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Jack Bauer can save us all

As bureaucrats strain to figure how a guy with a reputation as a radical and skivvies full of explosives nearly blew up an airliner on Christmas Day, I'm feeling a certain comfort that Jack Bauer is back.

That, of course, is the ultimate appeal of 24 and the hero that perpetual real-life screwup Kiefer Sutherland has inexplicably created.

In 24's fantasy world, law enforcement shares information with the bark of a single order, tracks cell phones within minutes and mobilizes strike teams on a moment's notice. Most important, one dedicated, talented man can overcome a heartless bureaucracy's worst decisions to save the day. As many times as necessary.

Over 24's typically kinetic four-hour debut (airing two hours at 9 p.m. tonight and two hours at 8 p.m. Monday) that's the basic script — familiar territory for longtime fans, but in a new place; the glass and steel jungle of New York City.

Once again, Sutherland's Bauer is the ultimate reluctant hero, trying to catch a plane to Los Angeles to live in peace with his daughter (played by Elisha Cuthbert, in another appearance where writers seem to have no idea what to do with her character; why do they keep hiring this woman?).

Instead, he's drawn into thwarting a plot to kill a Hamid Karzai-style Arab leader — if Karzai was, you know, not corrupt and actually helping Americans build peace.

That's another appeal of 24 that's readily apparent. This is a simple world, where leaders are mostly good or mostly evil; the inept show their colors early and often, while the virtuous and talented are eventually vindicated.

At least we have a few new characters to suss out this season, with Freddie Prinze Jr. on board as the latest Bauer-in-training, leveraging a bad New Yawk accent to play an action-oriented field agent.

Mykelti Williamson (Bubba from Forrest Gump in a decidedly un-Gumpian gig) is the latest anti-PC 24 villain; an African-American boss more concerned with covering his own behind than facing the truth of a crisis.

Battlestar Galactica alum Katee Sackhoff is an intelligence operative with a shady past facing blackmail. And Cherry Jones returns as the earnest president trying to cut a peace deal; she's also divorced, providing another 24-style pioneering look at a chief executive (and perhaps some advice to Hillary Clinton).

It's all delicious intrigue and thrilling fun, linked by the constantly flouted concept that every scene plays out in real time (Bauer uses lots of helicopters and cars with sirens to subvert Manhattan's notorious traffic jams; does this guy ever hit a red light?).

It's also a fantasy likely to go down much easier than the troubling, conflicted reality we're seeing in our own airports and security checkpoints. No wonder we can't get enough Bauer; maybe somebody in the Transportation Security Agency should take a few notes.

Can anyone be the next Simon?

Now that Simon Cowell has made his departure from American Idol after this season official, the obvious question emerges: Who should take his place at the judges table?

Here's a look at the likely and unlikely candidates with a quick nod to their chances.

Piers Morgan, judge, America's Got Talent

Pluses: He's got the "evil Brit with savvy brilliance" thing down almost as well as Cowell.

Minuses: Looks too much like a Simon clone; appears on a rival network in a reality show produced by his buddy, Cowell.

Joel McHale, host, The Soup

Pluses: Hilariously astute judge of clueless inanity; used to lampooning said cluelessness on national TV.

Minuses: New judge Ellen DeGeneres already brings the funny. He works for rival NBC as star of on-the-bubble comedy Community.

Nigel Lythgoe, judge, So You Think You Can Dance

Pluses: As an early executive producer of Idol, knows intimately how the show works.

Minuses: Nicer than Cowell or Morgan; already ruling a popular Fox reality show.

n Conan O'Brien, host, Tonight Show

Pluses: We hear his current gig won't last long.

m TiVo

Human Target, debuts 8 tonight, airs regularly at 9 p.m. Wednesdays, WTVT-Ch. 13: Star Mark Valley is appropriately hard-nosed as a super-effective bodyguard who protects clients by making himself the target. Based on a hardboiled comic book, there's lots of neat touches — Pushing Daisies alum Chi McBride as Valley's, um, business manager, and Mad Men alum Mark Moses as the target's first nemesis. Add in Battlestar Galactica's Tricia Helfer as a beautiful engineer facing a death threat on a hyper-fast bullet train, and you have a rollicking first step on what could became a thrilling, long-term journey.


Life Unexpected, debuts at 9 p.m. Monday, WTOG-Ch. 44: So much of this dramedy about a teen in foster care forced to live with the young parents who once put her up for adoption feels like it was tailor-made for the CW. The dramatic scenes set to a Counting Crows soundtrack. The wise-beyond-her-years 15-year-old heroine who sounds more like the 30-year-olds writing her lines. And two confused biological parents who don't look old enough to have graduated college, let alone have a forgotten, teenage daughter. Still, there's a charm about this new-school family unit — which includes slacker dad's oddball buddies and mom's fiance, who also co-hosts a radio show with her. However predictable, it feels good to see a show for youth acknowledge the complicated truth of family life in modern times.

Jack Bauer can save us all 01/16/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 16, 2010 4:12pm]
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