The climax of Oliver Stone’s 1994 film Natural Born Killers takes place on Super Bowl Sunday. Wayne Gale, the tabloid-TV sleazeball played by Robert Downey Jr., has booked an interview with Woody Harrelson’s mass-murdering media sensation Mickey Knox, airing live from prison immediately after the Big Game. The killer’s Zen-nihilism ramblings and the host’s how-dare-you-sir platitudes are interrupted with soft-drink ads and shots of happy families watching at home. When the show cuts to commercial, the inmates riot. Mickey slaughters his guards, rescues his wife, and escapes, leaving literally hundreds dead, including the host of the interview. All of it is broadcast live to viewers nationwide.
This is only a slightly less responsible programming decision than the one Fox made when it chose to put 24: Legacy on the air.
Legacy is a sequel of sorts to the Bush-era terror-and-torture fantasia that starred Kiefer Sutherland, brought to you by many of that show’s early principals, including director Stephen Hopkins and producers Howard Gordon (late of Homeland, a.k.a. 24: Woke Edition), Brian Grazer, Manny Coto, Evan Katz, and Sutherland himself. Legacy is so noxious and stupid, however, that it could well be subtitled “Based on the tweet by Donald J. Trump.” The world it posits is a paranoiac delusion of all-powerful, omnipresent terrorist hit squads, infiltrating the highest echelons of the intelligence community, recruiting literal children and their namby-pamby liberal teachers to blow up high schools, and murdering Army rangers and their entire families in their cheery suburban homes. Just for example, tonight’s pilot begins with a generic Evil Muslim saying, “This is for Sheikh Bin Khalid” — a moniker that sounds as if the writers played Evil Muslim Name Boggle — and shooting a veteran in the head before casually mentioning to his comrades that he’d killed his wife and child too. On the very day that Donald Trump told his followers to blame the judicial system in the event of another terrorist attack on American soil, Fox debuted this claptrap to the largest TV audience it’s possible for a network to get.
The story, which maintains the original series’ ludicrously overstuffed “one episode equals one hour of real-time events” structure, centers on Eric Carter (Straight Outta Compton’s Corey Hawkins), one of the last surviving members of the Ranger unit that the Evil Muslims are killing off one by one, Kill Bill style. Escaping the bloodbath at his house with his spouse, Nicole (Anna Diop, in a thankless worried-wife role), he turns to the only person he can trust, former counterterrorist-unit head turned potential future First Lady Rebecca Ingram (Miranda Otto, whom I’d prefer to remember as Éowyn, thanks). After dropping Nicole off with his estranged brother Isaac, who’s a drug lord, because of course he is, Eric uses Rebecca’s help to track down the other survivor, Ben, whose PTSD left him homeless and heroin-addicted.
The Evil Muslims are murdering women and children and Our Troops nationwide in order to track down a strongbox Ben stole from Bin Khalid’s compound when the team raided it and killed him; the box contains a thumb drive with a complete listing of the many, many, many Evil Muslim sleeper cells located around the country. One of these cells involves a teenage student and her brother, sent from Chechnya for the express purpose of murdering everyone in a high school, and the girl’s beta-male teacher, who in addition to being a terrorist sympathizer and school-shooter-to-be is also sleeping with his student.
Eric reaches Ben just in time to thwart the terrorists, who are also targeting him (and who earlier murdered his mother and sister despite promising not to if they helped track Ben down, dirty rats that they are). He shoots one, stabs another with rebar, and crushes a third under a gigantic rolling metal pipe, like if a Super Mario Bros. level were Islamophobic. But by then Ben is gone, as is the thumb drive, which he’s now threatening to sell to the highest bidder because of how badly the government treated him during and after the war. Homeless vets: Don’t trust ’em! As the episode ends, the clock ticks to 1 p.m. Do you know where your children are? If you’re Muslim and you’re on 24: Legacy, you’re probably plotting to blow up a school.
Clearly, the ways in which this episode is repulsive could fill up a thumb drive on their own. Quite a few revive the many iterations of post-9/11 jingoistic garbage. The omnipotent Evil Muslim Terrorist Network Already Operating Inside America, which bears no relation at all to the lone wolves or hapless FBI-sting patsies that are all the real world has to offer, are a case in point. So is the idea that someone in the government is a Benedict Arnold, deliberately undermining our safety; as the script, by Katz and Coto, puts it with representative subtlety, “Someone in the government’s working with the terrorists.”
But the scapegoating of a literal child as a sinister seductress and cold-blooded killer who immigrated to America with murder on her mind deserves special consideration. It combines Islamophobia, misogyny, the sexualization of minors, the portrayal of teachers as a fifth column, and the sort of anti-immigrant view that circuit-court judges must now block from the bench. In a climate in which Muslim children live in fear for their lives and the safety and unity of their families, it’s unforgivable. And now it’s the Super Bowl post-game show.
There’s one unintentionally revealing exchange between Eric and Nicole that could serve as 24: Legacy’s summary statement. “What do you want from me?” he grouses at her, for no real reason other than being mad at the fact that she’s taking birth control pills. (!!!!!!!) “You gotta get past everything that happened to you over there,” she says. “I’m okay,” he assures her, to which she skeptically replies, “Are you?” No, Nicole. Judging from what we put on TV, no, we’re not.