At first it may seem "24's" Jack Bauer didn't get the memo.
In 2014, our heroes now wear capes and fight the bad guys at the box office, while the small screen has been taken over by a gang of antiheroes. From "Scandal" and "Mad Men" to "Breaking Bad" and "House of Cards," the recent slate of leading men aren't as interested in saving the world as they are in saving themselves.
Yet on Monday night (May 5), counterterrorism agent Bauer will return in Fox's "24" event series, "24: Live Another Day." He's once again played by Kiefer Sutherland and is as determined as ever to do the right thing.
Those around Bauer may question which side he's on, but viewers have always known him as the guy willing to do anything (and we mean anything) for what he sees as the greater good. In a TV world filled with monsters and Heisenbergs, where does Bauer fit in?
In a sense, the 12-episode "24: Live Another Day" is asking that very question. When "24" ended in 2010, Bauer was still alive but a fugitive. In its two-hour premiere, "24: Live Another Day" picks up four years later with a hardened, angrier Bauer living in exile as a presumed threat to the U.S. government.
"He's actually working on his own, but the people that he's trying to help are actually hunting him and they're trying to either kill him or arrest him," Sutherland told CNN in a press call. "He's had to hide in Eastern Europe for four years. He's been estranged from his daughter and grandchildren, he has not been able to go back to the country that he feels he served. That kind of isolation has made him really hard."
And yet, as executive producers Evan Katz and Manny Coto point out, he'll still jump at the chance to stop another attempt on a president's life without asking, as many of our favorite characters would today, what's in it for him.
"Jack is an individual who has saved his country numerous times and now that country has turned his back on him," Coto said. "On the outside (he's) changed and has a darker view of humanity and the people around him, but at his core has maintained his love of country and what he's always fought for."
That core is undoubtedly part of what made audiences root for the impossibly unstoppable federal agent when "24" debuted in 2001. With a premiere date that came just weeks after the September 11 attacks, "24" greeted TV viewers badly in need of a hero.
"He was a man who got things done at a time when that was all this country wanted," observed Los Angeles Times' TV critic Mary McNamara. "I don't think Sutherland cracked a smile during the entire run of '24.' He was all business."
At the time, the series was one of a few new programs focusing on the CIA, but "24" was unique in its setup. Each week's episode covered one hour of a very long, very bad day for Jack Bauer, with the conceit that all the events viewers were watching were happening in real time.
Although the series was shot five months prior to the September 11 attacks, that event seemed to rule out "24's" success, Sutherland said. (It's not surprising he assumed as much, given that "24's" premiere episode featured a terrorist placing a bomb on a plane.)
"After that terrible day we personally thought the show was over and we shouldn't do it because it was too close to something that had really happened," Sutherland said. "We were very surprised to see the audience reaction ... to the show early on. Somehow there was something that made Jack's character quite cathartic."
To producer Katz, audiences have connected with Bauer because he's "selfless in a way that a lot of the other characters aren't. He's not ambitious, he doesn't care about what happens to him," the producer said. While that may make him unique in today's TV world, at the very least it'll help him stand apart. "He's definitely a singular character," Katz noted. "No one is occupying the same pace."
Now with his return, there's another fight that Bauer is facing that has nothing to do with a world leader. The question of whether audiences are interested in welcoming back this gun-toting archetype, and whether this event series will be a success or a disappointment for Fox, doesn't have a straightforward answer, said Variety's Brian Lowry.
The TV critic wasn't that impressed with "24's" new event series, noting that it "doesn't in any way reinvent the show." Although, Lowry continued, that may be enough for fans who are content to watch what they would've seen in the mid-2000s "in a more truncated form."
For Sutherland, the concern is less about ratings and the possibility that there could be more "24" on the horizon as it is about doing justice to the man he brought to life for nine years.
During production on the event series, which is set and shot in London, "we became so focused on trying to make these the best episodes of '24' period," Sutherland said. "I feel very, very strong about the first eight episodes that we have completed. Now we just need to really bring it home."
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