24: Live Another Day s9 ep 3

Jack and Chloe are after the chick with the wig (Simone, as we will find out later on) who ran off at the end of last week with the thingy that lets you control drones. Simone goes onto the Underground, and although Jack has eyes on her for quite a while she manages to give him the slip, partly because Chloe is distracted by thoughts of (we learn) her dead husband and son, and partly because Jack himself seemed at that point in the episode to be a beat or two behind: I can’t help but think that the Bauer of a few seasons ago would have grabbed her with one hand, while using the other hand to pick his teeth with that knife of hers. He redeems himself at the end, but we’ll get to that.

Simone’s mother, Margot, is for now the head terrorist – although this being 24 there may yet be several layers of management unaccounted for. The plan seems to be to take control of a drone or four and crash them into targets in London, all run from Margot’s country house where she and Simone live with Simone’s brother and her wimpy husband, Naveed, who with his objections to the use of drones on London has already identified himself as the weak link in Team Margot. He won’t last the season.

Meantime Kate and Erik have started interrogating some witnesses on the streets of London – a situation correctly identified by CIA office head Steve as, perhaps, potentially provocative a matter of minutes after an American drone killed British soldiers. This last incident is something President Alzheimer remains keen to explain to British parliamentarians, so he attends Parliament (except it isn’t, or not the House of Commons at any rate) and gets shouted at by MPs (except that wouldn’t happen either: the problem here, and I’m speculating, is that Prime Minister’s Question Time, with its heckling and tumult, is seen abroad as the rule rather than the exception). And while he’s fretting about that, Chief of Staff Mark Boudreau is, in true 24 style, trying to take over as de facto President, starting with the forgery of the Presidential signature on a document authorising the surrender of Jack to the Russians on capture.

For most of this episode I was left with a feeling that the season hadn’t quite got going yet. The final scene, though, is top-notch: Jack is trying to get into the American embassy, and is given a cover identity by Faux-sange and Chloe (BTW, has “copy” now officially taken over from “copy that”?). But Faux-sange screws Jack over, meaning that his fake identity doesn’t stand up to scrutiny during a security check. Chloe screams at Jack to get away, but there’s no time to waste, and, hell, he’s Jack Bauer, so he comes up with an ingenious way of getting inside the embassy, along with what looks like several dozen protesters. It’s an excellent finish to a tolerable episode, but I think the pace needs to be picked up a bit next week.

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24: Live Another Day s9 ep 1; s9 ep 2

Multiracial London: the first shot is of a mosque, and some shady ethnic minority types gather outside a disused warehouse. Terrorists, obviously. Fooled you! They’re working for the CIA, of course, and they’re after a high-value target. They’re particularly worried about this target because he’s a well-known traitor who’s very probably in London to kill the American President, there to renew his country’s lease of a military base, in the midst of anti-drone protests. This time round the POTUS in 24-World is President Heller (William Devane), the former Secretary of Defense last seen in season 6, accompanied by his Chief of Staff Mark Boudreau (Tate Donovan), who in turn is married to Heller’s daughter Audrey (Kim Raver), who we also left in season 6, in a state of apparent catatonia.

So who is this traitor? Why, it’s Jack Bauer (KIEFER, obvs). Now, of course, even after four years out of the game Jack’s more than up to giving a comprehensive ass-kicking to the moisturiser-wearers who pass for elite operatives these days. But then he runs and is captured, much to the delight of CIA’s London head Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt) and the consternation of soon-to-be-kicked-out agent Kate Morgan (our old friend Yvonne Strahovski). Strahovski’s an interesting – and, I suspect, wise – casting choice: we know from her increasingly impressive performances in Chuck that she’s got action chops, and the generally hostile reception given to the final two seasons of Dexter perhaps meant that her consistent excellence in them was overlooked.

Anyway, Kate thinks that Jack ignored a perfectly good escape route, and arrives at the conclusion that if he was captured it must be because he wanted to be. But why? Boudreau, conscious of the fact that his wife is one of Jack’s former squeezes, which is not the sort of competition you want, insists that “As long as she lives, (Audrey)’ll never hear the name Jack Bauer”, and directs that enhanced interrogation technique mavens Special Activities should take Jack away for “questioning”, so Navarro only has a few minutes to nice-cop him (which pretty much amounts to “Hey Jack, what’s the haps?”) before SA get to apply blowtorches to his danglies.

