The more things change, the more they stay the same - at least in the 24universe.
Fox's 24: Legacy, a reboot of the Kiefer Sutherland-starring action series that will premiere in the highly-coveted post-Super Bowl spot on Sunday, is exactly what anyone who watched the original would come to expect, for better or worse. Sure, several key elements are different, but the overall storyline - not to mention the visual and sound effects, countdown clock and all - will be familiar. And who can blame the creators for not wanting to mess with a winning formula?
However, 24: Legacy wasn't originally intended to be a reboot of the franchise that, since it debuted in 2001, in has thus far consisted of eight regular seasons, a TV movie, and a limited-run revival season, all centered around Sutherland's character, Jack Bauer. The premise was originally conceived by 24 executive producer Manny Coto as a stand-alone series as he and his co-producer Evan Katz were preparing to wrap up production on 24: Live Another Day in London.
"Fox never actually came to us and said, 'We need another sequel.' We had to sell them on it," adds Coto, who was inspired by reading articles about the members of the special ops team that took out bin Laden in 2011, who were told upon returning to America that they would likely have to go into hiding.
"They had shot Osama bin Laden, they came back, and they were told ... 'Well, we can get you a job driving a truck,'" Coto says. "That hit me immediately, like, what if you had these guys who had done this heroic thing, and were now suddenly thrust into the regular world, and were not even able to tell anybody who they were? And then, what if - the essence of ideas is always 'what if' - what if, one by one, they started getting picked off, and one of them is left behind and realizes, we've been found out? And from that point, you're into the conspiracy. Who gave their names up? And suddenly it blossoms into a 24 plot."
Once Coto and Manny realized that the idea lent itself to the real-time storytelling technique they had pioneered with the original 24, it was a no-brainer. So with the central idea in place, they set about building a new world and new characters around it.
In this incarnation, the hero is the aforementioned soldier Eric Carter (Corey Hawkins), who's trying to settle back into a life of domesticity with his wife Nicole (Anna Diop), but whose experiences in the war are keeping him up at night. Within the first few minutes of the pilot episode, Eric learns that the members of the squad he led in the mission to kill terrorist leader Sheik Ibrahim Bin-Khalid are being targeted by Bin-Khalid's relatives, who are desperate to locate a drive one of the soldiers took during the raid. Knowing he has to go off the grid, Eric turns to his government contact, outgoing CTU director Rebecca Ingram (Miranda Otto), as well as his estranged brother Isaac (Ashley Thomas), who runs a drug empire on the wrong side of town.
All this is taking place on the same day that Rebecca, who's leaving her position at CTU after overseeing the Bin-Khalid mission in order to focus on her husband John's (Jimmy Smits) presidential campaign, is hoping to give a final briefing to her replacement, Keith Mullins (Teddy Sears). And the fourth plot (the we're-not-really-sure-how-it-connects-to-the-others-yet-but-it-will one) this time around involves a high school student named Amira (Kathryn Prescott) who appears to be planning an attack on the school, with some help from an unlikely source.
Explicit callbacks to the original series are minimal, but they're there. The CTU set is recognizable, and one hotshot upstart agent is the cousin of analyst Edgar Stiles (Louis Lombardi), who died after being exposed to nerve gas in Season 5 of 24.
On the flip side, plenty of (fair) criticism has been written about 24's portrayal of Muslims, and its reliance upon American's basest fears to drive tension and investment in characters. And 24: Legacy probably won't sway any of those critics - however, by Episode 3, it becomes clear that the show is interested in telling a more multifaceted story about the Muslim experience in America than one might initially guess.
And in terms of the hero, Eric Carter is a very different type of protagonist than Jack Bauer - and not just because he's a young black man.
"When 24 started, Jack Bauer had seen a lot of highway, and was the head of CTU and had a lot of damage in his life, in his relationships," Katz points out. "Eric Carter, he's a newbie. He's not an agent. He's not even a soldier anymore, and I think he's very idealistic and is not quite sure where he fits in the world. ... We've never really done a story about the education of an agent. And the season's really about this young man who doesn't know quite what to do with himself after the war. This season he kind of finds out."
Adds Hawkins: "At the beginning of the pilot, things are good between [Eric] and his wife. There's possibility there. There's a family that might enter the picture. Things are great. He has his American Dream. He has his white picket fence, his beautiful wife, his support system. But there's something missing ... and the rules are different on the home front. He's used to being a soldier overseas, but you can't do the same things over here. ... But [Eric and Jack Bauer] are both the same in the sense of that they're both patriots and they're both mission-oriented guys. And they will do anything to save their family, their country and themselves."
And that they both have a tendency to have really bad days - in Jack's case (and, the creators hope, Eric's as well), several of them. As Katz quips: "If they're having a good day, there's no television show."
24: Legacy premieres Sunday after the Super Bowl on Fox.