24, FOX, Airs Monday 9/8c

Episode: Season Premiere (Season Eight, Episodes 1-4)

Synopsis: Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) is recovering from his gene therapy in New York, and he plans to move back to Los Angeles with his daughter Kim (Elisha Cuthbert) to retire and become a grandfather. However, when an old informant of his shows up bleeding on his doorstep with a story of an assassination plot at the U.N., Jack jumps into action. He reconnects with Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) at the New York branch of CTU to start investigating. Unfortunately, Chloe’s somewhat incompetent and Bluetooth-enabled boss Brian Hastings (Mykelti Williamson) keeps throwing up roadblocks.

Meanwhile, at the U.N., President Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones) is working to strike a disarmament deal with Omar Hassan (Anil Kapoor), the president of the upstart Islamic Republic of Kamistan. Unbeknownst to everyone but Jack, Hassan is the target of the assassination plot, which involves a freelance journalist who is having an affair with Hassan, a nasty Russian agent named Davros (no, not the guy who created the Daleks) posing as a cop on the U.N. security detail and members of Hassan’s inner circle, all of whom have fabulous hair.

Also meanwhile at CTU, hotshot agent Cole Ortiz (Freddie Prinze Jr.) finds his loyalties tested as he tries to follow Hastings’ orders but has a hunch that Bauer’s hunches are correct. Ortiz’s girlfriend, lead analyst Dana Walsh (Katee Sackoff), butts heads with Chloe over their technical prowess, but she is brought to her knees by the sudden appearance of her old trailer park boyfriend who threatens to reveal her mysterious past.

Following a lead on the Russian connection, CTU calls on former FBI Agent Renee Walker (Annie Wersching) to go back undercover and track down the source of possible nuclear weapons in New York. Bauer doesn’t believe that Agent Walker has had enough time to heal from the traumas inflicted upon her in Day Seven, so he insists on coming along for the ride, only to discover that she has adopted some unique new skills.

Review: Although some have been critical of how 24 has played out over the past couple years – from an unusually high body count to questions about the use of torture on the show – I thought Days Six and Seven were pretty hard to beat. After all, where do you go next after nuking part of Los Angeles and infiltrating the White House. It is for this reason that I felt the premise of Day Eight was a little thin.

An assassination attempt at the U.N. – not to mention the target being the head of a rinky-dink Middle Eastern country – just doesn’t grab me as previous seasons had. The fictional African nation of Sangala last year played out fine because the country was part of a much greater plot. By the end of the season premiere, it looks like we might be heading down the same road with Kamistan. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Because 24 has never been afraid to kill off its own characters, we get a lot of new faces to the show at the beginning of the day. Kudos to Freddie Prinze Jr. for knocking it out of the park as Ortiz. I didn’t think he could do it, but he plays the badass pretty well. More kudos to the show from bringing in Katee Sackoff – and also letting her shower and wear make-up, showing us that she’s a bona fide hottie, which her unbathed and butch turn as Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica left us wondering.

I’m not quite sold on the casting choices of Anil Kapoor as President Hassan, or his on-screen brother Farhad Hassan, played by Akbar Kurtha. Most of us will recognize Kapoor as the game show host from Slumdog Millionaire, and I found it very difficult to take him seriously as an Indian-accented leader of a Middle Eastern nation with perfectly coifed hair. I kept expecting him to shout something about Jack Bauer winning 20 million rupees. Similarly, his soul-patched, smarmy brother and Jason Schwartzman look-alike Kurtha didn’t quite fit the part.

Still, the show retains the same energy it has had in recent years. The assassination plot is the just tip of this season’s iceberg, leading into a much larger story with the Russians. It’s nice to see Agent Walker return in a much more conflicted manner, and Chloe’s interpersonal problems at work play into the show nicely.

The only other problem I really had with these first four episodes is the coincidence factor seems to be a bit high, even for a day in the life of 24. Dana Walsh’s white trash boyfriend better have one whopper of a secret to warrant the shifty-eyed stares and the mysterious phone calls.

Grade: B+.

What did you think of this week’s episode of 24?

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