24: Bauer returns with 24 hours of finely synchronised panic

It was, by common consent of its fans, the finest piece of escapism television had offered for years.
24 was a
Perils of Pauline for the chattering classes and a block booking for many people's Sunday evenings.

It was, by common consent of its fans, the finest piece of escapism television had offered for years. 24 was a Perils of Pauline for the chattering classes and a block booking for many people's Sunday evenings.

Last night it came back for another 24 episodes of finely synchronised panic, but any viewers hoping to take their minds off the genuine anxiety of recent days were out of luck. This time the plot is supplied not by an assassination attempt but by a terrorist attack with a weapon of mass destruction – and the fictional utterances of the spymasters matched the recent statements of politicians with an uncomfortable precision.

"We have a domestic terrorist alert ..." says one of the president's advisers. "We believe this intelligence to have high credibility." The real-world cliffhanger of last week had returned as Hollywood entertainment.

Not even its devotees ever claimed that "high credibility" was part of 24's charm – and in that respect little has changed. Informed that a nuclear device is to explode within the next 24 hours, the staff at the Counter Terrorism Unit return to their desks with barely a murmur. No one makes a hasty call on their mobile to alert loved ones and, despite the sensitivity of this information, no bars are put on outside lines.

The series still boasts the most sonorous tick in television history – those relentlessly passing seconds being marked by what sounds like a gasometer being hit with a monkey wrench. Kimberley Bauer, the hero's fantastically luckless daughter, is still showing the same poor judgement of character; the wealthy LA businessman she is working for as a nanny turns out to be a violent psychopath – thus guaranteeing that her father will again be obliged to juggle public and private disaster with the help of his everlasting cellphone.

Jack, though, is not quite the man he was, and at first appeared in Hollywood's twin badges of disaffection – an unkempt beard and a plaid shirt.

Disgusted by his employers' failure to protect his wife in the last series, he refuses to help prevent the immolation of the west coast by the extremist group Second Wave. Only after a personal intervention by President Palmer does he join the party, but he makes it clear that he will not be working by the book. When a witness is uncooperative Jack shoots him in front of his boss. "This is what it's going to take," says Jack bluntly, "You want results but you never want to get your hands dirty."

Millions of viewers went all the way last time and very little – short of an unexpected plot twist from Second Wave's real-life counterparts – is likely to stop them this time.

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