But Kate’s right, of course; there’s a reason Jack wants into SA, and she’s strapped to a table being tortured. It’s Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub), looking like a Girl with the Dragon Tattoo tribute act – I half-expected her to speak Swedish when we finally heard from her. Jack’s furious with the person in charge – “Did you do this to her?” he demands, eliciting the pert reply “It’s nothing you haven’t done”.

Jack gets Chloe out – fantastic sequence; I particularly liked the rocket-launcher through the roof – but it’s not because he loves her; it’s because he wants to exploit her to find someone. She’s annoyed for like ten seconds, but then snaps into CTU mode, of course, and offers to help with tech support and all that stuff, because she’s Chloe and he’s Jack. Chloe’s connected to a team of hackers presided over by a faux-Assange, but Jack’s looking for a dude called Derek Yates, also a hacker, who he thinks is after the President, something we know of old Jack has very strong feelings about.

The final piece of the jigsaw, for now, is a slightly pissed-off drone operator who’s being used as a patsy by Yates and his boss, played by Michelle Fairley; Yates manages to take remote control of Patsy’s drone and thus wipes out British and American soldiers in Afghanistan, increasing the pressure on Heller, who has started to show signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Heller and Boudreau seem to be under the mistaken impression that the President can just rock up at the UK Parliament any time he likes, so Boudreau “rehearses” him for the sort of treatment he can expect, which goes badly and attracts some severely disapproving looks from Audrey. Who is, presumably, no more than two hours away from hearing the name “Jack Bauer” again.

And we’re off. Like any reuniting band, 24 needs to throw in a greatest hit or two (there’s an explosive “DAMMIT” towards the end of the second episode), perhaps in a new version (Jack at one point applies his patented chokehold behind his back while handcuffed, adding a degree of difficulty), possibly bringing a special guest out along the way (a slightly stuntcasty Stephen Fry as the British Prime Minister, although Fry is actually a decent actor), while convincing the audience that it’s worth watching them again.

And as soon as the iconic clock appeared I was sold, to be honest. It’s 24, FFS. Neither of these episodes was turbo-24: although plenty of ground was covered, the pace was fairly measured. Not unlike Homeland, in fact, with which this show shares an exec producer (Howard Gordon). But there’s a McGuffin in the field, a baddie getting a shiv in the ear, a mysterious boss, the possibility of an apocalypse, and only ten episodes to go. Given all of that, was there ever any prospect of Chloe staying with her low-rent group of geeks? Like her, I’d rather Jack.

Public Service Announcement 25 of 2014: 24: Live Another Day

In an ideal world, yes, this would have been PSA number 24. What can we do? So you might not have noticed – there’s been hardly any publicity – but 24’s been rebooted. I suppose I could do a long post on whether it’s wise; acutely relevant in the post-9/11 world, there weren’t too many tears shed when Chloe barked “Shut it down!” at the end of season 8. I could add to the groaning pile of material about the dubious politics of 24, although (as is frequently the way) many of the people who thought that it was an uncomplicated right-wing fantasy tended not to be actually watching; its political worldview was sometimes rather more nuanced than its critics gave it credit for, and Jack Bauer himself was essentially apolitical, a blunt weapon to be wielded by whoever happened to be President at the time. And I could argue that, while the first season arguably rewrote the rulebook for serialised TV drama, the returns inevitably diminished thereafter.

But none of that matters. It’s “DAMMIT!” time. (Kiefer Sutherland, no abstainer himself, on learning that there was a student drinking game based on how often he said it, reputedly redrafted a script or two to include even more.) It’s Chloe time. It’s electrodes-on-nipples, “copy that”, who’s-the-mole?, “hard perimeter”, “WHERE IS THE BOMB?”, “Patch me through!”, and “WHO ARE YOU WORKING FOR?” time. And, yes, I’m excited. Cut down to 12 episodes, to remove any possibility of filler, and set at least initially in London, it’s the return of the Jack, ‘cos we knew that he’d be back, even if we were actually expecting a movie.

