By Jeff Jensen
June 26, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT
Daniel Smith/FOX
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Pop Culture Revivals are never exactly what you want them to be. Even the best ones — Arrested Development, the Veronica Mars movie — are tainted with zombie musk. 24: Live Another Day — a reanimation of Kiefer Sutherland’s thriller, which clocked out four years ago — shambles back sadder than most. Despite the high-grade action, the premiere is more a showcase for everything that was bad about 24 than a reminder of everything that was good.

We meet Jack Bauer anew in London, still on the run after the last time he saved the day-cum-world in typically illegal by-any-means-necessary fashion. His reintroduction is as gimmicky as the real-time storytelling: For nearly half of the first hour, Jack says jack. His silence is meant to cultivate intrigue about his motives and prime the emotional pump for his first line. But by making us wonder what’s going on behind that scowling facade, the show reminds us that, for all of Jack’s harrowing history, he’s always hurting for real internal life. He’s an instinct-driven doer, not a thinker. Instead of being drawn into the story, we keep waiting for it to start. When it does, 24 gets rolling with an explosive (if ridiculously easy) jailbreak.

The subplots don’t start off strong either. In fact, they riff on 24 archetypes that were tedious back in the day and are even more so now. There’s the stuffed-shirt CIA chief (Benjamin Bratt) who presides over a careerist field agent (Gbenga Akinnagbe) who is at odds with a redemption-needy rival (Yvonne Strahovski) afflicted with the Hunch That We Know Is Correct But No One Will Believe. William Devane returns as one of 24‘s more appealing presidents, now suffering from dementia. His daughter — former Jack flame Audrey (Kim Raver) — is married to his chief of staff (Tate Donovan), who may not be totally trustworthy, thus upholding another one of 24‘s ”traditions.”

The second episode is better than the first. Jack’s mission is clarified, and his best sidekick, Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) — now a rogue hacktivist with an unfortunate goth-punk makeover — is fully activated. Games of Thrones‘ Michelle Fairley makes an immediate impression as the Big Bad. The story is sweaty with provocative, post–al-Qaeda, post-Snowden security anxieties — drone warfare, abused surveillance, and secrecy — but the treatment so far is superficial and sensationalistic.

Truth is, what was originally unique and exciting about 24 calcified into formula long before the series reached its end. But if you’re going to be formula, at least be good formula. Hopefully 24: Live Another Day can move past its staggering start and find its Beep-BEEP! pulse and stride. C+

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