“I know that I promised to take care of you… and protect you… but I’m at a crossroads.”
Those heartfelt words – and the final image of Federal Agent Jack Bauer standing on a cliff looking towards an ocean sunrise and an uncertain future – were an eerie promise to viewers of the Fox Emmy-winning series “24” that a change within the iconic main character played by Kiefer Sutherland, and the show itself, was coming. In “24: Redemption,” the television movie which bridges the events between season six and the upcoming season, eager audiences will see whether or not that promise will be fulfilled.
The cliffhanger finale (no pun intended) of the show’s sixth season, which aired on May 21, 2007, was meant to hold viewers over until the premiere of the next season on Jan. 13, 2008. After facing criticism from fans over season six’s sluggish and increasingly bizarre plot twists (a nuclear bomb blew up a section of Los Angeles and the 25th Amendment was invoked for the fourth and fifth time in the series – all in the same day) the show’s creators, Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran, struggled to find ways to reinvent the series. Production of season seven began in the summer of 2007, and by the time Fox had released the first trailer for the upcoming season in October, eight episodes were already completed. Besides the pressure to please fans and return to the high ratings that season five had earned, another threat loomed over the show: the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America Strike.
On Nov. 5, 2007, the WGA strike went into effect, shutting down production on nearly every scripted series, and costing the Los Angeles economy an estimated $1.5 billion according to a report by National Public Radio. By strike’s end on Feb. 12, 2008, dozens of shows were either cancelled or postponed as a result of the strike, but none were so harshly affected as “24.” Fox refused to air a single new episode of season seven unless all 24 episodes could be completed and aired weekly without reruns, pushing back the premiere date a full year until January 2009.
How do you keep interest in a show already suffering from declining ratings when viewers have to wait 18 months between episodes? Various ideas of how to keep audiences satisfied were considered, including mobisodes, webisodes, and short DVD prequels which had been utilized for previous seasons. Plots ideas were altered and tossed due to disagreement with the network over budget, shooting locations, and a general lack of faith about the new storylines. The outlook for the show continued to look grim when in February 2008, Surnow announced that he was voluntarily leaving his award-winning creation to pursue other projects. Finally, Fox and the executive producers agreed to a unique idea: a TV movie to air in November that breaks the 24-hour time format for the first time in series history.
The idea of a “24” movie is not new. In 2006, Fox had greenlit plans for Surnow, Cochran and Sutherland (who also serves as co-executive producer for the show) to begin production on a theatrical film sometime after 2008. Although those plans are now tentative at best because of the strike, this unusual occurrence presents a unique opportunity for “24” creators to give something to fans that there usually isn’t enough time to see: the compassionate side of the controversial, do-whatever-it-takes hero, Jack Bauer.
Bauer is scrutinized (both in the show and in reality) because of his sometimes ruthless methods including murder and torture, but alternately he is revered and hailed as a hero for his relentless struggle to protect his country regardless of the cost – a haunting allegory that strikes a chord with American audiences. Even though Bauer seems physically indestructible (technically dying twice) and psychologically invulnerable (being able to pull himself together and save the day after two years of torture in a Chinese prison), after the close of last season it seemed that even a character that rivals Chuck Norris in unbelievable feats of strength and masculinity has limitations.
At the start of “24: Redemption,” Bauer is not on the streets of L.A. chasing terrorists, but in war-torn Africa working peacefully as a missionary although still haunted by his past deeds. When a vicious local militia led by a merciless warlord, played by Tony Todd (Candyman, “Chuck”), begins recruiting children under Bauer’s care, the American hero is pulled into an international struggle while he tries to come to terms with “why we fight.”
An advance screening of the two-hour movie was shown to members of the press on Oct. 3, the reviews being mostly positive. However, the true test will come when “Redemption” airs on Nov. 23, when creators and fans will learn whether or not Bauer – and “24” – can truly redeem themselves. Season seven is proposed to premiere on Jan. 11, beginning with the eight episodes completed in 2007.
Sources: imdb.com, ign.com, tv.com