As for scheduling: Sky 1 is broadcasting the opening double-bill simultaneously with America: a gimmick, perhaps, because hardly anyone’s going to be watching in the early hours of the morning, but a welcome gesture of commitment. More importantly, the show’s regular slot will be on Wednesday evenings, within a couple of days of American transmission, which is – how often do we need to say it?exactly how you deter piracy: by giving swift and ready access to the legitimate product. Well done, Sky. As before, weekly reviews here (Tuesday 6 May, 1am; thereafter Wednesdays at 9pm, Sky 1).

Also starting: season 2 of Hannibal (Tuesday 6 May, 10pm, Sky Living); and the first and only season of JJ Abrams’s cop/robot crossover Almost Human (Tuesday 6 May, 9pm, Watch). Lukewarm reviews, interesting cast – including Friday Night Lights’s Minka Kelly, Michael Ealy (Derrick Bond in The Good Wife), Mackenzie Crook, etc. –  but cancelled. Might be worth a go, but I won’t be.

And coming very soon: Louie.

Unpopcult at the Emmys part 4: Best Supporting Actor and Best Guest Actor

As with the women, some top-notch performances are recognised in the second-banana categories.  There are also plenty of notable omissions, but there’s now so much good TV around that not everyone can be rewarded. 

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy:

Chris Colfer as Kurt Hummel, ‘Glee’

Neil Patrick Harris as Barney Stinson, ‘How I Met Your Mother’

Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Mitchell, ‘Modern Family’

Eric Stonestreet as Cameron Tucker, ‘Modern Family’

Ty Burrell as Phil Dunphy, ‘Modern Family’

Jon Cryer as Alan Harper, ‘Two And A Half Men’

Any one of the ‘Modern Family’ nominees would be a worthy winner here, and while Ed O’Neill might be regarded as unlucky to miss out I’m particularly pleased that the sometimes overlooked Jesse Tyler Ferguson gets a shout.  So with half of the nominees, the wisdom of the ‘Modern Family’ strategy becomes clear here.  Or does it?  What happens if the ‘Modern Family’ vote gets split?  Neil Patrick Harris should, of course, have won last year, and dude who did, Jon Cryer, surely won’t win twice in a row.  (Incidentally, does anyone else remember ‘Partners’?  In the UK it was shown at about midnight.  I liked it a lot.)  Personally I would give it to Harris or Eric Stonestreet, but with all of that going on I just wonder whether Chris Colfer might sneak through the middle.

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama:

Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman, ‘Breaking Bad’

Martin Short as Leonard Winstone, ‘Damages’

Terry O’Quinn as John Locke, ‘Lost’

Michael Emerson as Ben Linus, ‘Lost’

John Slattery as Roger Sterling, ‘Mad Men’

Andre Braugher as Owen, ‘Men Of A Certain Age’

Another enormously strong category.  We haven’t seen ‘Certain Age’ in the UK yet but Andre Braugher is always value, and anything connected with ‘Breaking Bad’ is award-bait.  Last year’s winner, Michael Emerson, was if anything even better this season, but I wonder if the Losties in the Academy might decide it’s Terry O’Quinn’s turn this time?  If so he’ll be doing well to hold off the stellar John Slattery, scene-stealing as ever in ‘Mad Men’, where it must be pretty hard to steal a scene.  (And hard luck on Bryan Batt and Vincent Kartheiser, both of whom deserve to be here.  Possibly also half the cast of ‘Lost’.  And Robert Sean Leonard.)  I wouldn’t be at all surprised, though, if Martin Short’s playing against type as sleek, amoral Leonard Winstone in ‘Damages’ could just get there – the Academy’s love for Bryan Cranston demonstrates just how much the voters like comic turns going straight.

