Certain things never change. The sun rises and falls, gravity keeps us on the ground, and Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) is having a terrible day. There’s nothing stylistically or aesthetically different about the new, 12-part installment of 24 beyond its U.K. setting and subtitle, Live Another Day. Each episode still tracks a single hour in “real time,” with split-screens whirling about as frantically as the characters, effectively conveying both the chaos and control of the plot. But in Live Another Day, time is allowed to pass between some episodes, resulting in a tighter, more action-packed storyline. And this time around, Jack’s been on the run for the last four years, a fugitive from the United States. Not only must he save the world from a rogue hacker who plans to sell the controls to the U.S.’s drone army, but he has to do it while eluding well-intentioned members of the C.I.A., like the straight-shooting Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt) and Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski), who ironically acts exactly like Jack—disobeying direct orders, turning on her own team, and using unsanctioned interrogation tactics—in her pursuit of him.
The result is a leaner, scrappier 24 that is both firmly within its comfort zone—the unstoppable Jack, unflinchingly facing interrogators and taking down three guards while handcuffed—and somehow outside it, with Jack and the other returning characters more readily showing the wear and tear of their profession. We first see Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) being given an “enhanced interrogation” by U.S. operatives, as it turns out she’s become an Edward Snowden-like hacktivist. It’s unclear how much Audrey Raines (Kim Raver) has recovered from the coma we last saw her in, while her father, President James Heller (William Devane), isn’t only struggling to defend his military policies, but hiding his worsening Alzheimer’s symptoms. And Jack finds himself justifiably afraid to befriend or trust anyone, using even Chloe as a means to an end.
It’s here that the shortened episode count best serves 24, for it means that the series doesn’t have the time to get bogged down in wheel-spinning subplots. Perhaps taking a cue from the high-octane Strike Back, which reveals an overarching plot in two-episode chunks, the first two hours of Live Another Day feature a daring C.I.A. infiltration, a shootout in the London projects, a military hijacking, and the introduction of a mole. And despite the rapidity of the pacing, character development doesn’t feel rushed. Though the president’s chief of staff, Mark Boudreau (Tate Donovan), makes some below-board attempts to secretly eliminate Jack, we’re given room to wonder if it’s because he’s married to Bauer’s former lover, Audrey, or if he genuinely wants to subvert Heller’s presidency. After eight seasons (and a TV movie), it turns out that all 24 needed to do to be a better series was to move in double time.