6AM – 10AM

January 30th, 2007

Day Five was hugely successful, and while for the Network Execs and such like that means ratings, for the rest of us it means it successfully balanced the need for ratings and media hype (in order to keep growing what looks like becoming something of a cash cow) as well as actually being good. Day Four showed how hard the balancing act can be, as it swerved wildly between them.So the all new day six has a tough act to follow and a lot to pull off. From numerous internet articles, interviews and dvd features it seems clear to me that the writers don’t plan a series ahead of time, they simply have a laundry list of high points and topics they want to hit. And they juggle those around until they start to fall into place.

At the top of that laundry list was to get Jack back to L.A. in a realistic way – i.e. create a reasonable story point that would bring him back, and while that does sound a lot like something I could have commented on about Series Five, in execution it doesn’t smack as much of the writers being formulaic as it does on paper. It’s done well – realistically. And so in order to do that they’ve got some scene setting to do.

The opening scene gives us a real sense that this world has changed in the 20 months that have past since we left it – with Jack on a slow boat to China. It’s a grim world, terrorist attacks spanning 11 weeks over 10 cities – all of which has seriously messed with people’s heads, this is America in a what if scenario but from the very first moment you believe it – and you believe it could happen. The ’24’ world in which they are depicting has a lot more depth and colours to it than in pervious years and it proudly reclaims much of the realism that had been lost since the first series when Stephen Hopkins dared to employ something other than standard TV direction. Jon Cassar’s direction has clearly matured and he is now somewhere near filling Hopkin’s shoes – although judging by the 3rd and 4th episodes having Brad Turner on staff as a second resident director (as he was last year) has certainly helped.

The plot device constructed to bring Jack back is more complex than you’d first assume, it’s not just there’s a terrorist group planning something, better get Jack back – which it good because when he steps off the plane he looks in no condition to fight the good fight.

The rumour which had been doing the rounds on the internet that this year would be a much more internal struggle for Jack this year was a prospect which excited many fans – even some of those who had been put off the show by blood bath that was series five – and it doesn’t disappoint. These first four episodes are Kiefer Sutherland at the very top of his game. The final moment in particular as Jack breaks down leaning against a tree after having killed Curtis had me breathless in awe and in that moment his acting is as close to perfection as your ever likely to see. You are truly in the moment, feeling every single thing that Jack does.

I feel like i’m going on and on, but in truth there’s a lot more to praise in these first four episodes. But maybe I should quickly recap what doesn’t work quite as well. The love tri-angle between Chloe, Milo and Morris could be described as office politics being played for laughs just for the sake of it and perhaps a touch formulaic and although it does help to reconnect us with CTU it seems to be cut off from the darker world there painting outside the walls of CTU and attempts to link the two (“The alert levels is as high as it gets”) aren’t entirely successful. But it could have been a lot worse and the fact that on there own the three characters involved are instantly likeable saves it.

Wayne Palmer as President. It’s a tough sell – and I think the writers knew it but with the luck they’ve been having with tough sells lately (“Yes, Jack back from china a couple of hours before the situation is really going to get out of hand”), I guess they thought they could sell it to the viewers, and they haven’t quite sold it to me. As I see it they had to paths to go down for this, either play him as having grown up a lot in recent years, who has learnt valueable lessons from his brother and who deserves to be President. The other is to play him as still very much in his brothers shadow (John and Bobby Kennedy spring to mind) but who’s doing his best to get out from under it. At the moment they seem to be charting a course in between the two – and possibly not on purpose because without a confidant to talk such issues out with it would be near impossible to do either. The closest with have at the moment is his chief of staff, although at the moment he’s to unlike-able to be that figure.

The last disappointing thing about the first four episodes was Sandra Palmer because at the moment a character who should have been a way for the show to express the wider civil and human rights issues at play in a situation like this with some maturity is simply acting as a way to talk down to and minimise these issues and ridicule those who hold them.

But these are all issues that are fixable if the writers act quickly in the coming episodes and I hope they do because they are at the moment the only things which blemish the record of the otherwise superb opening four episodes.

There is a lot more I could say – but I think i’ve gone on long enough. I hope to get into them a bit more when I review future episodes.