Outstanding Guest Actor In A Comedy:

Mike O’Malley as Burt Hummel, ‘Glee’

Neil Patrick Harris as Bryan Ryan, ‘Glee’

Fred Willard as Frank Dunphy, ‘Modern Family’

Eli Wallach as Bernard Zimberg, ‘Nurse Jackie’

Jon Hamm as Dr. Drew Baird, ’30 Rock’

Will Arnett as Devin Banks, ’30 Rock’

If Jon Hamm gets this one while missing out on the big prize yet again, I will not be pleased.  I’d like to think, though, that it’s a Mike O’Malley/NPH showdown, with O’Malley probably getting it for making the very most of what could have been a relatively insignificant part.

Outstanding Guest Actor In A Drama:

Beau Bridges as Detective George Andrews, ‘The Closer’

Ted Danson as Arthur Frobisher, ‘Damages’

John Lithgow as Arthur Mitchell, ‘Dexter’

Alan Cumming as Eli Gold, ‘The Good Wife’

Dylan Baker as Colin Sweeney, ‘The Good Wife’

Robert Morse as Bertram Cooper, ‘Mad Men’

Gregory Itzin as President Charles Logan, ’24’

Now, here’s where I don’t get the whole “guest”/”supporting” thing.  Alan Cumming was in 7 episodes of ‘The Good Wife’,  Gregory Itzin was in 8 of the last season of ‘24’, and if someone told me that Robert Morse was in every episode of ‘Mad Men’ I wouldn’t be astonished; ditto John Lithgow and ‘Dexter’.  Cumming, of course was great; there perhaps isn’t more fun to be had among all the nominated acting performances than Itzin’s big, broad, President Logan; and Morse’s playing of eccentric shrewdness was absolutely precise.  Ted Danson was as good as ever in ‘Damages’, but this time round the character seemed oddly out-of-place.  I’d love Dylan Baker to get it for his ironic ‘The Good Wife’ psychopath, but although we haven’t yet seen season 4 of ‘Dexter’ I’ve heard enough about Lithgow’s performance to suggest that he’s the favourite here.  And Andre Braugher should have been nominated for ‘House’, of course.

Unpopcult at the Emmys part 2: Best Supporting Actress and Best Guest Actress

As I think I’ve said before, I don’t quite know the point at which a recurring “guest” actor becomes a “supporting” one.  (Yes, I know it’s something to do with how they’re designed in the credits, and in what category they submit themselves for consideration.)  So I’ve lumped these categories together.

Starting, then, with the nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy:

Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester, ‘Glee’

Julie Bowen as Claire Dunphy, ‘Modern Family’

Sofia Vergara as Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, ‘Modern Family’ 

Kristen Wiig as Various Characters, ‘Saturday Night Live’

Jane Krakowski as Jenna Maroney, ’30 Rock’

Holland Taylor as Evelyn Harper, ‘Two And A Half Men’

‘Modern Family’ is one of the big winners in the 2010 noms, and either Julie Bowen or Sofia Vergara would be worthy winners, but this time round I reckon it’s Jane Lynch’s to lose.  I would like to have seen the sublime Merritt Wever in here, but there we go.  Jane Adams of more-of-a-drama-if-you-ask-me ‘Hung’ might have sneaked in too.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama:

Sharon Gless as Madeline Westen, ‘Burn Notice’

Rose Byrne as Ellen Parsons, ‘Damages’

Archie Panjabi as Kalinda Sharma, ‘The Good Wife’

Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart, ‘The Good Wife’

Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris, ‘Mad Men’

Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson, ‘Mad Men’

A very strong category, this one:  five potential worthy winners and Rose Byrne.  I’m sorry, but I just don’t see what Byrne does as “acting”, in any meaningful sense of the word.  As for the others:  the noms give me yet another opportunity to bore on about my love for ‘The Good Wife’.  In my review of the season-ender I hoped for a bit of Emmy love for the supporting cast, and I’m delighted to see two of them get a shout here.  Archie Panjabi and Christine Baranski turned in two very good performances in their own ways: personally I thought Panjabi was better, but Baranski’s ability to steal scenes might count in her favour. 

