Sunday, February 5, 2017

REVIEW: '24: Legacy' - The Clock Resets as Eric Carter Discovers a Terrorist Plot in '12:00 Noon - 1:00 PM'

FOX's 24: Legacy - Episode 1.01 "12:00 Noon - 1:00 PM"

When an attempt on Eric Carter's life is made after his return home from a mission to kill terrorist leader Bin Khalid, he discovers that he and his fellow rangers' identities have been compromised. Carter enlists the help of former director of CTU, Rebecca Ingram, who quarterbacked the raid and is one of the few who knew the rangers' identities. They work to uncover a sophisticated terrorist network in a race against the clock to stop a devastating attack on U.S. soil.

The original 24 series already has quite a legacy as being the show that defined the George W. Bush presidency. In the world following 9/11, it was the action show that topically showed one man doing whatever it took to stop dangerous terrorists from committing attacks on American soil. It embraced the "ends justify the means" mentality that came to define much of the war on terrorism. So, it should be very fitting that just as a new Republican ascends to the highest office in the land that 24 should return to the airwaves. Of course, FOX really hasn't let the audience get too nostalgic for the series. The original lasted for eight seasons and then returned just a few years ago for the Live Another Day limited series. Those 12 episodes showed that the series could still work as action escapism even though the world and its morals have changed. And now, the franchise faces its biggest challenge yet in trying to return without Kiefer Sutherland's Jack Bauer. For better or worse, the original show would not be iconic without that performance. So, it is now up to Corey Hawkins to carry the torch. But more importantly, the show once again has to show why it is relevant especially in a world that faces extreme change nearly every single day under the new administration.

The main story set up in the series premiere doesn't really get extremely topical though. Sometimes the best material that happened on 24 - and it's spiritual successor Showtime's Homeland - came from ripping the headlines of what was actually happening in the country. 24: Legacy isn't really aiming to do that. It's instead focused on the story of a group of army rangers who killed a major terrorist. It was a huge mission that is being celebrated. But it also means those rangers and their families have had to change their identities and go into hiding. And now, they are being hunted by the followers of the terrorist they killed. Of course, it's all wrapped up in an even bigger terrorist plot because it is still 24 after all. It still has to be up to one man to save the country from a devastating attack caused by foreigners who wish them severe harm. And once again, it's just a little silly watching how the narrative contorts itself to make it a "one man versus the world" type of story. The new protagonist is Eric Carter, a man who has just returned home wanting to start a family but is still dealing with what he dealt with overseas. He's able to take out a couple of the terrorists when they come looking for him at home. But from then on, it's a bit of a mad dash of convenient plot complications to keep things complex if not all that nuanced.

All of this is just building to the inevitable reveal that no one can be trusted. That has always been a mainstay of 24. The audience should never get too comfortable with the characters. Once that familiarity sets in, then comes the reveal that that person is actually the mole trying to undermine the entire mission. It would not be 24 if there wasn't a mole somewhere. It wouldn't be 24 if the director of CTU wasn't knocked unconscious in his office. So, if the show is just playing to fans of the original, then it succeeds because it embraces these tropes and shows they still work fine even with a completely new cast. And yet, these tropes became quite tiring over the years of the original. If the main story wasn't that engaging, it just made the flaws stand out even more. And right now, it does feel like this pilot plays the greatest hits of the original without offering something fresh and new to the story. So that makes everything come across a little tame and uninspired. Carter's story is just full of action beats to propel him into the story and prove that this is a line of work he is actually quite good at. Meanwhile, Rebecca's story is one of distrusting the people around her because of the existence of a mole. It's good and tense. But not all that earned.

