Given the state of television and movies as of late, the idea that FOX would ever let the 24 series lie dormant for an extended period of time was incredibly unlikely. The series lasted for nearly a decade, providing audiences with a collection of violent day-in-the-life stories from the perspective of hero Jack Bauer. Kiefer Sutherland’s performance in the role played a huge part in the show’s success, proving that even after Jack put in his notice with the CTU, the character could come back and lead a smaller-sized story to another ratings victory. But after Jack was hoisted into the air by a Russian helicopter, it seemed the future of the series was as much in question as the character’s. And so the network and producer Howard Gordon made the inevitable decision to continue the series with the aptly titled 24: Legacy.
Turning the show over to a new hero in Corey Hawkins’ Eric Carter is a risky bet, one that the series hedges by maintaining as many similarities to the original show as it possibly can. That means 24: Legacy comes complete with the same (almost) real-time presentation as its namesake (though shortened to a 13-episode season, like 24: Live Another Day) and the same incredibly fast-paced action, segmented editing, and trust-no-one plotlines. It also demonstrates how, nearly 16 years after the series first premiered, the 24 franchise’s worldview hasn’t changed at all since its 2001 premiere.
The show’s reticence in that sense is something of a double-edged sword, one that serves the core intention it has successfully maintained since its inception. 24 may exist in a world where absolutely anyone the hero interacts with may be a mole, but such narrative ambiguities don’t necessarily extend to the way 24 is guaranteed to depict its characters. The actions of the hero are fairly cut-and-dry; even those that clearly cross a line are presented as blameless given the extreme nature and immediacy of his circumstances. 24 was never a show that dabbled much in subtlety or nuance, and 24: Legacy continues that specific legacy of “might makes right” by having Eric Carter follow in Jack Bauer’s footsteps in every way possible. The result is the same high-octane series that nonetheless pins its narrative on tired, stereotypical representations of specific groups, especially Muslims and African Americans.
Legacy begins with a level of graphic violence common to the show. A family is the victim of a bloody home invasion that is quickly revealed to be retribution by a group of Islamic terrorists killing Army Rangers in the name of their now-dead leader Sheik Bin-Khalid. It turns out, Eric is part of an elite group of Rangers responsible for the Sheik’s death and now his followers have come to exact bloody vengeance. Oh, and there’s a flash drive involved, because there always has to be a tech-based MacGuffin for the characters to chase down and plug into a computer or phone, revealing some tertiary but still necessary plot point.
Soon after, Eric is introduced, having come home from a far less demanding job working high-level security. There’s tension between him and his wife Nicole (Anna Diop), as it seems Eric is having trouble adjusting to civilian life. But such examinations have to wait, as the Carters are set to become the next victims of the terrorist group cruising through town, laying waste to now-retired Army Rangers. It’s the sort of sequence that proves the couple’s mettle, and also provides key information about a lockbox stolen from the Sheik by Marcus Grimes (Charlie Hofheimer), the only other surviving member of Eric’s unit. The moment is effective in how it delivers on the 24 promise that every encounter between opposing forces will reveal some heretofore unknown yet essential detail, heightening the tension and raising the stakes for the hero as his next objective becomes clear.
The first hour’s objectives are laid out with video game-like proficiency; Eric’s goals are to get his wife to safety, find Marcus (and chastise him about stealing), and get to the bottom of a potential conspiracy that may or may not involve the new head of the CTU, Keith Mullins (Teddy Sears). That requires cutting the narrative into multiple threads and introducing Miranda Otto‘s outgoing CTU head Rebecca Ingram, whose husband Sen. John Donovan (Jimmy Smits) has much higher political ambitions. Rebecca becomes Eric’s eyes and ears through the magic of always-on surveillance equipment. As an added bonus, Rebecca and her millennial-hating CTU tech assistant Andy (Dan Bucatinsky) arrive at the conclusion that the incomprehensibly porous CTU once again must have a mole and that mole must be Keith.
The ability to juggle multiple plotlines while moving at the television equivalent of a full sprint continues to be the series’ most vital component. It’s especially important here as Legacy is tasked with passing the baton from Sutherland to Hawkins. While there will undoubtedly be those watching who find the idea of a Jack Bauer-less 24 too unappealing a prospect to consider watching, the transition from Jack to Eric is more or less effortless, proving how surprisingly easy it is for the series to alternate characters in the hero slot.
Designated Hero is about as far as the characterization of Eric goes in the first hour. He’s more or less a blank slate on which the series’ ever-complicated narrative can be written. The premiere does what it can to add to his circumstances, introducing Eric’s brother Isaac (Ashley Thomas) as a Stringer Bell-like drug dealer who shares a past with Nicole and around whom a power struggle is about to erupt. 24: Legacy is not The Wire nor does it aim to be, so it seems unlikely the series will have anything substantive to say on the topic it introduces with Isaac and the particulars of his chosen racket. Which again raises the issue of easy stereotypes, and the show’s reliance on them as shortcut for characterization.
As frustrating as it can be for the series to begin conversations it has neither the intention nor the time to follow through with, it’s the price of the series’ reality adjacent premise. Like its predecessor, 24: Legacy borrows certain elements from the real world to help augment and maintain its status as a fast-paced yet grounded action-thriller. Doing so in 2017, however, reveals the problems inherent in resurrecting a series born in and of a much different political climate.
To that end, 24: Legacy will likely thrill those looking to be wowed by the action-hero antics of Eric Carter and the series’ willingness to embrace narrative twists no matter how implausible they may seem. In that regard, this reboot/continuation works like a charm. But for others, this legacy will feel more like a dusty relic than a proper update.
24: Legacy continues on Monday with ‘1:00pm – 2:00pm’ @9pm on FOX.