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TV Review: '24' lathers up the soap this season

Sunday, October 26, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

As its third season begins, the Fox thriller "24" morphs into "The Love Boat" crossed with "Melrose Place."

That's not entirely surprising. This serialized series' makeup has always included a fair amount of soap opera DNA.


"24"

When: 9 p.m. Tuesday on Fox.

Starring: Kiefer Sutherland.

But as the show ages, it delves further into relationship melodrama that does not square with the backdrop of heroic Counter Terrorist Unit agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) saving a presidential candidate from assassination and Los Angeles from nuclear annihilation.

Last season, CTU agents Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) and Michelle Dressler (Reiko Aylesworth) shared stolen kisses inside CTU headquarters in the midst of a crisis. This year, everyone has romantic issues.

It's three years later and Jack Bauer's third very long day begins at 1 p.m. He's estranged from Kate Warner (Sarah Wynter, reduced to a guest-star cameo) and spends much of the first two episodes sweating and doubled over in pain.

It's not his heart this time, but a nasty reaction from an undercover assignment in which he took down a drug lord. A new threat arises and you half expect Jack to declare, "Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit doing junk."

Tony and Michelle's relationship has advanced, but he's got a job offer elsewhere and Michelle doesn't, which causes them new stresses.

Jack's idiot daughter, Kim (Elisha Cuthbert), now works at CTU. Sometime between her encounter with a mountain lion and a rape-minded loner who lives in the woods, Kim acquired computer skills that she uses Tuesday to thwart a co-worker who accuses her of getting her job through nepotism.

While we're on the subject, President Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) is running for re-election with the help of his brother, Wayne (D.B. Woodside), who's now his chief of staff. Palmer recovered from an attack of flesh-eating virus from May's season finale, but he's still having health problems that require the attention of Dr. Anne Packard (Wendy Crewson), who has a soothing bedside manner as she administers gentle kisses to the president.

And that's not the last bit of romance: Kim "It's All About Me" Bauer is having a clandestine affair of her own and she's determined to tell her father about it, the latest crisis be damned.

In a letter to critics, "24" producers promise Kim "won't be tangling with any cougars this year," so even they recognize the missteps they've made in the past. Bringing Kim into the CTU fold makes sense from a logistical standpoint, but she's still being written as an annoying character viewers will love to hate.

New characters are also being introduced, including Jack's new partner, the young hot head Chase Edmunds (James Badge Dale). Let's save the good folks at www.televisionwithoutpity.com some time and go ahead and nickname this guy Eddie Munster for his close-cropped widow's peak.

But none of the additions make up for the deletions, especially Sherry Palmer (Penny Johnson Jerald) and Nina Myers (Sarah Clarke), who are no longer series regulars but could turn up as guest stars later in the season. Characters as juicy as theirs must be used sparingly to retain their teeth, but it's difficult not to pine for them with so many ciphers being introduced.

The main thrust of the new season is Jack's attempts to contain a "weaponized pneumonic virus" that, if released, could kill millions within 24 hours. A sad sack teenage drug dealer -- shades of the two bozos who kidnapped Kim in season one -- is the unwitting deliverer of the virus, which is mixed in with drugs he's being paid to deliver.

The virus plot was hatched by the drug dealer Jack recently sent to prison and executed by his brother.

"24" continues to roar forward at a breakneck pace, and it does tantalize by dropping clues that keep viewers hooked (particularly one involving Palmer at the end of episode No. 2). But with the minutiae of love affairs gumming up the works, it's more difficult than ever for viewers -- and the show's characters -- to keep their eyes on the big picture threat that's supposed to drive the series.


You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 orrowen@post-gazette.com . Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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