There are even parts of this premiere that echo what the original 24 was like in its first season. Sure, that first year had its flaws. But it was a groundbreaking and original series from the first moment. And now, it feels like 24: Legacy is trying to capture that same energy by following similar conventions. So, Carter has a wife who needs protecting. She's not a trained soldier. She can't protect herself in this kind of danger. Sure, she proves herself at saving Carter during his big moment with the terrorists at their house. But that doesn't seem like something that will define her character arc this season. Instead, she is quickly rushed off to spend some time with Carter's estranged brother, Isaac, who happens to be a major drug dealer. That seems completely ridiculous and a pointed way of keeping things tense with her even though she won't be following Carter around throughout the day. It's still just awkwardly setting up that whole story. It's also complicated with bad family history and Nicole dating Isaac before running away to a better life with Carter. Plus, it seems like Nicole has already reached the end of her emotional arc for the season before it even gets started. She recognizes that Carter isn't suffering from PTSD. He just enjoys the action and wants to get back to it. She can't bring a family into that kind of situation because Carter will always be running into danger. In that moment, that could be seen as exposition for why Carter is willing to carry the burden of the overarching plot longer than he should. But it will make it harder to justify why Nicole will want to stay with him in the long run. So, it's all just too convoluted without providing much depth for the characters.

However, that's not the most troubling story that comes out of this premiere. No, that honor goes to whatever is going on in that high school with a teenage girl named Amira and her teacher. Did the show learn nothing from Kim in the original series? Is this just the latest way to parallel the first season of the original show? If so, it's repeating one of the more awkward and bad stories. It's just hard to care about it in the first place because it is just so random. How does a fight between two high school students fit into this whole thing? Of course, then it's revealed that Amira is one of the secret terrorists just waiting to be activated. She also has a romantic relationship with her teacher. First of all, the teacher-student romance trope has just gotten so bad and cliche. There isn't any show out there that can find a new spin on it. It has been fully exhausting. There's nothing interesting in that dynamic. It's just weird, lazy and creepy. And second, I fear the message that this type of story might send in Trump's America. It reinforces the idea that people immigrate to this country with bad intentions. They sneak in easily and unsuspected and carry out horrible terrorist attacks. That's essentially what this story is. And this premiere is airing after the Super Bowl - the biggest audience a show can get. So, it's potentially worrisome. Plus, it doesn't seem like the show wants to go deeper than that. Carter discovers that these secret terrorists exist and are waiting to move into action. So, it'll be a race to stop them. That's the broad stroke of things. It's just a little too annoyingly unaware of how it may come across.

Of course, there are things to like in this premiere as well. Most of this review sounds negative but the 24 foundation is still good and watchable. It's still reliable for action escapism. It will take time to figure out if that's good or bad given the real-world parallels. But for the most part, it's perfectly fine watching Carter get caught up in these extreme circumstances. Yes, the plot moves forward to the next hour with Carter losing the flash drive with all the information of the terrorists' plot in the big final shootout. That is a very compelling set piece that show the creative team still has new ideas when it comes to action. It's just needlessly complicated to have Carter focus on getting the flash drive back while the other pieces of the narrative come into focus. But again, that will probably be watchable because Corey Hawkins sells things admirably in the lead role. Miranda Otto does the same in her corner of this universe as well. As long as those two get quality material, the narrative should largely be fine. It should just be interesting to watch moving forward.

Some more thoughts:
  • "12:00 Noon - 1:00 PM" was written by Evan Katz & Manny Coto and directed by Stephen Hopkins.
  • The premiere really doesn't reference the original show much at all. CTU is still the organization at the center of these terrorists attacks. Plus, one of the analysts happens to be the cousin of Edgar Stiles. But there really is nothing more than that which is good because the show needs to stand out as its own thing - which it will likely struggle with a lot this season.
  • Rebecca isn't actually the head of CTU. She used to be and is there largely running the important things here. But she's suppose to be at a fundraiser helping her husband, John Donovan, campaign for president. She seems a little reluctant to do that though.
  • Speaking of John, he is played by Jimmy Smits. He's running for President on yet another show. Smits has a proven track record of improving any project he's in. And yet, he really doesn't do much here. He's driving to a campaign event and that's it.
  • Carter and Rebecca immediately throw suspicion to Keith, the new head of CTU, of leaking the rangers' names. So, it seems unlikely that he's actually the mole. My guess right now would be Andy because he's the one person Rebecca actually trusts to help her - and thus would make the reveal more personally devastating.
  • Isaac says he got over Nicole a long time ago but he also has a stereotypical jealous girlfriend who will more than likely complicate Nicole's safety in the future.
  • I like Kathryn Prescott (from Finding Carter) and Kevin Christy (from Masters of Sex) perfectly fine. But there is probably no saving this high school plot. Maybe they'll meet some early demises this season.