At last, Vulture’s Absurd-o-Meter — our measure of the most ridiculous plot happenings in Jack Bauer’s latest crappy day — returns! In the two-hour season premiere (with two more hours coming tonight), Bauer testifies before the Senate, sees someone else he watched die return to life (making perhaps a total of four), and even occupies the same room as Janeane Garofalo (playing an FBI tech person, presumably replacing Chloe O’Brien as Nerdy Woman With Social Misfit Issues). With the disaster that was last season far in the rear view, 24 has shut down CTU, moved the action from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. and introduced an (almost) all-new cast. And it’s better! Of course, there are still plenty of moments to feed into the Absurd-o-Meter!
1. Fortunately, we live in a world where nobody televises public hearings. We open with Jack being grilled by a Senate committee. He’s called to answer for the unlawful torture techniques used by him and his crew at CTU, but, mostly, he’s answering for the dramatic shift in the real world’s political landscape since the show was last relevant. (He’s also answering for that New Yorker story.) Fortunately, he’s interrupted by the FBI, which presents Senator Red Forman with a subpoena, demanding Bauer be temporarily released so he can help the Feds with an ongoing case. Imagine the fun Keith Olbermann might have with the FBI interrupting the federal hearing of a man who openly admits to torture, needing the help that only he can give. Absurdity Factor: 4 (of 10)
2. Tony Almeida isn’t dead! Even though Jack’s old CTU buddy died way back in season five — truly died, no longer breathing and everything, after being stabbed with a vial of the mythical torture juice Hyoscine Pentothal — he has returned, causing nothing but trouble. He apparently spent his dead years as a pseudo terrorist-for-hire, and not showering. (At least he added a mustache to his soul patch.) He’s not totally evil — he could have crashed two planes together on a runway, but didn’t. He still hasn’t learned how to speak above a whisper, though. Absurdity Factor: 6
3. Someone thanks Jack! While Jack, now helping the FBI track down Almeida, sits in a van with the latest in the series’ line of Anonymous Black Agents, ABA tells Jack that he sides with him and his work for his country, that what he’s going through during the (not televised) Senate hearings is unfair. Jack demurs slightly, but says “Thanks” — as in, “Thanks, I plan on torturing again as soon as possible.” And yep, we’re only an hour into the premiere before someone tells Jack, “Do whatever it takes,” whereupon our hero gleefully prepares to do something horrible to a suspect with a blue Bic pen.
Renee Walker, Jack’s partner/eventual love interest, is a new agent, but she’ll look familiar to anyone who has watched TV in the last ten years. She’s Scully to his Mulder (with red hair, even), except she’s skeptical of torture, not aliens. The show is pretending that it’s a new day, that Jack Bauer is changing his tune, that with a more empathetic president (Obama in reality, the awesome Cherry Jones in the show) comes a more sympathetic, less torture-y world. But 24 can’t even maintain this vision for two hours. Which is fine. Jack Bauer should be torturing people, not gently coaxing them. In this muscular episode, he, and the show, are clearly not going soft on us. So we thank him as well. Just keep your mitts off Janeane, Jack. Absurdity Factor: 6