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Green Bay Press-Gazette

Monday, March 16, 2009

How "24's'' Jack Bauer got his groove back

As Jonas Hodges (Jon Voight) so smarmily put it last week, "Now we're having some fun.''

The halfway point of ''24'' – Hours 11-13 – proved the show has come back from a disappointing Season 6 with a vengeance. It's back in fine form – the kind of form longtime viewers had hoped for – back to the days, as a fellow fan so eloquently put it – when it's so heart-pounding ''you can't even leave to pee.''

The attack on the White House was absolutely brilliant and brutal. The death of former CTU rock and mentor Bill Buchanan (even with the weird white hair this season that made him look like Father Ralph de Bricassart on ''The Thorn Birds'') stung.

And if Cherry Jones as President Allison Taylor, who can sound so sophisticated when she asks ''From whom?'' one minute and then turns around and calls Gen. Juma ''a son of a bitch'' the next, doesn't receive an Emmy nomination …

A few theories on why ''24'' is ticking on all cylinders this season:

Fewer, better characters: Instead of introducing dozens and dozens of periphery characters that end up being throwaway casualties once they've fulfilled their obligation of raising doubt, this season has focused on a who’s who of some of ''24's'' best characters and – dare we say – actually developed them (as much as the real-time format allows for character development). It's the A-Team this year: Bauer, Almeida, O'Brian, Buchanan, Pierce, Walker, Moss and Taylor.

But there's word that Kimbo is headed back yet this season, which could negate all that within seconds. We're still waiting for that Chloe O'Brian vs. Janis Gold (Janeane Garofalo) snarky tech geek smackdown. And look for the president's daughter to take on a bigger, badder role in the second half of the season.

The Freckles factor: After suffering through painfully stilted sexual chemistry between Jack and one-dimensional ragdolls like Audrey Raines and Kate Warner, he has finally met his match in Renee Walker (a k a Freckles). Smart, tough, conflicted, compelling, real and a helluva shovel wielder, she's primary to this season's appeal. The scene in Hour 10 when she slapped Jack in the hospital and questioned whether he feels anything when innocent people die was a rare foray into actual emotion for ''24.'' More, please.

So we like Freckles, and we think Jack and Larry Moss do, too. We're just waiting for some of the obvious sexual tension in the triangle to bubble up and over any hour now.

Kiefer Sutherland: He is Jack Bauer. More importantly, he is ''24.'' If you need a reminder to how capable, how good he is, it came in his steely response to President Taylor, after she questioned whether she could trust him: ''With all due respect, Madame President, ask around.'' Ooooooo!

Much-needed change of scenery: This season has been re-energized, in part, by moving the action from the sterile bunker of CTU to Washington, D.C. (although FBI headquarters do look a lot like the sterile bunker of CTU, and bad, bad things still happen in the computer server room). The Hour 10-ending scene that found Jack and Tony (nice ''Top Gun'' shades, by the way) sitting on the steps of the Capitol at sundown as they contemplated their next move wouldn't have had near the weight if it was outside yet another abandoned warehouse in Los Angeles. Plus, Jack in crisp white shirts and suits this season is not exactly a bad thing.

Gen. Juma = freaky scary: It turns out Dubaku was nothing, but when Juma was in command and on attack in the White House, wasn't he about the biggest, baddest you-know-what you've seen yet on ''24''? Props to actor Tony Todd for making the late, great Juma so hardcore that when he barked out orders you found yourself cowering in fear on your own couch.

Easy on the torture: By the end of last season, the show's heavy use of torture started to wear thin. For some viewers, unless someone was getting their fingers cut off or acid poured in their wounds, the episode was a disappointment. For the rest of us, it started to feel like a crutch that cheapened the integrity of the show. The issue of torture remains integral to who and where Jack Bauer is this season, but the acts themselves have been scaled back (a relative term, of course, when you're talking ''24'').

-- Kendra Meinert,



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