Let us now (secretly) praise Jack Bauer. You remember the combustible protagonist of Fox's long-running thriller 24?
When there was a terrorist threat to this nation, he would defuse it by whatever means came to hand, however unsavory. We desperately needed the guy, but we deplored his methods, at least for the record.
It was a pretty inequitable dynamic we had going there for eight seasons: If you messed with the bull, we disavowed all knowledge of the horns.
And then Jack went out in a blaze of glory, and - because of the unavoidable death of several Russian diplomats - international outrage.
So why is Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) resurfacing four years later, distinctly the worse for wear, in 24: Live Another Day? (The limited-run series begins with a two-hour premiere at 8 p.m. Monday on Fox29.)
The timing is pretty weird. We're fighting terror these days with remotely guided drones. In fact, the president - former Secretary of Defense James Heller (William Devane) - is taking a lot of heat for our death-from-above policy during a fence-mending trip to the U.K.
Enhanced interrogation has become such an accepted part of our espionage arsenal that there's a separate, inviolable section inside the CIA called Special Activities that can chemically peel a suspect's brain.
Isn't this the autocratic New World Order that Jack Bauer was always fighting for? Why is he jumping back into the fray now?
Because we still don't get it, dammit!
Sure, we're willing to bend the rules of civilization in the Hindu Kush, but for some reason we draw the line at battering down the doors of London flats and threatening British citizens with grievous physical harm on their own soil.
That's in Jack's wheelhouse. No one points a gun at point-blank range with such intensity while barking ultimatums. No one.
Live Another Day sets the table with economy and excitement. The London CIA chief (Benjamin Bratt) is surprised when Jack, an international fugitive, pops up on his radar. Operative Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski) is about to leave the agency in disgrace, but it becomes apparent she's the only one with a shot at keeping up with Jack.
Excellent casting! Strahovski is Jack's best female adver/ally since Annie Wersching in Seasons Seven and Eight.
Meanwhile, Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub), Jack's old CTU cyber-buddy, has gone all Edward Snowden, living with a group of radical London hackers and leaking classified Department of Defense documents.
Chloe avoids arrest with a clever time-travel disguise, passing herself off as a member of Siouxsie and the Banshees from the '70s. Her heavy punk look gives her the distinction during this series of being the first character since Alex in A Clockwork Orange to undergo brainwashing while wearing caked-on mascara.
Meanwhile, the president is facing danger on many fronts. But his chief of staff (Tate Donovan) is primarily concerned that his own wife, the first daughter (Kim Raver), should not learn that Bauer is around, lest she fall back into the coma he induced in Season Five.
That, as you might expect, is a long (and not terribly interesting) story. Of course, the politicians' subplot is always the weak link in 24 (with the exception of Gregory Itzin's Nixo-Shakespearean antics as President Logan).
The reason to watch, as always, is Jack and his desperate race against time. 24: Live Another Day has all the old style and content hallmarks: the crazy, adrenalized action, the hidden-agenda plot twists, and the pounding Wagnerian countdowns to commercials.
In fact, this abbreviated 12-episode revival may be an improvement because of the way it galvanizes the pace. Turns out Jack didn't need a whole day to save our bacon.
24: Live Another Day
8 p.m. Monday on Fox29EndText