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'24' season premiere doesn't waste a minute

Rick Kushman
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

So there he is, Jack Bauer, unstoppable hero, emotional wreck, sitting in a Washington, D.C., hearing room, getting worked over by a congressional subcommittee.

Of all the indignities, of all the ways to insult a man who's saved the world, what, a dozen times, Bauer (the terrific Kiefer Sutherland) has to endure these puffed-up, manipulative, bloated-ego suits.

Or, as they say in Hollywood, welcome back, "24."

If there was anything good that came out of the writers strike, it's that it gave producers of Fox's "24" time to get their act together. When the new season premieres Sunday night (at 8 EST) with two new hours, the electricity, the adrenaline rushes and the fun will be back.

If you've ever seen this show - and it's not necessary to get hooked on Sunday - you know Jack won't be sitting there long, that lots of bad things will start happening around the globe and that Jack is the same old Jack: loyal, troubled, resolute and kick-butt.

He also doesn't take a lot of guff. Bauer is pressed into action in the first few minutes by the FBI but is warned by a by-the-book FBI boss to behave himself. Jack says, "I'm not here to apply for a job."

That's one of the joys of the show, Bauer's unwillingness to bend to weasels of any kind, and, as always with "24," there are weasels everywhere.

But just as important, the show has rediscovered its fundamental attraction. When "24" is working, it's a kinetic, addictive thrill ride, and through the first four hours - hours three and four air Monday, also starting at 8 p.m. - the pacing and action are as sharp and taut as they've ever been.

Also, with "24," part of the game is buying into a general suspension of disbelief and accepting that all of this could happen in real time, that shotgun wounds heal in a few hours or that people can drive across metropolitan areas like Los Angeles or Washington in a few minutes.

The only real hinky moment Sunday night comes right at the start, when the congressional hearing is up and running at 8 a.m. Sorry, no. No one believes anyone in Congress is working at 8 a.m., unless they're at a fund-raising breakfast. Or does that sound mean?

As for the rest of the story, here are the quick details that got reset by the transition movie in November, "24: Redemption."

There's a new president, Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones), who's tough, smart and kind. Naturally she's headed for vexing moral choices. A make-believe African nation is in turmoil, and she must decide whether to intervene. Meanwhile, there's nefarious plotting inside her administration, led, we know from the movie, by a slimy corporate biggie (played by Jon Voight, whom we won't see for a while).

The Counter Terrorism Unit has been disbanded and Jack's on congressional trial. Minutes in, FBI agent Renee Walker (Annie Wersching), who's very cool and who we know we're going to like, interrupts the hearing and takes Jack with her to help fight a domestic terrorist threat, apparently led by the once-dead Tony Almeida.

So we're off and running on what looks like "24" at the top of its game. There will be ticking clocks and tech talk with Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and her FBI mirror image (Janeane Garofalo). There will be difficult moral choices, people yelling "freeze," and there will be loads of high-energy, escapist TV.

Seriously, welcome back, Jack.

___

An update from the, uh, happy world of the digital transition. It's still coming Feb. 17, and all analog TV will stop, meaning everyone without cable, satellite service or a digital TV of some kind will need to either get one of those or get a converter for their antenna.

And in case you missed the news from earlier this week, there has been one hitch. The U.S. Department of Commerce is temporarily out of coupons that will save you $40 on those $50ish-to-$70ish converter boxes.

More specifically, they've issued all $1.34 billion worth of coupons they had, but Commerce officials said this week that if you want one, apply now anyway. You'll get put on a waiting list, and - they hope - should receive a coupon before Feb. 17, or eventually, whichever comes first.

The reasons are complicated - both why they ran out and why they expect to have more - but the simple point is: Apply now.

To apply for coupons, go to www.DTV2009.gov or call the 24-hour toll-free hotline at (888) 388-2009. If you call during business hours, generally you'll get to talk to a human.

___

And on Sunday, the Golden Globes, the silliest of the big award shows, runs for three hours on NBC (at 8 p.m. EST). Remember, these are the overhyped awards from the barely reputable Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which is legendary for its small membership (fewer than 100 people) and its huge consumption of swag.

Nonetheless, they throw the only awards bash that combines movie stars, TV stars and alcohol, which sometimes makes for fun viewing. And anything will be better than last year's "ceremony," which was derailed by the writers strike and ended up as, basically, a press conference conducted by E-listers from TV entertainment magazines.


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