Jack's back: Duck and cover
Jack’s back: Duck and cover

Jack is back and the world is a little bit safer. Actually, that’s not true. Jack is back and a lot of stuff is going to explode, a lot of terrorists are going to get shot, somebody’s totally going to get tortured for information &mdash, and then the world will be a little bit safer. Just another day in the life of Jack Bauer as Fox’s “24” made its triumphant return to television this week, and I, for one, couldn’t be happier.

This is the sixth season, or day six, of the real-time drama and I have been along for the ride since minute one when a friend of mine and I started watching this new show on a lark, curious as to how they were going to pull off an hour’s worth of episode being an hour in the day of the show.

Convinced that there was going to be a couple of episodes of people sleeping, or watching everyone eat lunch for 20 minutes, the show proved to be an action-packed, occasionally ridiculous, thrill ride and a new hero was born as we followed the world-saving exploits of Counter Terrorism Unit agent Jack Bauer played by Kiefer Sutherland.

The show proved to be refreshingly different. Not only was it thrilling, but it perpetually broke the rules of television and no character was safe. When Jack’s wife was murdered at the end of Season One and that counting clock ticked off to midnight putting such a chilling finality on the whole thing we knew we had a bold show with cojones. In fact, shows like “Lost” and “Heroes” wouldn’t even be possible if “24” hadn’t already blown the doors off conventional TV.

And Sutherland had found the role that would truly make him a star. Sutherland had been around Hollywood for quite a while and starred in several movies but never cranked one out of the park-like he does with Bauer. He brings such a steely conviction to the character that when he tells you to bring him a hacksaw, you’d better bring him a hacksaw.

With the new season underway, Jack fresh out of Chinese prison, and way too much to recap for those neophytes out there, let me just give the uninitiated a few things to watch out for if this is your first time to spend the day with Jack.

Jack is going to kill a lot of bad guys. He averages about one an hour. In fact, if you’ve noticed, it’s been a few episodes since he’s killed somebody; that just means he’s about to blow up a bunker or single-handedly infiltrate a terrorist stronghold. Good times.

There will be Oval Office intrigue. Last season’s assassination of President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) marked the death of a great TV president. I believe that if every American were issued the first four seasons of “24” on DVD and Haysbert stopped doing Allstate commercials and ran for president we’d be swearing in David Palmer in 2008. I’m not kidding. Also, last season’s twist of having the apparently spineless President Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin) turn out to be an evil mastermind bordered on brilliance. This season with new President Wayne Palmer (D.B. Woodside), who was David’s brother, expect some dignity to return to the fake White House; although not without its dire problems.

There will be a mole at CTU. Or at least a mole that turns out to not really be a mole. It’s getting a little ridiculous. Apparently, it’s easier to get into CTU than a T.G.I.Fridays.

There will be a damsel in distress. There is always a woman that Jack is in love with that gets kidnapped by terrorists. Recently Audrey Rains (Kim Raver) has filled that role admirably, but when you consider that Jack let her ex-husband die on the operating table, pretended to be dead for a year, and then spent another in a Chinese prison, I’m beginning to suspect not even Dr. Phil could save that relationship. The show appears to have freed itself from Jack’s daughter Kim (Elisha Cuthbert), who many considered to be the albatross of “24.” I never really thought she was that bad (aside from the season she inexplicably got a job at CTU and the infamous cougar incident). In my mind, it can never get worse than the whiny, pathetic Kate Warner (Sarah Wynter) from Season Two. Ever.

Cast members will physically recover from injury in record time. Shot, stabbed, blown up: as long as you’re still breathing you’ll be on your feet again in a matter of hours and none the worse for wear. My personal favorite was in Season Three when Jack began the day with a crippling heroin addiction after being undercover and halfway through the season no one ever made mention of it again. I guess he just walked it off. After a particularly long day, I’ve been known to remark to my wife, “Remember this morning when I was addicted to heroin.”

All of the action will take place within an hour plane ride of Los Angeles. Apparently, the pleasant climate of southern California facilitates the terrorism process.

An important member of the cast (who is not Jack) will die. Last season featured some serious housecleaning with Palmer, Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard, who had been with the show since the beginning), Michelle Dessler (Reiko Aylesworth), and teddy-bear analyst Edgar Styles (Louis Lombardi) biting the big one. The point of “24” is don’t get too attached. In the early seasons, I even figured on a show this crazy they could kill Jack at any time. But Sutherland is now so integral to the franchise that, while I’m not willing to completely rule out his possible demise, it almost certainly wouldn’t happen until the last hour of a season.

Many have argued that the success of “24” has much to do with the crazy times we live in and that we want a Jack Bauer out there killing terrorists left and right to save our couch-potato butts. That might be true to a point, but I think that undercuts the fact that the show is a well-made piece of escapism. Check your disbelief at the door and join in the collective hope that Jack Bauer lives to fight another day.

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