When Jack Bauer left us four years ago, we were sad but not heartbroken.
The scaffolding of Fox's "24," strong enough to bear controversy and complaint, was beginning to wobble, the show's take-no-prisoner's tone worn down by over-use and imitation.
Even the energy of its iconic star, Kiefer Sutherland, began to flag — how many times, after all, can one human being save the world in a 24-hour period that usually involved losing yet another person he loved, not to mention a large chunk of his soul?
No, after eight seasons Jack Bauer had suffered enough. It was time for him to slide beneath the ruthless waters of the Vast Global Conspiracy and wait, entombed like King Arthur, until the clarion call of a country's need summoned him once again.
Which, apparently, has been sounded. Because Jack Bauer is back, in the 12-episode special event "24: Live Another Day," and apparently not a moment too soon. The president, old friend James Heller (William Devane), is embroiled in a big drone controversy and His Life May Be In Danger. He's also a tiny bit addled, which means his daughter, Jack's lost-love Audrey Raines (Kim Raver) is by his side so Her Life May Be In Danger Too.
If that weren't enough to coax Jack out of seriously off-the-grid hiding (a black hoodie, Jack? Really?), Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) is in Very Big Trouble as well.
Oh, and it all takes place in spiffed-up, post-Summer Olympics London. The locale lends the reboot a nice schematic as well as chronological distance, some very cool exteriors and the wild, improbable hope that Idris Elba's John Luther will show up — if only to lend Jack some more stylish outerwear.
After all, "Luther" is, if not Jack's direct progeny, then certainly his nephew. As is, House, Walter White, Dexter and, most recently, Red Reddington of "The Blacklist" (a role that rumor had being offered to Sutherland first).
Best known for their famous minute-by-minute conceit and split-screen intensity, the series created television's first broken hero. Appearing for the first time mere months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Jack Bauer was just what we needed — a man who got the job done with minimal moralizing.
It's a model that's been twisted and stretched and taken to extremes. Television now teems with protagonists who, a decade ago, would have been the villain — in "Dexter" the "good-guy" was a serial killer — while the violence that made "24" the subject of inner-Beltway debate now looks like child's play.
Watching as "The Following's" FBI agents, or "Homeland's" CIA casually go maverick and allow dozens of people to die on their watch, it's hard not to imagine Jack Bauer objecting, grumpily, like a Woodstock-boomer complaining about his kids spending too much time playing video games
So will his return to the new landscape make him seem as old and out of date as "portable" phones with antennas?
Not at all. Black hoodie aside, Jack, and Sutherland looks great. And so does Chloe, now a punked-out underground hacker for justice a la Edward Snowden and the new CTU team, including Yvonne Strahovski, whose agent Kate Morgan looks suspiciously like spin-off material.
Certainly nostalgia is a factor. There's the blinking dial and the thrillingly hilarious moment when Jack inevitably explains why he alone must solve this Terrible Problem, rather than any of our government's institutions. ("They won't listen," is an old favorite, also "There isn't time.")
But delight may be a better word. It's always good to see an old friend, and an old pro in action. "Live Another Day" gives us both.
Twelve episodes may be enough, but who knows. We'll have to take it as it comes, one ticking, booming hour at a time.
'24: Live Another Day'
When: 8 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language and violence)Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times