When does Jack Bauer find time to go to the bathroom?
That’s a question many die-hard 24 viewers have been asking for years.
The cliffhanger conspiracy thriller, which was appointment television from 2001 to 2010, chronicled every ticking second of a 24-hour period in which Bauer, a one-man counterterrorist force, would save America from one looming disaster after another.
Eight harrowing days over the course of eight brilliant seasons.
Jack, played by Emmy-winning Kiefer Sutherland, would stop at nothing to save the day, a trait that fans admired. But he also apparently never stopped for bathroom breaks, which fans questioned in a tongue-in-cheek manner.
Now Jack is back with another caper to challenge his intestinal fortitude. The two-hour premiere of 24: Live Another Day is at 7 p.m. Monday on Fox.
This one takes place in London, where Jack, now an exiled fugitive from justice, gets wind of a plot to assassinate the president and hijack U.S. military drones.
One thing that’s different about the format this year is that there are only 12 hours of episodes documenting the 24-hour period.
The omitted hours mean not only that there will be fewer infuriating time-filler subplots — it’s wall-to-wall action now — but also that Jack’s need for a pit stop will no longer be an issue.
Sutherland finds it amusing that fans have often fixated on this detail. “I am always being asked about it,” he says.
Writer-producers Manny Coto and Evan Katz, on the other hand, are clearly annoyed when the subject comes up.
“I’ve got to confess I’ve always found that the strangest observation,” Coto says. “Jack is off-screen for huge amounts of time on this show. Why couldn’t he be going to the bathroom then? It’s not like the camera is following him around and he’s onscreen the entire season.”
Katz adds, “We’re hoping this was the last word.”
From TV to film to TV
It’s actually not surprising that the producers are so devoid of self-deprecating humor.
The show was many things during its heyday. It was the most action-packed show on television. It was a tangled knot of political turmoil. And despite its heightened reality, it was incredibly topical, almost prescient, when it came to issues involving terrorism and torture.
There’s one thing that 24 never was, however: It was never funny. In their defense, it’s hard to be glib in a world of unending political killings and terrorist nuclear threats.
It has been four years since the clock ran out on 24. There was talk for a while of following up with a feature film, which never materialized. But the 24 team still felt, as Coto puts it, “that there was more to this story and that Jack Bauer’s character was not quite ready to shuffle off the stage.”
When plans to revive 24 became a reality at last, scenarios that had been percolating in the writers’ minds started bubbling forth.
“We had a reservoir of ideas about this character and where he would be now,” Coto says. “Particularly exciting was that he was a fugitive and on the run from his own government. A man who had saved the United States multiple times, that same country has turned its back on him.”
There were also a number of political developments that the writers seized upon.
“Things that were in the zeitgeist, things that were talked about, led us to a really interesting villain for the season,” Coto says. “The whole idea of government spying on its citizens and individuals who are trying to fight that also gave us an idea for what to do with Chloe O’Brian.”
Viewers will discover that Chloe, Bauer’s valued computer whiz ally (played by Mary Lynn Rajskub), also has a grievance against the government she once served. In the four years since we last saw her, she has taken the Edward Snowden route.
“Take these two characters and an event that requires them to come back together and work to save Americans,” Coto says. “It’s a great dynamic that we decided to explore.”
Sutherland says he’s back for many reasons. Not only does he love the character and the show, but he is energized by working in television.
“Television is a medium with huge opportunity,” he says. “Television to me is the most exciting medium for an actor right now. I think the best stories are being told there — and I’m telling you this as an actor who does film and television.
“This is more exciting. We shoot it fast. It’s more instinctive. There’s more opportunity for improv.”
Even more ‘24’?
Given that Sutherland’s follow-up to 24, two seasons of Fox’s Touch, didn’t make the same impact and didn’t captivate viewers in the same way, it stands to reason that he’d want to go back to playing Jack Bauer.
It remains to be seen, though, whether there will be more 24 after this.
“Nothing is impossible,” Coto says. “But we are treating this season as a one-time miniseries, a one-time event. It has a beginning, a middle and an end — and the ending could be the end of 24 for good. Obviously, it’ll depend on eyeballs, if people tune in.
“But one thing to keep in mind is we all came back to tell this one last story, one last day in Jack Bauer’s life. If there’s more beyond, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”