First Night 24: Redemption, Sky One

Jack's back – with a worthy villain in Voight
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The Independent Culture

Whoops! They got that wrong. I'm talking about "US President-Elect, Allison Taylor, America's first female head of state", according to 24: Redemption, last night's long-awaited television movie version of 24 (a couple of hectic hours from one afternoon, instead of the whole day – 2 would have been a more accurate title).

I guess whenever they started writing this one-off special bridging the gap between series six and seven, Hillary Clinton must have seemed a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination, and thus the presidency, and 24 was going to return with a zeitgeisty swagger in its step. Instead it sidled back like someone who had their money on the wrong horse. Oh well, these things happen, and anyway, 24 had a black US president when Barack Obama was still teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago. Maybe the first female president stuff is just their tip for 2012.

Anyway, it's been three years since Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) last saved the world, and 18 months since 24 fans last caught a glimpse of their hero – during which time the US writers' strike has been far more destructive than any terrorist WMDs. It seems he's been lying low in the fictional African nation of Sangala (why are the names of fictional African nations invariably always so corny-sounding?) dodging federal subpoenas and, as the title suggests, trying to make amends for his past sins by helping out at an orphanage. This happy and commendable establishment is run by an old special forces chum played by Robert Carlyle, for reasons best known to himself, in an Irish accent. Perhaps, like possessing an Irish passport in a polarised world, his nationality is intended to suggest a certain humanitarian neutrality. Perhaps the actor's native Glaswegian doesn't play in Idaho and Des Moines.

Topically enough, given the appalling events in a different and very real part of Africa, Sangala is an unstable place where local warlords brainwash children into becoming boy soldiers. Jack kicks warlord arse, takes digs at the United Nations ("Why don't you go hide in the shelter with the rest of the children?", he tells the resident UN worker) and generally imposes a white, Western (as in Gary Cooper reaching for his Colt 45) solution on an African problem.

You feel that Jack's defiant pronouncement: "If they want me back in Washington they can come and get me" – to the sleazy federal employee who finally manages to serve a subpoena on him (for torture and general crimes against humanity, natch) – will soon enough be fulfilled. This is especially so since being a good man in Africa has him fall foul of the man bankrolling the civil war in Sangala – a promising new 24 baddie played with understated, viper-eyed menace by Jon Voight. What a treat to see Voight – an actor usually subtitled these days as "Angelina Jolie's father" – being deployed to such good effect, and if he's going to be the chief villain of season seven, there is much to look forward to.

And, in effect, that is what 24: Redemption amounted to: a sweaty, very extended and occasionally rather soupy trailer for the new series that begins in January. The messy and stale-seeming series six was universally panned, so perhaps the extended break will allow the once essential 24 to refresh itself and regenerate. As for President-elect Allison Taylor, it seems she might be less of a Clinton and more of an Obama figure after all. After an idealistic outburst, the recently-ousted president, Noah Daniels (Powers Booth) tells her: "Wait till you've been sitting in this office for a few months." You can already anticipate the distaste with which she will greet Bauer's brutal pragmatism and also the realisation that her survival will depend on him. Bring it on.