NEW YORK -- Jack's back.
A counterterrorism agent forced to go rogue, Jack Bauer had been lying low since 2010. He has been off the grid and off-screen since the final cycle of 24.
For eight seasons of this Fox thriller, the indomitable Bauer repeatedly saved the country from innumerable disasters (or tried to) at grave cost to himself. But far from being showered in the thanks of a grateful nation, he was branded and re-branded a most-wanted villain for his service. He had no choice but to go on the lam.
Viewers -- like his fictional pursuers on 24 -- might reasonably have given up on ever seeing Jack again.
But on 24: Live Another Day, he is nabbed by the CIA shortly after 11 a.m.
Note: Past 24 seasons ran 24 hours, hence the series' title. So 12 might have been a more appropriate, if lame-sounding, name for this miniseries, which premieres tonight at 8 p.m., with two episodes, spanning the period from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
A few possible spoilers follow.
Returning as the intrepid, long-suffering Bauer is Kiefer Sutherland, whose far more upbeat post-24 drama, Touch, was axed a year ago after just two seasons.
Also back is Mary Lynn Rajskub as marvelously mopey Chloe O'Brian.
And also back, remarkably, is Kim Raver, who, as Bauer's former heartthrob Audrey, was last seen in the conclusion of Season 6 in a coma from which she was not expected to emerge. But there is no happy reunion in store for Jack. It's quite the opposite, even though he -- ever the trickster -- deliberately contrives to be captured by authorities.
What's Jack's game? He's gotten wind that James Heller, previously U.S. defense secretary but now the nation's chief executive (played by the returning William Devane), is targeted for assassination while in London for a summit meeting.
Still the driven do-gooder, Jack is hellbent on foiling this plan. But it requires him to resurface and tangle with CIA officials (played by Benjamin Bratt and Yvonne Strahovski) as well as President Heller's chief of staff (Tate Donovan), who is now married to -- wait for it -- Audrey, after having seen her through her miraculous recovery.
"Jack Bauer is a traitor and a psychopath," he seethes, proposing that it's Bauer who is out to kill the president.
Such is the plight of Jack Bauer. He's so heroic, yet so misunderstood -- except by 24 fans, who will surely welcome him back with open arms. After all, he has served us, too. He saw us through a decade of high alert.
It's worth recalling that 24 premiered in fall 2001. It was hatched as scripted drama's answer to the red-hot new reality genre spawned by Survivor. Then, just weeks before 24 was set to be launched, everything changed. What had been created as slick TV escapism seemed, quite to the contrary, too close for comfort.
Fortunately, 24 overcame the specter of real-life tragedy while managing to meet the challenge of its snugly packaged format. On the strength of its ambition and inventiveness, it prevailed as a wildly dramatized view of American response to terrorism during each frenzied season's daylong window.
But however violent and grisly (and it was both), 24 saw its shock value waning by its final season. Guns, nerve gas, bombs, bioweapons and more -- the show had run through the playbook of awful ways a terrorist could put the hurt on civilized society.
Recall that during the first season's "day," a major mission for Bauer was to prevent the assassination of the president.
Like that old saying "Plus ca change ...," here's another president in peril. And on 24: Live Another Day, the series' conventions have been dusted off and revived for its well-versed fans: the nonstop action, the jittery camera, the pounding percussive music score and the clanking on-screen clock.
Yes, Bauer barks his signature "DAMN-it!" And at the end of the second hour, there's a dandy presto-chango twist, all the more delightful for its after-the-fact obviousness.
There may be genuinely shocking moments in the episodes to come. But if there aren't, that's OK. In our twin roles as citizens and viewers, we have lost a hunk of our innocence since fall 2001. How could 24 in its storytelling hold a candle to the dread we have internalized since then?
It probably cannot, and need not try. Rather than rousing us, 24 these days has the opposite effect: It lulls us with Bauer's beleaguered, uncomplaining efforts to lend a helping hand.
Bottom line, there's comfort for us viewers with Jack Bauer back on the scene. It's pretty much guaranteed: On Live Another Day he'll have another bad day. But we'll all have a blast watching.