Fox’s tremendously influential right-wing fever-dream 24 is famous as much for rekindling the leading man expectations of one Kiefer Sutherland as being the premiere dream-narrative of the Bush era. The late Antonin Scalia famously defended torture by citing Sutherland’s Jack Bauer and his role as a national hero. In this completely ludicrous universe of constant terrorist threat, Sutherland’s Bauer, an operative of the secretive CTU, famously used torture to get results for him to help botch terrorist plans. That, of course, is not at all reflective of reality, wherein not a single tortured inmate of Guantanamo has yielded a substantive lead in the “War on Terror,” but that’s hardly the only issue. The show fostered a distinctly odious brand of isolationism, wherein all your most outrageous, paranoid inklings are confirmed as true and a threat to Lady America. The narrative of 24 was driven by the most cowardly breed of political sensationalism.
On the other hand, 24 was, and remains, an irrefutably kinetic piece of technical work. The constantly conveyed sense of urgency and menace from afar (and domestically) works on a base level. That is as true of 24: Legacy, Fox’s reboot of the series, as it is of Sutherland’s empty-headed behemoth, but the new series repeats a number of the show’s mistakes. In for Bauer is Corey Hawkins‘ Eric Carter, a former Army ranger eking out a living as a bodyguard for the 1%, who is introduced to us gunning down a small cadre of Middle Eastern hitmen. Eric was part of an elite group of soldiers and most of them have been killed, along with their families, until Eric stopped their search for an elusive strongbox. It turns out that strongbox is being held by Grimes (Charlie Hofheimer), a bitter vet and the only other living soldier left in Eric’s team, and that it contains the activation codes for a number of splinter terrorist cells across the United States.
The series opens on the killing of a family and the directors of the series, both in the pilot and elsewhere, are not subtle with their imagery. Big swaths of blood and tossed around military decorations are clearly highlighted, pegging these terrorists as the worst kind of terrorists. That, of course, is all we are supposed to know about them and all we will know about them before Eric rightly shoots them all. One of the more inelegant consistencies of 24 and shows of its ilk is their inability to create complex villains, to see the decency and unexpected good in even the most seemingly unsavable attackers. Even when the head of the cell network is revealed, his reasoning is little more than loyalty to his father, the oldest excuse in any book. 24: Legacy fails early on to correct one of the more problematic elements of the original and the fact that it remains should signal a clear sign of how little effort was put into this venture.
One might say that, in the personage of Grimes, 24: Legacy is at least confronting the deplorable state of how veterans are treated in this country. Though the sentiment is appreciated, Grimes is not ultimately portrayed as a man turned mad by war but as a greedy lunatic whose warped lust for his own kind of justice nearly gets Americans killed. When any character in 24: Legacy embodies a leftist soft spot, more than likely they possess a fundamental flaw in their character, a personal defect that cannot be fixed and will hurt others. The show craftily plays the shell game of who are the informants but in the process, the characters are drawn only in terms related to the plot. A great cast, that also includes Miranda Otto, Jimmy Smits, and Sheila Vand, is reduced to delivering a tourist’s guide to plot points.
I hesitate to give more examples to avoid ruining this show for those who still enjoy the base thrills the show continues to deliver, but rest assured, Grimes is hardly the only instance of this kind of biased, predictable character construction. When Eric is forced to ask a favor of his estranged brother, Isaac, we learn that while Eric has been fighting for his country, his brother has been building up a small crime empire in the projects, and that Eric’s wife, Courtney, used to be his main squeeze. There’s a symbolic and, yes, biblical power to crafting the brothers as warring opposites on different sides of the law, but 24: Legacy isn’t here to offer insight into their feud or, for that matter, provide some sort of visual wonderment to distract from this simplicity. By the end of the fourth or fifth episode, all that the series has imparted in regard to Isaac is that drug dealing can get you killed and that you can’t trust anyone in such businesses, a perspective that was new and fascinating well over two decades ago, around when the Geto Boys started recording.
And like its predecessor, Fox’s latest action series is all too happy to play up male distrust of women as not just justifiable, but useful and even life-saving. With the exception of Grimes, the show’s most manipulative and scheming characters are women, as much in the halls of government as in Isaac’s community. Now, in this case, the uncertain characterizations, for both men and women, could arguably be pinned on the show’s don’t-know-who-to-trust narrative, in which compromised professionals and betrayers of personal creeds are everywhere. In its tinny sense of visual realism and wrong-headed political perspective, 24: Legacy represents as much a dream-narrative of constant warfare in the age of Trump as it’s predecessor was utilized as an imagined yet unimaginative scenario in which the sovereignty and safety of post-9/11 America are under constant attack by foreign agents and greedy government operatives.
And for all the offense that could be culled from this woefully self-serious, violence-solves-everything nonsense, what’s most troubling about 24: Legacy is how little it cares about the inner workings of its characters. Hawkins is a charming, inventive performer but in the role of Eric, his gifts for teasing out the details of a complicated soul are put to no use. Like so many ignorant films and tv shows about soldiers, former or active, 24: Legacy focuses almost exclusively on the purity of Eric’s sense of duty, as well as his heroism, deadly skills, and masculinity, and ignores the shading of his life outside of his work wholesale. The politics of 24: Legacy continue to reverberate the most simplistic passages of hard-right conservative dogma that drove 24 but even that might have been sufferable if the showrunners conveyed any interest in confronting complexities of character, regardless of the character’s political affiliation. Perhaps, in this case, I shouldn’t be so surprised that this reboot is more interested in pushing and expanding a tedious, absurd plot than getting to know the person who is actually trying to stop it.
Rating: ★ – Garbage Time
24:Legacy premieres Sunday, February 5th after the Super Bowl