I wonder whether ‘Mad Men”s third season was so long ago in America, and so routinely brilliant, that voters might lose sight of just how good it remains.  I’d be cool with the terrific Elisabeth Moss winning, although it might be argued that Christina Hendricks actually did her chances more good by dropping in and out of the last few episodes, thus heightening her impact.  And, of course, she was in the hospital waiting room scene with Jon Hamm, which justified the existence of TV all by itself.  As for Sharon Gless – why not?  And it’s good just to see ‘Burn Notice’ edge its way onto the slate.

Notable omissions: no-one from ’24’ (Cherry Jones apparently declined to put her name forward), no-one from ‘Grey’s’, no Lisa Edelstein. But it is a very stong category.

Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy:

Christine Baranski as Beverly Hofstadter,’The Big Bang Theory’

Kathryn Joosten as Karen McCluskey, ‘Desperate Housewives’

Kristin Chenoweth as April Rhodes, ‘Glee’

Tina Fey as Host, ‘Saturday Night Live’

Betty White as Host, ‘Saturday Night Live’

Elaine Stritch as Colleen Donaghy, ’30 Rock’

Jane Lynch as Dr. Linda Freeman ‘Two And A Half Men’

I haven’t seen half of these, but based on buzz it looks like Betty White’s year: apparently she was terrific, and she’s the only one left…

Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama:

Mary Kay Place as Adaleen Grant, ‘Big Love’

Sissy Spacek as Marilyn Densham, ‘Big Love’

Shirley Jones as Lola Zellman, ‘The Cleaner’

Lily Tomlin as Marilyn Tobin, ‘Damages’

Ann-Margret as Rita Wills, ‘Law And Order: SVU’

Elizabeth Mitchell as Juliet Burke, ‘Lost’

I haven’t seen half of these either, and I’m not over-enthusiastic about the ones I have seen.  So, y’know, whoever.  Maybe Elizabeth Mitchell.

24 s8 ep 23; s8 ep 24

We’ve been getting quite a few of our Unpopcult tentpoles kicked away recently: ‘Lost’, ‘Damages’, ‘FlashForward’, ‘Ashes To Ashes’ and now ‘24’.  I’ll miss ‘24’ as much as any of them. I’ve been watching since the start of season 1, enjoyed just about all of it, and it’s much easier to write about than ‘Lost’ was.  (And for the nostalgics among us, both of these episodes kick off with an “Events occur in real time” from Kiefer.  It’s been a while.)  Admittedly the announcement of a ‘24’ movie removed what would otherwise have been the primary source of tension from this final double-bill: the death of Jack has always felt like the natural end of ‘24’, so knowing that’s not gonna happen meant we just had to wonder who else was going to make it unscathed to the big-screen franchise.

In the first of these episodes everyone’s after Jack, either to kill him (most of CTU) or to save him and perhaps sleep with him at some point in the future (Chloe).  And CTU has a logo!  Did I just notice this, or has it been there for the past eight seasons?  Anyway, it adorns their Mobile Control Unit, jackets, T-shirts, and no doubt a huge range of special issue CTU goodies.  Lunchboxes and stuff.  Jack, in the meantime, is still after President Suvarov for the crime against humanity of killing his friend with benefits.  There’s an absolutely delicious moment near the start when Logan and UOTUS discuss the moral imbecility and utter carnage which has led them to this point, whereupon Logan purrs, “We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome”.  With the untimely removal of Renee, Gregory Itzin’s been close to this season’s MVP.  He must have been watching with seething envy as Anthony Hopkins and then Frank Langella got to play the role of Richard Nixon; this season’s been like one long and dazzling audition for the attention of any casting director thinking of making a film or TV drama about Nixon in the future.

After several years of vacillating UOTUS finally steps up when she makes it clear to the new President Hassan that she’d better be signing the peace deal, or it’s back to the Stone Ages for her and her country.  I know it wasn’t terribly nice. But I enjoyed seeing President Useless taking a stand for once rather than being blown around like so much chaff by whoever happens to have her ear.  Incidentally, by what right did UOTUS keep calling President Hassan “Dalia”?  It’s not like Dalia was calling her Allison.  Ethnocentrism, concern for someone whose husband has just been assassinated, or simple seniority?  Don’t suppose we’ll ever find out now.

