A day in the life of Jack Bauer would go so much easier if anyone would just listen to him when he barks commands like, "Stop that couple!" Fat chance when what seems like half the armed personnel of the CIA's London bureau have guns pointed at the good guy instead of the fleeing bad guys.
Will they never learn? Apparently not. Which is no doubt exactly the desire of the fans who've been waiting four long years — that's roughly 35,064 hours in real time — for 24, one of TV's most electrifying thrillers, and Kiefer Sutherland as its beleaguered yet seemingly indestructible hero to snap back into action. The novelty — and thus, a bit of the edge — is gone as Fox's 12-part 24: Live Another Day seeks to prove that less is more, slowly revving up the comfortably formulaic engine while visceral split-screen editing once again intensifies the literally explosive twists. And yet, because a sad, mad, badass Jack Bauer is the only Jack we've ever known, there's something grimly satisfying when he mutters bleakly to one of his few allies, "I don't have any friends."
That's not quite true. It's no spoiler to applaud Live Another Day for bringing sourpuss techno-punk sidekick Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) back into Jack's violent orbit. How they reunite involves a nifty subterfuge that unfortunately puts Jack in the crosshairs of vengeful government agents who should know better, including Chuck's alluring Yvonne Strahovksi, and White House weasels like chief of staff Mark Boudreau (Tate Donovan), husband of Jack's former flame Audrey (Kim Raver), who likewise needs to wake up and smell the carnage.
All Jack wants, after all, is to save Audrey's dad, the ailing president (William Devane), from the scheming evildoers and their misappropriated (and topical) drones. And all we can hope for are more moments such as the one in the two-hour opener (Monday, 8/7c) when Jack is outnumbered and outgunned and, assessing the situation, remarks, "You probably think I'm at a disadvantage. I promise you I'm not." We never doubted it for a minute. Welcome back, Jack.
ANYTHING BUT ROUTINE: What doesn't kill Louis C.K. makes him funnier. Stewing in middle-aged angst and back pains — he announces at the top of Louie's long-awaited fourth season (10/9c) that he's just turned 46 — this maestro of melancholy humor sees life as one long punch line, and he's the one usually taking the punches.
Embracing with raw, unsettling honesty the random absurdities that regularly befall this urban dweller, Louie brilliantly mines the all-too-human comedy of anxiety, insecurity and disappointment — in himself and others. In back-to-back episodes (10/9c), a pattern the show will generously follow for the next seven weeks, Louie gets off to a very strong start with Charles Grodin a special treat in the first half-hour as Louie's new doctor, and in the second, a smug Jerry Seinfeld (allowing himself to look most unsympathetic and unpleasant) inviting Louie to the Hamptons for an ill-fated benefit performance. That outing almost has a happy ending, when a beautiful woman (the very busy Yvonne Strahovski) takes to her Hamptons palace, but it doesn't take long for the fantasy to sour.
"You don't look like you laugh a lot," observes the goddess. Maybe not, but Louie is so painfully hilarious you're likely to laugh till it hurts.
MOTEL HELL: In a hallucination that is every mama's boy's worst nightmare, young Norman Bates (the excellent Freddie Highmore) hears the words, "Everybody's mother lives inside them," while locked in an underground box by kidnappers during last week's penultimate episode of guilty pleasure Bates Motel's second season. Any Psycho fan understands the psychological implications of this epiphany, courtesy of a phantom version of Norman's smothering mother Norma (the fearless Vera Farmiga), who in a flashback was "inside" Norman urging him on when he apparently murdered vixen teacher Miss Watson in last season's finale. This year's finale (10/9c), which has arrived too soon, involves Norma trying to keep a haunted Norman from making what A&E describes as a "horrible mistake." Meanwhile, in the much lesser subplot, older brother Dylan (Max Thieriot) and Sheriff Romero (the ubiquitous Nestor Carbonell, seen Sunday on The Good Wife) try to put an end to White Pine Bay's drug war, and let's hope that's the case so everyone can move on next season. Because we all know this is really all about the Norma-and-Norman Show.
REALITY CHECK: Is it really a good idea to give Dance Moms' Abby Lee Miller a paddle? We'll see as she guest-judges ABC's Dancing With the Stars (8/7c), which features Mark Ballas singing, not dancing, to his new single Get My Name, while in the latest stunt, a "Celebrity Dance Duel" pairs two couples who'll dance side-by-side, during which the pros will leave the amateurs to dance together. ... And it's hardly unusual on NBC's The Voice for the coaches to steal the spotlight from the contestants. Such is the case in this week's live performance show (8/7c), featuring Blake Shelton performing the single "My Eyes" with former Voice contestant Gwen Sebastian, and in a preview of coming coaching attractions, next season's new chair-turners Pharrell Williams and Gwen Stefani will take the stage to perform their own hits.
THE MONDAY GUIDE: In the first part of a two-week season finale, NBC's The Blacklist (10:01/9:01c) awaits the arrival of the mysterious "Berlin," while Liz, who has severed ties with Red (for now), decides to let the FBI in on just why she and husband-in-name-only Tom have split (for now, maybe forever). ... Some of the best players in Jeopardy! history reunite for the two-week finals of the 30th-year "Battle of the Decades" tournament (check tvguide.com listings), in which winners of the '80s, '90s and 2000s rounds square off against each other. ... One of journalism's most scandalous chapters is recalled by PBS's Independent Lens in A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair at The New York Times (10/9c; check tvguide.com listings), which examines how reporter Jayson Blair (who is interviewed in the documentary) was able to publish stories with fabricated or plagiarized details at the renowned daily, the discovery of which cost several top Times editors their jobs and served as a wake-up call to the entire industry.