Tony Black on 24: Legacy…
If you were to name a TV character who helped define modern pop culture in the last decade or so, who would you say? Walter White maybe? Tony Soprano? All great shouts. Mine would be Jack Bauer. Oops sorry, JACK BAUER!!!!!! The hero of long running, real time action series 24, played by Kiefer Sutherland, went from being a relatively stable if maverick government agent in the very first season of the show, way back in 2001 (in the shadow of 9/11), all the way to a psychologically disturbed, ex-drug addict, ex-Chinese prisoner killing machine who had seen most of his extended family die (or become uber-villains), and almost always lose every woman he falls in love with, at which point he sometimes literally would point a gun in the air, fire it repeatedly and scream AAAAAAAAAARRRRGGGGGHHHH!
Jack, simply, became one of the most iconic action legends of all time, on a plinth with the John McClanes or Snake Plisskens or John Rambos. The thought of making a 24 series without him, long mooted after Sutherland increasingly grew wary of the role, was anathema to fans; they wanted Kiefer playing Bauer until he was renditioning OAP’s in his retirement home. There was talk of a movie, there was a compromise in 2014’s 12-episode event series Live Another Day, and now we’ve reached the point where the impossible has happened: a 24 series without Jack Bauer.
Scratch impossible, and replace with inevitable. 24: Legacy, set to premiere on FOX for 12 episodes this fall, was always going to happen in some form, at some point. Bauer, if you hold to continuity, has to be around 65 years of age by now in the show and while Kiefer is no old man, he’s no spring chicken anymore either and understandably wants to spread his wings (even though he knows he’ll always be known as Jack, and he seems at peace with that). Much like, however, nobody wanted The X-Files without Mulder & Scully, nobody much wanted 24 without Bauer, and Legacy almost feels like an apt title for a show very aware it’s resting in the shadow of a televisual giant. The legend is Bauer, and much like when the Jason Bourne franchise attempted to try and carry on without the man himself, Legacy is immediately going to find itself lingering in Jack’s long shadow as all of the viewers, at the back of their minds, wonder: “so when is Jack going to show up?”.
At first it was never, with Kiefer making noises that he was done with the series, especially given he’s about to launch a brand new show called Designated Survivor where he plays an unlikely US President sworn in after the entire cabinet are killed by a terrorist attack, but he’s since signed on as a producer for Legacy and producer Howard Gordon has made noises that he may be open for a return as Jack in a supporting capacity after all in this brand new series. Maybe he misses the character. Maybe he knows just by saying this, people may stick with Legacy longer than they might have done without the promise of Bauer. By lightly suggesting this, of course, he’s automatically put Legacy at a disadvantage, and also as the possible knight in shining ratings armour to give the show a much needed boost if people struggle with Eric Carter.
Who’s Eric Carter? I hear you ask. Played by Corey Hawkins, he’s an ex-Army Ranger who returns to American soil only to swiftly find himself embroiled with Los Angeles CTU (Counter Terrorism Unit), the only remaining mainstay of the original 24 series, as the largest terrorist attack ever threatens American soil. Already, Carter sounds like a very different beast to our Jack; different heritage for a start, plus he immediately has a brother who plays a major role in the series, and has an Army background rather than the Special Ops/intelligence one Jack has. He is married though when the series begins, like Jack was, but don’t expect them to pull a Teri Bauer on the audience a second time around, even though this is co-created by Joel Surnow & Robert Cochran who created 24.
The fact it very much has the same creative team in place–including Howard Gordon, Evan Katz, Manny Coto etc–means you can guarantee this will have the same style, feel and texture as the parent show. It’s a sequel rather than a reboot, not bringing back any of the surviving 24 characters but leaving people like Chloe O’Brien or Tony Almeida (who, yes, is still alive & out there) on the chess board to use if they want to. Crucially that of course includes Jack Bauer, and what a chess piece he would be if audiences don’t necessarily fall in love with Carter, or Miranda Otto’s Rebecca Ingram or Jimmy Smits’ Senator John Donovan (though quite how you don’t immediately think Smits is awesome is baffling).
The point is, 24: Legacy is a calculated gamble, attempting to make 24 about more than just the tragic, tormented, badass life of Jack Bauer. It was never the intention for Kiefer Sutherland to strike such a pop culture chord in his role, and in the early days 24 was envisaged more of a concept with rotating characters that covered different styles of story than just a big action show, but Jack’s popularity meant people immediately watched 24 for a dose of Bauer and the huge success of the idea paradoxically was thanks to that character. After failed attempts to put Jack Bauer on the big screen (though I haven’t given up hope on that one) and Kiefer’s desire to play other roles on TV, FOX and the writers behind 24 had no choice – leave 24 behind or forge a new, Jack-free future.
We’ll know whether they made the right choice in a few months, but the wonderful fact is that Jack is out there, he’s in the ether, and if they need him Kiefer sounds prepared to have him parachute in and potentially save the day by no doubt torturing a vaguely ethnic villain loudly to death. Let’s hope Jack Bauer lives yet another day.
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.