues his ethnic cleansing. In true "24" fashion, to say much more would be cruel as part of the fun is watching the pulp develop. Suffice it to say by the end of the two-night premiere, Tony's resurrection - and motivations - will be explained, the CTU band - including Chloe O'Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and Bill Buchanan (James Morrison) - will get back together and the day's true mission will be revealed.
What works: For all its foibles (see below), "24" still remains a highly entertaining franchise complete with a language and style uniquely its own. In seven years, "24" has taught us how to watch a type of storytelling on television that literally didn't exist before its launch. Its cardinal sin then appears to be that it's taught us a little too well - we always know a mole is coming; a second act villain is going to reveal him or herself as pulling the strings behind the first; that there's never going to be a shortage of socially dysfunctional people around Jack; and so on. To that end, the past couple of years/days have been about taking those expectations to extremes (see: President Logan) or killing off beloved characters (see: President Palmer) in the name of raising the stakes. And while each gave the show a much needed boost, the fundamentals have barely changed and at this stage on the show's life, probably feel a little long in the tooth. Oddly enough then, the show's two-year absence inadvertently works in its favor - because it has been so long, more than a few missteps I'd normally roll my eyes over get swept under the rug as I reacquaint myself with the series.
What doesn't: Nevertheless, I can't love all the show's warts. For all the hubbub over CTU being shut down, the FBI unit tasked with taking down Tony is essentially CTU part deux, complete with its own Bill - Larry Moss (Jeffrey Nordling); Chloe - Janis Gold (Janeane Garofalo); annual guy that buts heads with/warms up to Chloe - Sean Hillinger (Rhys Coiro, unrecognizable from his "Entourage" days); and Jack-in-the-making - Walker (Wersching). Furthermore the Taylor regime change is all but shuffling the usual deck chairs - the president is essentially powerless to stop what's happening; the First Gentleman (Colm Feore) is wrapped up in a distracting subplot that eats away at the credibility of his character; and Chief of Staff (Bob Gunton) seems to be the only with an inkling of what's going on.
Meanwhile, the throughline of the morality or torture doesn't quite connect - everybody who doesn't agree with Jack's methods is painted as either hopelessly naive (see: Nordling's Moss) or simply a douche (see: Smith's senator). When Walker proclaims early on that she doesn't subscribe to Jack's methods, it doesn't take Nostradamus to figure out a few hours with Jack and she'll be squeezing a few respirators of her own. And as for Tony's how-the-hell-isn't-he-dead explanation, whether or not you buy it all depends on how much you love the show - either you'll see it as something akin to aliens pulling him from a moment in space and time or shrug and think, okay, fair enough, let's move on. The real surprise however turns out to be Jack's ultimate mission for the day - it's something of a "big bet" for the show, especially this early in the season. Again, it all depends on how excited you are to see Jack, Bill and Chloe back together, kicking ass, taking names and awkwardly socializing. Ultimately...
The bottom line: ...at the end of the day (natch), it's good to have "24" back.