This write-up is a little late. A family emergency put me a couple weeks behind on my television viewing. Catching up to the special-event series “24 Live Another Day,” though, was a real pleasure. So pleasurable in fact, the wife and I accomplished it in two intense sittings — all 12 episodes.
“24: Live Another Day,” which concluded its run last Monday, picks up four years after the eighth season ended, which saw Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) take it on the lam as a fugitive with both the American and Russian governments hot on his trail.
Today, James Heller (William Devane) is America’s president and Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajsku) is working for an organization based on Wikileaks. New additions include Benjamin Bratt’s Steve Navarro as the head of the CIA’s London operations, and Yvonne Strahovski as Kate Morgan, a CIA agent disgraced by her traitor husband.
The only thing I hate more than revealing plot is regurgitating plot. Suffice to say, “24: Live Another Day” is still “24.” Jack is still Jack. Chloe is still Chloe. The story is still on the side of America and unafraid to be politically incorrect. For most of the episodes, the bad guys are barbaric terrorists of Middle Eastern descent, and Jack still obtains information and dispatches with bad guys in ways that make patriots cheer and humorless Leftists harrumph.
“24 : Live Another Day” is not only the series at its best, it is also another log on the fire of proof that shorter seasons do make for better television — at least when you are talking about dramatic television with season-long story arcs.
People will argue this point, but as far as I’m concerned, “24” never once delivered a bad season. Some seasons were better than others, but all 8 (now 9) were addictive and exciting. There’s no question, though, that this 12-episode season felt tighter, less strained, less repetitive, and even more realistic.
While all 8 seasons of “24” were terrific, when you’re a television show that lives or dies on the brilliance of endless plot turns, reversals, and reveals, keeping all those plates spinning over two dozen episodes is a heavy lift. And at various times throughout every season, you could see the strain, especially in the unnecessary subplots that felt like filler (most everything involving Jack’s daughter comes to mind).
This isn’t just true for “24.” During the darkest days of my “Lost” addiction, when I was living on 3 hours sleep due to JustOneMoreEpisode Syndrome, I thought of how much better the seasons would have been at 12 to 14 episodes.
To be clear, the 12 to 14 episode season isn’t necessary for every dramatic series. Shows like “CSI,” “Law and Order,” and “NCIS” might have continuing story arcs involving the characters, but the meat of the story is usually self-contained and therefore works fine over 20 to 24 episodes.
A four-year break not only revitalized “24” to top form, the idea of a special-event half-season appears to have given the series a way to keep coming back. And let’s hope it does. Fans weren’t exhausted at the conclusion of “24: Live Another Day,” they were left wanting more.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC