So what's the verdict? Not great. 24 long ago gave away its position as top dog among buzzy, addictive serials to shows like Lost, Dexter, and Damages, but last season it was able to act as fun TV comfort food - not leaving you breathless for the next episode, but usually pretty enjoyable.
This year so far feels closer to the much maligned season 6, in which there's not enough Jack, and way too much lame filler plots. Most guilty among them this time is Dana Walsh (Katee Sackhoff aka Starbuck), whose storyline falls somewhere below Kim's cougar and Terri's amnesia on the list of stupidest 24 plots ever. As a woman with a shady past whose blackmailing ex is threatening to expose it, Dana has done no actual work all season nor performed any logical actions, and each week keeps getting more and more absurd. It seems to be over now that the ex and his psycho friend are dead, but we'll still be subject to the unfortunate "what do we do with the bodies" episode. Hopefully once that's done Dana and Cole can get back to work and stop wasting the show's time.
Also in this category: David Anders as the son of the Russian with the nuclear rods that make up this season's MacGuffin. Anders played one of Alias' most memorable characters and was the only good thing to happen to Heroes after season 1, but somehow 24 made him boring. He mostly just complained about his brother, then became main villain for all of 5 seconds before being killed off this week. For that matter, how many villains have we had? Vladimir, Sark's dad, Sark, Middle Eastern Jason Schwartzman, and now his band of merry terrorists. And none of them are memorable. Who knew we'd so miss the days of Nina and Sherry Palmer?
As far as Presidents Taylor and Hassan.......sorry, I fell asleep. I liked the idea of making the big threat an assassination a la season 1, but that threat was resolved within the first four hours. Now we're back to the same threat as every season: nukes. Whether rods or in a suitcase, it's the same thing. Hassan's turn from benevolent leader to paranoid dictator should be interesting, but it just isn't. And Taylor's trapped scheduling meetings, while her new chief of staff just makes phone calls.
That leaves Jack and Renee in charge of carrying the season, given that Chloe gets three lines per episode, Hastings/Dana/Cole don't really work, and Shia LeBeouf just wants to gossip about Dana. And I admit to usually enjoying Jack's undercover plotlines. But when they drag on too long, that's too long when Jack's not in control. All the worse since Renee's the primary undercover agent here. And I'm not sure Annie Wersching is a good enough actress to pull off psycho Renee. Sure, she's more interesting that way, but it's all a little silly.
Still, if there's one thing that always succeeds, it's the classic "Jack Bauer is awesome" moments. It's no wonder the most talked about scene this season has been when Jack pulled Renee's knife out of his body and threw it in some guy's neck. I also enjoy any occasion in which Jack kills a guy with his feet, or knocks a guard out by karate chopping him in the neck. Next week Jack leads a team to rescue Middle Eastern Jason Schwartzman, so we're bound to get some good action there. And when Jack's onscreen, the show definitely improves.
Problem with 24's method of basically introducing a new cast every season is the show's not all that great at creating characters. The writers seem to hope 2 out of 10 will stick (last year it was Renee and President Taylor), and the rest can just be killed off, as is 24's way. But despite the high number of new characters and the impressive actors playing them, not one of them has made a positive impression so far. Which means it continues to be the Jack Bauer show, and anything else is just running the clock.