24: LEGACY: Monday 8PM on FOX – In the Queue
It’s difficult to watch the “new” 24: LEGACY simply as a TV show. By the time the original series went off the air in 2010, it was already more trope than drama, its many gimmicks (the “real-time” format, split screens, on-screen countdown clock, etc) well past the point of self-parody. (It was then followed by a standalone TV-movie and the Live Another Day limited series, so it’s barely ever been off the air.) But even before all that, it was overshadowed by its relationship to reality: although unveiled at the May 2001 network Upfronts, it didn’t air until the following November, and the events of 9/11 colored the show throughout its run.
A version of the same phenomenon has engulfed 24: Legacy, which was shot before the current travel ban and anti-immigration furor but can’t be seen as entirely separate from them. The first hour of Legacy begins with savage Muslim terrorists slaughtering not only former Army Rangers but their families, in search of a flash drive that lists the multitudes of secret Arab spies hiding in plain sight all over the US. Its secondary storyline depicts an accented Chechen (and presumably Muslim) teenage immigrant who plots, with her radical high school teacher, to murder her fellow students. The line between fiction and the actual anti-immigration arguments being advanced by the new administration are all but invisible.
Thrillers, of course, often reflect the world around them, from the anti-Nazi adventures of 1940s Hollywood to the paranoid conspiracy stories that dotted the Watergate era. But rarely has a US television series intended as “mainstream” danced–unintentionally, to be sure–so close to the edge of official propaganda. Combined with what has always been the broad and jingoistic tone of 24, there’s no subtext to the new series–it’s just text. Responses to Legacy, therefore, are likely to have more to do with whether one endorses its politics rather than its aesthetics.
The show itself, created by veteran 24 writer/producers Manny Coto and Evan Katz (they wrote the opening episode, which was directed by Stephen Hopkins, another old 24 hand), tries as much as it can to duplicate everything about the original series. The major difference, of course, is that our gung-ho hero is Eric Carter (Corey Hawkins), rather than Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. In the early going, Hawkins is heroic enough, but lacks the near-nutso intensity that made Sutherland so invaluable to the franchise. Another expression of Legacy‘s world-view is that while Carter is African-American, he’s been given a druglord brother in the person of Isaac (Ashley Carter), who is also the ex of Eric’s harried wife Nicole (Anna Diop), as though having a black family that was entirely law-abiding would have been stretching the realms of possibility too far. Eric will be working, of course, with the CTU, whose former head is Rebecca Ingram (Miranda Otto), also the wife of presidential candidate John Donovan (Jimmy Smits). Donovan’s campaign manager is Nilaa Mizrahi (Sheila Van), who by virtue of her background will doubtless earn some scrutiny as the story goes on. Dan Bucatinsky, Teddy Sears and Coral Perla all play CTU personnel, any of whom could be the season’s Designated Mole.
Even leaving politics aside, 24 was already tired in 2010, and although the writers and director have dutifully included plenty of last-minute escapes and violent showdowns, it hasn’t gotten fresher since, especially in an incarnation that lacks Sutherland’s particular appeal. Like so many rebooted franchises, 24: Legend is just a desperate attempt to squeeze more cash out of a property that had died a natural death. Its ratings, however, will bear watching after the giant post-Super Bowl viewership, because they may tell us more about the state of our union than of our TV tastes.