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TV Review: ‘24: Legacy’ on Fox

Variety logo Variety 1/31/2017 Maureen Ryan
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Before you see a single frame of “24: Legacy,” you probably know what it’ ll contain. A man will go on the run. Within the shadowy confines of the CTU, snarky techs and earnest intelligence officials will wonder about who to trust. There will be shoot-outs and chases. Whispery cellphone conversations will occur in every third scene.

“24: Legacy” takes all those basics and executes them with rote diligence, without adding anything in the way of inspiration or relevance (unless you count the occasional appearance of drones). Many of the elements added or altered in this incarnation of the franchise are forgettable at best and questionable at worst. All in all, this generally clunky reboot serves as reminder of just how much “24” owes the gravelly voice and dependable charisma of Kiefer Sutherland, who serves as an executive producer but does not star.

Without Sutherland as CTU agent Jack Bauer, and without ace supporting characters like Jack’s trusty backup, Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub), “24” is just another predictable and sometimes preposterous action-thriller featuring an array of interchangeable and cartoonishly stereotyped Middle Eastern bad guys. But even before Sutherland left the show, what had once been distinctive about “24” had largely worn away with time and overuse.

Later seasons of the Fox drama felt tired and repetitive, and 2014’s “24: Live Another Day” likewise came off as a faded photocopy of what had come before. Though the show was developed long before 9/11, the first batch of “24” seasons became a strangely transfixing reaction to that event, reflecting a nation’s rage, confusion and desire for some kind of comprehensible narrative — even if if that narrative was often self-serving and grandiose when it came to the War on Terror.

Despite the undeniable draw of Sutherland and the show’s tick-tock, real-time premise, the thriller always had an array of vexing problems: The biggest one was tacit endorsement of torture as a means of extracting intelligence. But on a storytelling level, recurrent stumbling blocks included time-killing filler, nonsensical subplots (never forget the cougar), and supporting characters who were sometimes especially rudimentary. Still, whatever one thought of its politics, “24” felt timely a decade ago. But now that any number of shows, from “Quantico” to “Six” to “Homeland,” offer a variety of takes on terrorism and security concerns — you can have soapy or sophisticated secret agents, take your pick — this rather square and formulaic property feels like a relic.

The first three installments of “24: Legacy” don’t do much to allay concerns that it will slide into the usual worn-out grooves; this reboot incorporates the show’s usual array of problematic habits and adds a few more tiresome elements for good measure. The action scenes are competently shot and it moves at a reasonable pace, and new star Corey Hawkins is energetic, but almost every development feels telegraphed from miles away, draining “Legacy” of much of its suspense.

Hawkins’ Eric Carter is an Army Ranger who fought extremists in Afghanistan, and though he’s out of the military, his past comes back to haunt him and and other members of his unit. If one were to assemble a new season of “24” by way of a game of Terrorism Mad Libs, this is where one would be likely to land. None of the characters are distinctive or especially engaging, and a few supporting performances are downright wooden. 

As she did on the Showtime drama “Homeland,” the deft Miranda Otto plays a dogged intelligence operative who has contacts among both field agents and political players. Unfortunately, her reasonably solid CTU storylines don’t make up for other threads that drag the entire enterprise down.

While it’s notable that Hawkins is just one of many African-American actors with core roles in “24: Legacy,” it’s not exactly heartening that many of them are involved in a drug-dealing plot that reads like an outtake from a derivative ‘80s cop drama. A disconnected storyline set among sleeper agents at a high school comes far too close to veering into comedy; it’s as if the insipid “90210” reboot had added some inept terrorists, just for topical kicks. It’s one of the series’ worst-ever subplots. 

Fox has shown a consistent devotion to renewing and reworking legacy properties, and in theory, there’s nothing wrong with that. But the limits of that approach become apparent when, in all senses of the word, you don’t have Jack.

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