In the excellent season premiere of ''24,'' the shocking shooting of an old friend draws the supposedly deceased Jack back into the action

”24”: It’s a brand-new day

”Relax — he’s really good at this,” said our beloved Chloe (sour-patch kid Mary Lynn Rajskub) in hour 2 of last night’s super-duper two-hour 24 season premiere. This was shortly before Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer — back from the dead and making a living as a part-time California oil rigger who’s involved with a woman (Connie Britton, from the Michael J. Fox sitcom Spin City) and her bratty teenaged son, a fate nearly as bad as death — anyway, shortly before Jack decked an FBI agent in order to don his uniform to help track down the people responsible for shooting ex-president Palmer (Dennis Haysbert).

So, wait — let’s back up here. Man, was I glad not only to see dour, brilliant Chloe again but also to see that she has a fulfilling private life — i.e., boffing a co-worker for whom she has little affection. I mean, Chloe wouldn’t be Chloe if she went all soft and gooey over a guy, would she?

And Jack’s oil-worker secret identity — sort of the exact opposite of Batman being a millionaire playboy — is, in the logic of 24, keeping him in good physical shape; five seasons on, even he must sense he’s going to be called into action when he least expects it. So the assassination of Palmer was the initial before-the-first-commercial-break shockeroo, followed closely by the car bomb that seems to have killed Michelle (Reiko Aylesworth) and severely wounded hubby Tony (Carlos Bernard). These events set into motion this year’s doomsday scenario, which is — roughly, so far, I wouldn’t bet my life on it — that some shadowy plump-faced guy is going to kill a lotta people. I think. He did say, after all, ”We launch in less than an hour,” and while I doubt we have another nuclear-bomb threat on our hands (that would be so last season…and season 2), I like the idea of a possibly smaller-scale threat — all the more suspenseful for being self-contained, and more of a logistical puzzle for Jack to solve. Another immediate target may be the current president, the still-weaselly Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin), for whose assassination I don’t think any American would be arrested for wishing anyway. Logan is everything you don’t want in a president: an image-conscious, dumb coward. Itzin’s performance of this jerk is, as usual, superlative — he never makes you want to like him.

This season, we get acquainted with the president’s wife, portrayed by Jean Smart in just the sort of showy, nutty role this fine actress deserves at this point in her career. Smart’s Martha Logan is an alternately over- and undermedicated harridan who’s prone to, as one character remarked, ”meltdowns.” I mean, this early scene where she’s getting made up by one of her assistants for a public appearance with her husband, and she looks at herself all dolled up in the mirror and just suddenly dunks her head in the sink, ruining her makeup — give Jean Smart an Emmy now! She’s already delivered the line of the season, when she threatened a Secret Service drone in order to get him to leave her alone: ”I will have your family eating dog food out of a can!” Brava!

I’m really thinking/hoping this is going to be one of 24‘s best seasons yet, because the producers have already surrounded Jack — who must remain distant, ruthless, and poker-faced — with lots of cleverly conceived new and returning characters. Jean Smart’s Martha isn’t a First Lady in the mold of Sherry Palmer — Martha doesn’t seem evil and scheming so much as eccentric, and so far, the writers are keeping us off-balance as to how far off-balance she is. The implication is that some of her conspiracy babble may well be true.

As for stoic Jack, it was great that he plugged the guy who plugged Palmer. We expect nothing less from him. To paraphrase Chloe: Get tense — he’s really good at this.

What do you think? Are you hooked yet, or are you waiting to see what happens before you commit to this season? And do you have any theories on what the big conspiracy will turn out to be?

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Kiefer Sutherland
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