Ticking clock getting louder for '24's' Jack Bauer


I've got a bad feeling about this one, Jack.

Sure, you've taken on your fair share of terrorists, a genocidal dictator and a senator trying to curtail your liberal use of beating the bejeezus out of people to get answers.

You've even saved the world while detoxing from heroin. And without any help from Dr. Drew!

But as you start your eighth season of "24" (9 p.m. today and 8 p.m. Monday, KVVU-TV, Channel 5), you're up against enemies more devious, unscrupulous and dangerous than any you've faced before: network executives.

In case you haven't noticed, Jack, they're trying to kill you.

You're on one of TV's most expensive shows, and Kiefer Sutherland, the guy who plays you, is the third highest-paid actor on TV, behind only Charlie Sheen and Steve Carell. Although, to be fair, Charlie signs most of those checks straight over to his legal team.

For the first time in years, Fox is taking a wait-and-see approach to your future, preferring to decide sometime this spring whether to bring you back next year. But your writers are already setting into motion ways of getting rid of you.

When we first see you in tonight's premiere, you're living the good life for once. Stretched out on the couch. Entertaining your granddaughter. Showing absolutely no ill effects of that deadly bioweapon you inhaled like it was the bean dip on Fajita Fridays in the CTU commissary.

You've even turned your scowl upside down. (Piece of advice: You might wanna try practicing that smiling thing in front of a mirror, big guy. It doesn't quite look natural yet.)

You've reunited with your daughter, and you've decided to leave New York and follow her to L.A., where you plan on taking a consulting job and just being a grandpa. And you're really willing to risk all that by delaying it for One Last Mission? My God, man, have you never seen a cop movie? You'd might as well start walking toward the light right now!

You were almost home free, turning down Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) -- who still looks like she'd rather kill everybody in the room than talk to them -- when she comes to you begging for help to stop an assassination attempt at the U.N. that would derail Middle East peace talks. "I'm sorry," you tell her. "I can't. Not this time. Not me." Yet you still end up getting roped in to trying to save the world yet again.

I know flying isn't what it used to be. Getting groped by airport security, no more pillows and five bucks for peanuts. It's enough to make you want to crush a flight attendant's windpipe. But you need to get on that plane. As you're fond of shouting, oh, every five minutes or so, dammit, you're running out of time!

At the risk of continuing to sound like a Charlie Kaufman movie, look around, Jack. Your writers already have given you a couple of co-workers they could easily tap as your replacement.

For starters, there's your old pal Renee Walker (Annie Wersching). Fans really took to her last season, she knows her way around a gun, and -- Spoiler Alert! -- she's almost as nuts as you.

Cole Ortiz (Freddie Prinze Jr.) is being positioned as the new you at CTU. He's younger, hungrier and his actor comes cheaper. A lot cheaper. If there's some way you could steer him toward a hail of bullets, that would be great.

And the new hot blonde data analyst? She's played by Katee Sackhoff, who used to be Starbuck on "Battlestar Galactica." If she were to get out from behind her computer and start cracking heads in the field, the Internet would grind to a halt with all the tweets, blogs and fan pages from every nerd, geek, dork and spaz.

Heck, Jay Leno could wake up tomorrow and decide he wants your job.

This season, you need to stay sharp, Jack. Pace yourself. Don't waste your time searching for moles inside CTU. Just accept that they're there and move on.

Take some "me time." Have a nice hot meal. Maybe even kick back with some Sudoku.

You just may live to see another season of "24."

Or, if Fox still takes a pass, there are other ways of keeping you alive.

There's always the chance your producers could move the show to cable and change its name to "12."

Christopher Lawrence's Life on the Couch column appears on Sundays. E-mail him at clawrence@ reviewjournal.com.

 

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