Chloe tracks Jack down and tries to reason with him, but gets the patented Jack chokehold, and not in the good way she’s been dreaming about since her first day in the job.  Then Jack gets Logan in his rifle sights, tells him to get Suvarov, and smiles.  It looked unscripted, and it was one of the most human and chilling moments in the whole season.  Of course, he has to explain to everyone why he’s doing all of this, so he records a little videofile presumably marked “In The Event Of My Death…” in which he draws attention, once again, to his grief at the death of Renee, who he was “very close to”.  Dude.  At the risk of labouring this point, no you weren’t.  Let’s remove the CTU context for a moment and put it in a normal workplace.  You worked with her for a day, then you didn’t see her for 18 months, then you met up with her again, and then you knocked boots.  I thought it was girls who were reputed to get emotional in situations like these; had Renee lived, she could have been all, it’s just a one-time thing, Jack, while Jack’s picking out furniture and mentally decorating their flat.  Who knows?  (But, yes, I appreciate that they were MFEO.  TV’s like that.)

But then in episode 24, with everything looking stacked against the good guys, UOTUS finally comes clean to “Dalia” and the world; Jack just about lives to fight another (2 hour?) day; and Logan tries and fails to kill himself.  As an ending it wasn’t firing on all of the ‘24’ cylinders, but it felt dignified and just about right.  Jack’s declaration to Chloe that she’d always had his back was moving, and the final shot and countdown was a well-judged finale.

This season wasn’t as good as season 7, and it flagged about a third of the way in, but it still delivered the quality we’ve come to expect from the show.  With UOTUS presumably facing jail, this leaves the way clear for a Big Name to be cast as President in the movie.  If, that is,  one is needed: there’s talk of it being set in Europe, a long-held Kiefer dream.  Fair enough, but without immunity deals and CTU moles it would be a different creature indeed.  And there needs to be a little Almeida action as well.

As for the show as a whole?  As TV it was revolutionary in its use of real-time as a storytelling device.  To maintain that for one 24-episode season is something; to do it for eight is something else, and it’s not surprising that sometimes it seemed a little tired.  But only sometimes – the quality remained remarkably high. 

Others will be able to discuss its political and cultural impact more eloquently than I can.  I’ll confine myself to noting that its handling of issues was often – although not always – more subtle than its detractors gave it credit for.  This season, in fact, neatly inverted the premise of the first seven, by having Jack – always prepared to wire someone’s doodah to an electricity generator if it would serve the greater good – forced to confront the logical conclusion of ends justifying means when Renee was eliminated to try and secure a peace deal.  Had the deal worked out, and thousands of lives saved, who would have been right and who would have been wrong?  Do we want Jack as “judge and jury”, as he described himself, only when we agree with him?  Oh, the hell with it – when’s all said and done, it was a terrific thrill-riding piece of entertainment and perhaps that’s what counts.  Time, for now, to shut it down.

24 s8 ep 22

We’re near the end now, so there’s no time to waste on ’24’: this was grimly, remorselessly exciting.  It’s odd that it should take the death of Renee to push Jack over the edge, given what he’s seen in seasons 1-7.  And they only did it once.  I mean, if he really cared he could have sought her out between seasons 7 and 8, perhaps taken her to dinner or something (“I said, WHAT ARE THE HOUSE SPECIALS, DAMMIT?”).  Perhaps it’s something else: he’s just got fed up with the world he inhabits, the people he has to work for, and the shuddering amorality of it all. 

One could understand why he might have lost patience with UOTUS, who can now add suppression of the press to the list of things Charles Logan has got her involved in.  Gregory Itzin, incidentally, has never been better than this week: it’s not exactly subtle acting, but Logan went from smug preening to abject terror in no more than half an hour or so, then got a bit cocky again when talking to the Russian president.  Bringing Itzin back was a very wise move.  Anyway, UOTUS orders the arrest of Hassan’s blonde journo chum; Chloe springs Cole to help her find Mr Blonde; Novakovich and his entire security detail have been Jacked, in a clever sequence which drew much of its power – the poker! – from the fact that we didn’t see how it all played out; and Jack himself has been stabbed.  Again.  But it doesn’t look as if that or, indeed, anything else, is going to get in his way.