Racing the Clock In the ISIS Era

4 minute read

The original Fox series 24 went into production in 2001, months before the news added rocket fuel to the idea of a counterterrorism operative racing the clock in real time to avert disaster. 24: Legacy has switched out the cast and the central threat, but the reboot (which begins on Feb. 5, following Super Bowl LI) arrives with a boost of its own: the edgy new political world surrounding an impetuous new President. “That’s the success of most things, isn’t it? Timing,” says Miranda Otto, who plays a former CTU head drawn back into the action. “There’s something that’s addictive about watching, in the same way that people turn on the news during political events wondering, What’s the next thing that’s going to happen? Who’s scripting this?”

Who indeed? 24 debuted seven weeks after the 9/11 attacks with Kiefer Sutherland as intelligence veteran Jack Bauer, the one man standing in the way of repeated existential threats to the Republic, from nuclear detonations to biological warfare. Its vision of a world of rogues and moles seeking to carry out mass-casualty attacks felt gripping, and its tough, seasoned hero unafraid to rough up some baddies was congruent with the cowboy mythmaking of the George W. Bush era. But Sutherland’s decision to move on from 24 after a one-season revival in 2014–he now plays the President on the similarly anxious Designated Survivor–brought new opportunities. In Bauer’s place, 24: Legacy introduces Eric Carter, a former Army Ranger living in seclusion after taking part in a mission that killed a top terrorist. He’s played by Corey Hawkins, coming off an acclaimed performance as Dr. Dre in 2015’s Straight Outta Compton, an inclusive casting move that opens up new dramatic territory. After all, unlike Bauer, Carter is subject to an added level of scrutiny pretty much everywhere he goes. “What would happen if a young black man is running around the street with a gun in his hand and he’s no longer a commissioned officer?” Hawkins asks. Once again, the show’s power is in the timing.

Donald Trump’s already-fraught relationship with the U.S. intelligence community gives the show a whole new level of relevance, on top of lingering questions like torture. Fox co-chairman Gary Newman notes, “Just this election cycle, there’s been discussions about the use of intense interrogation techniques and whether they’re valid. These issues, which [the world of] 24 sometimes touches on, are still relevant issues today.”

Oddly, 24: Legacy finds its roots in one of the most-hailed accomplishments of Barack Obama’s presidency: the killing of Osama bin Laden. Producers Manny Coto and Evan Katz began pondering a take, separate from 24, on the lives of SEAL Team 6’s members after that operation. One real-life detail that initially caught Coto’s attention: a SEAL was offered a witness-protection-like job as a beer-truck driver. In the series, Carter and his Ranger colleagues face reprisal after a bad actor gets access to their identities and begins a systematic revenge. Other plot points turn on everything from the treatment of veterans to the threat of doxxing. “We never got a call from the network saying, ‘We need another 24,'” says Coto, who serves as showrunner. “It came in reverse.”

The types of terrorism are different, but the feeling is the same: shiftless anxiety denied catharsis in favor of endlessly spiraling bad news. (The ever-ticking countdown clock returns too.) Moving past the showy villainy of the original, the ISIS-era 24: Legacy operates in an atmosphere of smaller-scale but more-incessant threats, the only constant the further ratcheting-up of the stakes. “You look at what happened in Ohio,” says Hawkins, referring to the car ramming and mass stabbing at a state university, for which ISIS claimed responsibility, “how people can be radicalized at a moment’s notice–that’s what this show is tapping into.”

That process–finding the newsy energy within a story worth telling, rather than searching for a way to leverage a much-loved brand–may set 24: Legacy apart from less-effective recent TV reboots, from MacGyver to Gilmore Girls. All parties involved are hoping for multiple seasons’ worth of stories–a distinction few TV reboots have been able to achieve lately once the dopamine hit of nostalgia dissipates. Again, the show seems to have its timing down. With President-elect Trump having won the election partly on the basis of his promise to take the fight to ISIS, Hawkins and the rest of the 24: Legacy team can likely look forward to mining at least four years’ worth of all-new real-life drama.

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