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Published: Sunday, 1/9/2005

A rocky road awaits: Jack Bauer gets new boss, new lady friend, new mission on '24'

BY MIKE KELLY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Jack Bauer has a mighty long day ahead of him.

But that's nothing out of the ordinary for the main character in Fox's award-winning series 24, which kicks off its fourth pulse-pounding season at 8 p.m. Sunday with a two-hour premiere.

Monday, the show will move to its regular 9 p.m. time slot with another new episode.

Fans of 24 will recall that last season, Keifer Sutherland's tough and resourceful special agent and his Counter Terrorist Unit managed to save the world - just barely - from a bunch of crazies intent on unleashing a deadly virus in Los Angeles.

Along the way, though, Jack had the misfortune to get himself addicted to heroin, which resulted in him getting sacked by the new head of CTU, a frosty lady named Erin Driscoll (Alberta Watson of La Femme Nikita).

The new season - which continues its beat-the-clock format of having each episode cover one hour of real time and the whole season encompass a single day - picks up 18 months later, with the initial episode entitled Day 4: 7:00 AM - 8:00 AM.

We find Jack now in the employ of Secretary of Defense James Heller (William Devane, Knots Landing) and secretly canoodling with the secretary's married daughter, Audrey (Kim Raver, Third Watch).

Jack is dispatched by his boss to CTU for a routine budget meeting with Driscoll, but before they can tear each other's throats out, a commuter train is blown up, and early indications point to Middle Eastern terrorists as the culprits - and there are ominous signs they may have an even bigger target in sight.

As if that's not enough, Heller and his daughter are then snatched up by terrorists in a furious gun battle, and plans are announced to put the secretary on trial and execute him for "crimes against humanity" - with the whole thing to be broadcast live on the Internet.

Whew. That's a pretty full plate, even for superagent Jack Bauer - particularly when Driscoll and her minions at CTU are determined to keep him on the sidelines while they pursue the terrorists.

But with his boss and his girlfriend in mortal danger - oh, not to mention the entire free world as well - Jack is not about to be deterred, even if it means bending the rules a teensy bit - say, by punching out a CTU guard, grabbing his gun, and using it to persuade a tight-lipped suspect to talk.

In its first three seasons, 24 won Emmy Awards for writing, editing, and casting, and was nominated for an impressive total of 28 Emmys - including outstanding drama series and lead actor for Sutherland in each of its three years. And both the show and its star have won Golden Globe awards.

Yet last season's ratings softened a bit - Jack's heroin problems didn't help any more than the boring scenes featuring his dim-bulb daughter, Kim - and producers have responded this season by cleaning house, replacing most of the cast members around the almost painfully intense Sutherland.

Among the show's more intriguing new characters are the members of a family of Middle Eastern descent, with Nestor Serrano (The Day After Tomorrow) as businessman Navi Araz, Oscar-nominated actress Shohreh Aghdashloo (The House of Sand and Fog) as his wife, Dina, and Jonathan Ahdout (The House of Sand and Fog) as their son, Behrooz.

This family has stirred up a minor controversy even before 24's season premiere. Some Muslim groups have objected to the show's depiction of a Muslim family that turns out to be a sleeper terrorist cell and part of a large-scale plot to kill Americans.

24's premiere was scheduled for a special Sunday-night broadcast so it could follow Fox's lead-in of the NFC Wild Card playoff game. Beginning Monday night, it will move to its time slot.

From that point on, 24, like some other shows this season - such as ABC's Alias - will air all of its remaining episodes on consecutive weeks, with no breaks and no repeats between new episodes.

Which means another 24 hours with no sleep for Jack Bauer. No wonder the guy's on edge.

Contact Mike Kelly at: mkelly@theblade.com or 419-724-6131.



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