24: Legacy and the dilemma of mediating a xenophobic aesthetic resurgence.
24: LegacyCast: Corey Hawkins, Miranda Otto, Charlie Hofheimer
Subtitle: 12 noon-1:00PM
24: Legacy, season one, episode one, "12 noon-1:00PM"
Following the largest American audience that tunes into the Super Bowl each year, Fox rolls out the latest in TV’s increasing fixation with retro ideas and reboot formulas (Fox alone has invested in revivals of The X-Files, 24, Prison Break, and The Exorcist). Enter 24: Legacy, a by the number carbon copy of converging political paramilitary conspiracy theories served up as serialized melodrama.
Actor Corey Hawkins is previously known for his role in F. Gary Gray's Straight Outta Compton (2015), as Fox has to keep reminding us in case we don’t trust an otherwise unknown black male stepping into a sacred American role. Hawkins stars as U.S. Army Sgt. Eric Carter; the incumbent stand-in for the now out-of-fashion Jack Bauer, who must have moved on to working on his exposé memoir while gathering “real” news for an off the grid libertarian website. Okay, that last part is not technically in cannon, but you can imagine such a plotline happening if audiences go down the slippery slope fallacy of falling for 24’s conspiracy-fiction politics and interpolating them for real-world clairvoyance. I mean let’s be clear if we follow the money, both programs fall under the blanket corporate endorsement of News Corp., am I Reich, er, right?
Conspiracy #1: Is there a counter-
terrorist-culture voter persuasion at work?
But in the most subversive bit of fantasy politics (straight out of old 24’s playbook!), 24: Legacy wants to synergize Fox’s increasing focus on the young black audience demographic, a la Empire, Star, Lethal Weapon, and so on. So what is 24: Legacy, a recruitment tool to the right for Fox’s refocused demographic niche? I suppose that will depend on how the series turns out.
Regarding actor diversity on Fox programs, 24: Legacy also sports network (and cable) TV’s favorite American actor of Puerto Rican/Dutch descent, Jimmy Smits. Smits is a television veteran, with such a blend of natural and relatable charisma onscreen whether he appears on the right (NYPD Blue, The West Wing) or wrong (Dexter, Sons of Anarchy) side of the law. In this case, for now, at least, we guess he’s on the “right” side, as Senator John Donovan.
Smits’s Senator is married to Rebecca Ingram, played by Miranda Otto (Homeland). Otto was a bright spot throughout Homeland’s resurgent year two and a half seasons back. That said, Otto’s character burned a few too many bridges and now finds herself (the actress, not the character) demoted down to network TV. Alas. In her first major scene, Ingram is revealed as the Senator’s wife, just before receiving the Congressional Gold Metal for her service as former National Director of CTU.
Conspiracy #2: Homeland lost its mainstream momentum and political potency.
In case viewers forgot, there’s a bit of cross-pollination between Homeland and 24. 24 was the originator, the trailblazer, the zeitgeisty post-9/11 paranoid delusion that drove even real-life defenses of enhanced interrogation based on reactions to the TV drama’s machinations for justifying torture. But like the majority of longstanding dramas, 24 burned out by its seventh and eighth season (although it did receive a hero’s welcome in Fox’s limited series revival format two summers ago).
In the meantime, Homeland filled 24’s void and then some, including the recruitment of key writers and executive staffers that immigrated from the former to the latter. What Homeland lacked in outlandish nuclear explosions it more than made up for in premium cable tawdriness, F-bombs, and R-rated appeal. With only half the episode count per season, Homeland also works through its espionage plots at a slow burn pace that rendered it more “authentic”. When comparing 24 in a post-Homeland world, the nuances are striking, and the original feels like a beta test for viewership durability and audience gullibility.
Conspiracy #3: 24: Legacy will win undecided’s on the real-world travel ban.
24: Legacy remains a faithful adaptation that stresses the inherent danger of Middle Eastern foreigners. Literally, the opening scene plays up a newly returned military hero being tortured in his own home by a group of terrorists. This includes the off-screen execution of the serviceman’s wife and kid. But don’t worry, a different serviceman’s wife is almost executed onscreen a few segments later. And by “almost”, I mean she is most definitely shot in the head, just not onscreen. (Are they saving the gratuitous kill shots for later episodes? How “PC”.) Thus, a terrorist cell is targeting Corey’s retired military group, and that’s all we know (or really need to know) to get the ball rolling.
Fortunately for Sgt. Carter and his wife Nicole (Anna Diop), his instincts kick in, and he stashes Nicole somewhere safe before a daytime home invasion. (Ever notice how it's so brightly lit inside depictions of military personnel homes -- pure white walls and ceilings?) Nicole helps create a distraction that allows both of them to fight off the intruders. In a nice double bill of product placement, Nicole first retrieves a handgun from the family safe just in time to blast a baddie. Corey also has luck killing this undocumented intruder, and soon the two execute a couple more bad guys before stopping in front of the Ford truck logo long enough for, um, Corey to find his keys.
Otherwise, the tight camera work by veteran series director Stephen Hopkins helps remind audiences just what made the original so special. Scenes of action and fight choreography maintain decent tension that reminds viewers of the supposed stakes. The script by longtime series vets Manny Coto and Evan Katz feels like the show never missed a beat. That could be a good thing or a bad thing. Time will tell. Otherwise, the issue glaring issue remaining is whether 24: Legacy will fall rank and file in line with the other pop nostalgia acts of late, perhaps puttering along to satisfy a new niche. Or, and this is the underbelly cynical reading of the text, this network mainstay comes to represent and further galvanize the ideological divide that fuels increasing fear and resentment, paranoia and propaganda, in (or rather circulating around) American media.
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Fox used to trot out a four-pack of 24 episodes every time it would launch a new season. The new season typically started around the Super Bowl (or the NFC Playoffs if Fox didn’t have that year’s Super Bowl), and the network would bombast audiences with a two-hour block on Sunday followed by a two-hour block on Monday. This, of course, was in the pre-Netflix Streaming binge era, so the rush of episodes was a welcomed guilty pleasure for the live TV experience.
While Fox plans to follow up hour number two of 24: Legacy Monday evening, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “that’s it?” Maybe it’s the network’s programming strategy, or perhaps the fewer episodes are tied to government spending cuts. Wait, never mind, there I go, confusing realities again.