It’s been almost four years since Jack Bauer saved the world, and he’s about to get back at it.
“And I’m terrified,” said Kiefer Sutherland, who returns as Jack in “24: Live Another Day,” aka Season 9 of the Fox series. “I’m very nervous. Without patting ourselves on the back too hard, I feel we made eight very strong years. We worked very hard at them, and there was always something in every year that all of us wished had been better, but I was very proud of those eight years.
“And so to open that up again and make 12 episodes and not make them the best 12 episodes that we’ve ever made is frightening. I won’t lie to you. I’m very nervous. … I’m about as anxious and wound up as I’ve been in a long time.”
What? The man who plays the man who saved America (and the world) from nuclear attack and biological attacks and evil cabals and criminal presidents is nervous?
Well, it’s tough to catch lightning in a bottle. It’s even tougher to do it after a four-year break from a show that everyone assumed was over and done with until Fox revived it for a ninth season — a ninth season that’s decidedly different from the eight that went before.
This time around, there are only 12 episodes. Each episode will cover one hour in real time (more or less) in a “24”-hour period. But the narrative will skip over an hour or two at a time as it advances from 11 a.m. one day to 11 a.m. the next.
This could well be good news. In each of the previous eight seasons, the story has dragged at one point or another. In some cases, it’s completely gone off the rails.
Remember the cougar chasing Jack’s daughter, Kim, in Season 2? Or the frogmen breaking into the White House from “forgotten” tunnels beneath the building in Season 7?
“We hope and we anticipate and have every expectation that we’re going to maintain the quality we’ve had for ‘24,’ ” said executive producer Howard Gordon, “but it was a marathon and it was really, really punishing. So this felt like we could catch our breath a little bit and felt like we could craft this.”
“It’s also a fantastic opportunity, because the show does take place over a 24-hour day even though it’s 12 episodes,” said executive producer Manny Coto.
For all the talk about how “24” is doing something wildly different in Season 9, there’s not a whole lot of evidence of that in the first two episodes. As we’ve seen in pretty much every season, the story starts out headed in one direction and then takes a sudden turn into something else.
The story is set (and was filmed) in London. Without giving too much away, four years have passed since the end of Season 8 and Jack has been in hiding; Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) is actively working against the U.S. government; and former Secretary of Defense James Heller (William Devane) is now the president. He’s in London to persuade the Brits to renew an agreement allowing Americans to operate drones from bases in the U.K., and there are bad guys out to stop him. Maybe assassinate him.
The biggest difference between now and then is that Jack has to deal with not only the bad guys, but also the good-guy Americans who think he’s a terrorist. Which he isn’t.
There aren’t a lot of returning characters — just Jack, Chloe, Heller and Heller’s daughter/Jack’s former love interest, Audrey Raines (Kim Raver), although there are hints others will pop up. Once the producers/writers figure out which characters are alive and which are dead.
“Sometimes we have to check Wikipedia,” said executive producer Evan Katz, adding that bringing back former President Logan (Gregory Itzin) was nixed.
“Logan shot himself in the head, I believe,” Katz said.
Yes, he did.
Coto said that, “for a while, we dismissed the idea of President Heller because we all thought he was dead.”
“We did,” Katz added. “We were, like, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if this president character could be Heller and he was alive?’ ”
“And then we remembered he crawled up over a rock after the car accident,” Coto said.
That actually happened in Season 5; Heller returned in Season 6 very much alive.
So, yeah, maybe it’s a good thing that the “24” team only has to write half as many episodes for Season 9.
‘24’ on TV
P The first two episodes of Season 9, dubbed “24: Live Another Day,” premiere Monday at 7 and 8 p.m. on Fox/Ch. 13. Subsequent episodes will air Mondays at 8 p.m.