Nothing can stop Jack Bauer, dammit! Not even a cancellation notice.
Four long years after Fox pulled the plug on the TV thrill ride known as "24," Kiefer Sutherland's iconic action hero is back on the clock in "24: Live Another Day." Apparently, the world needs to be bailed out of deep doo-doo at least one more time.
Only now, things are a bit different. Jack comes to us via prime time's latest trend: The limited "event" series. Although "Live Another Day" still unfolds in "real time," it consists of only 12 turbocharged episodes, instead of 24. And it's shot entirely in London, where the beleaguered Bauer goes mano a mano with a whole new collection of dirt bags.
But some things never change. The revived "24" is still instantly involving and packed with a dizzying rush of suspenseful crescendos. The new Jack, meanwhile, is the same as the old Jack, which is to say he flips the bird in the face of terror and squirms his way out of major messes like a gun-toting Houdini -- all while managing to make a man purse look good.
Let's rewind: The last time we saw Mr. Bauer, he was being told by a disgraced President Taylor to flee the country, because both the Russian and American authorities would be gunning for him. He did, after all, plot to assassinate the Russian president. So he bid a sentimental goodbye to his loyal wing woman, Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub), and dropped off the grid with hopes of maybe someday resurfacing at a movie theater near you.
The big-screen idea never panned out. Instead, Jack is popping up across the pond around the same time the CIA has intercepted a death threat against the new and visiting U.S. President James Heller (William Devane). Concerned that Jack might have some connection to the threat, CIA operations chief Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt) sics his men on the "high-value suspect" during a frantic chase through the streets of London.
But CIA field operative Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski) smells something fishy, and it's not just because Jack was apprehended near the river. She wonders how a stealthy former agent, who has eluded capture all these years, was snared with relative ease. She makes it her mission to find out.
Half the fun of watching "Live Another Day" is reconnecting with old friends at different stages of their lives. Chloe, for example, is back, but she's not the same snarky data analyst we came to love. She has joined an underground WikiLeaks kind of group and has become much more hardened and punked-out, as her heavy eyeliner will attest. When she and Jack reunite, there is instant friction.
Also back is Jack's former flame Audrey Raines (Kim Raver). She's now serving as a coddling aide to her father, the aging president, and is married to his uptight chief of staff, Mark Boudreau (Tate Donovan). The latter is understandably threatened by Jack's return.
As for Sutherland, he's all buffed up and chomps into his signature role with customary gusto. Is he up for a little fiery gunplay and ghastly torture? Sure. Will he unleash a sleeper hold or two? Absolutely. Does he utter his trademark "Dammit!" before the first hour is over? Of course, even though we're in the UK, this ain't no "Downton Abbey."
Fox made the first two episodes of "Live Another Day" available for review, which is a somewhat superfluous exercise because, 1) by now, "24" is pretty much critic-proof. You either roll with its adrenaline-laced craziness or not, and 2) the show's early episodes have always been taut and gripping. It's the middle-to-late hours where "24" so often succumbs to lame twists and wild leaps of implausibility. That's why a 12-episode edition of "24," at this stage, seems enticing. On the other hand, poor Jack now has even less time to kick butt and deliver us from evil.
UNEASY LAUGHS: Next Monday also brings the very welcome return of "Louie" (10 p.m., FX), the critically lauded, semi-autobiographical sitcom that takes the humor of discomfort to new heights.
The show is back for its fourth season following a 19-month hiatus, during which writer, director and star Louis C.K. recharged his batteries and worked on other projects. FX will air back-to-back episodes on Monday nights for seven weeks through June 16.
The opener follows a "typical day" in the life of the ruminative sad sack, including a trip to an insensitive doctor. The even funnier second episode has Louie, at the urging of Jerry Seinfeld, doing a benefit gig in the Hamptons that goes very badly.
When: 8 p.m. Monday (two episodes)