LOS ANGELES – Jack Bauer is finally getting some breathing room.
When our long-suffering agent springs back into action Monday night on Fox after a four-year hiatus, he’ll still be dashing about in “real time” over the course of a single day, but “24: Live Another Day” will be limited to just 12 hours of TV instead of 24, allowing writers to jump forward as needed.
In other words, expect a tighter, leaner season — one without time for cameos from hungry mountain lions.
“ ‘24’ was a marathon and really, really punishing,” said executive producer Howard Gordon, referring to the first eight seasons of the Emmy-winning series. “You never could actually see the other side of the shore. Here, you can see the horizon.”
Not that Bauer, played once again by Kiefer Sutherland, will have time for a catnap. He’s still a fugitive, branded by the government as a traitor and psychopath, but he comes in from the cold in London to rescue his longtime sidekick Chloe and, eventually, the rest of civilization. It’s a tried-and-true formula, but is it too intense for the easy, breezy days of summer?
“I won’t lie to you, I’m nervous,” Sutherland said a couple of weeks before production started in England. “The audience that has stayed with us over the years has been so spectacular and supportive and loyal. To not give them the best that we’ve got to offer would be very disappointing. I’m about as anxious and wound up as I’ve been in a long time.”
Talk of a “24” reunion has been in the air since the series finale in 2010, most of it revolving around a feature film. At one point, there was even speculation that Bauer would team up with Bruce Willis’ “Die Hard” character John McClane. But unsatisfying scripts, the death of potential director Tony Scott and Sutherland’s commitment to the short-lived Fox series “Touch” kept any future missions on hold.
The four-year break actually became an advantage, allowing the characters to be presented in a different frame of mind.
Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) has a harder edge and punk look, having become so disillusioned by the U.S. government that she’s now an underground hacker. Bauer has grown so mistrustful that he even considers double-crossing Chloe.
“Something as complex as a past loyalty that is potentially going to be betrayed gives an actor a lot of meat,” Sutherland said. “It’s a great opportunity for us, as a lot of the dynamics of the characters have shifted.”
The four-year jump also allowed the writers to incorporate contemporary issues, such as Edward Snowden’s leaks of classified material. But if you’re looking for a political statement, you’re on a wild goose chase, producers insist.
“The show is actually extremely apolitical,” said executive producer Manny Coto. “This idea that we’re conservative or left is kind of baffling to all of us. Frankly, some of the season-long arcs could have been a Michael Moore fantasy. I think the fun of it is dealing with controversial issues and examining it from all sides.”
It’s not known if or how “24” will live on past these dozen episodes. Sutherland says a feature film is still a possibility.
One thing is for sure: No one is safe, not even Jack Bauer.
“Like ‘Law & Order’ and ‘CSI,’ I think the star of the show is the concept,” Sutherland said. “An audience could latch onto a younger character that would be helping my character and then you reboot the show through that character. That’s certainly an option.”
Channing Tatum, call your agent.