The good news is our stealthy pilot spy “Stumpy” calls the bizarre new Fox series “24” the best of this fall’s new hourlong dramas.
The bad news is the series debuts in a brutal timeslot, opposite UPN’s “Roswell,” the WB’s “Smallville,” ABC’s new Jason Alexander sitcom “Bob Patterson,” NBC’s “Frasier” and CBS’s new legal drama “The Guardian.” Here’s the Stumpster:
24 - Fox Studios
Exec Produced by Joel Surnow, Bob Cochran, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Tony Krantz
Stars Kiefer Sutherland, Leslie Hope, Elisha Cuthbert, Sarah Lively, Mia Kirshner, Jacqui Maxwell and Dennis Haysbert
24 was probably the 1-hour drama that received the best reception amongst the crowd in LA. It has a great concept - a 24 episode series about a single day in the lives of an anti-terrorist unit head, his team, his family and a presidential candidate where each episode is one hour of that day and plays out in real time. The pilot that I viewed was basically set between 12.00 midnight to 1.00 am -the first hour of that day.
The story follows a black presidential candidate in the run-up to the California primaries who is under threat of assasination. Kiefer Sutherland is the team leader who has to prevent the assasination and who is told by his top boss that elements in his own agency may be involved (standard conspiracy-don't trust anybody stuff). This leads to a particularly wild scene between Kiefer and one of his superiors halfway through the show.
In the meantime, his marriage is on the rocks and his daughter goes off partying with some kids in a furniture shop. By the end of the episode she's in trouble with the two guys she's partying with (who turn from college kids into sinister figures with -implied- date rape and murder on their minds). His wife goes off in search of her and hooks up with a guy who is the father of the daughter's friend (or so he claims).
While all this goes on, the assassin is on the way from Europe in a plane. Just to show what an evil person the assassin is, there's the seduction of a fellow passenger and some mile-high nookie in the airplane toilets. Of course this doesn't compare with the evil that follows when said assassin decides the plane is too slow and leaves early (pre-landing). Some decent action and diversionary tactics in the episode's final act. We're left hanging on some really good plot hooks to follow - who hired the assassin ? who can Kiefer trust in the agency ? how much trouble is the daughter in ? what dark secret does the presidential candidate have that the media is about to blow open ? is that really the friend's father the mom has hooked up with and will he try to get it on with her ?
Kiefer is pretty good and although he is a strong lead, this is really an ensemble piece as the story cuts between all the on-going storylines. There's some limited use of the "Timecode" effect where the screen is split into four so you can see what's happening in real time with four different stories. It is however much less confusing than the film and you always know what's happening and where. The story seems strong enough to keep the series going through the season - however there are some questions to be raised. If each episode is one hour in a day, are we expected to believe that nobody in the series has to sleep during that particular day ? The storylines also seem to be a bit forced in that everything has to be compressed and 'rushed' to fit into the 24 hour time frame of the series.
Overall however, it is certainly one of the best show pilots for Fall in my opinion. The level of pacing, action, drama and acting in the pilot was a notch over everything else on offer. Further, there is a nice claustrophobic effect in the team HQ which is used to decent effect to convey a feeling of time running out. I just hope the storylines play out nicely over the season and there's no badly managed attempts to force the diverse plots to come together in some fool's idea of an 'epic-conspiracy story'. Based on the quality of the pilot however, I'm confident the season will be handled well and will prove to be one of the success stories of the year. My only concern is whether there will be enough stamina in the viewing audience for what is in effect a 24-part mini-series. What the hell, give me a decent hour of planes exploding, people shooting each other and general mayhem rather than yet another hour of crappy touchy-feely 'family' drama and issues.