8 p.m. Sunday, WFLD-Channel 32
7 p.m. Sunday, WFLD-Channel 32, then airing at 8 p.m. Wednesdays
Here's one reason to be proud to be an American: No matter how deep the recession, no matter how hopeless the situation, we can rest assured that there will always be enough money in the budget to blow things up for entertainment purposes.
Rare is the series that doesn't have collateral damage. "Trauma," "Sons of Anarchy" "FlashForward" -- they're all upping the pyrotechnic ante. Even "Desperate Housewives" devastated Wisteria Lane with a plane crash.
Impressive, yes. But those are the kinds of situations Jack Bauer eats for breakfast.
"24" is back, and although Jack toys with the idea of settling down and enjoying the quiet life with his granddaughter, he is soon prevailed upon to save western civilization. Again.
He narrowly escaped death when he was exposed to a bioagent last season. But thanks to daughter Kim's generous donation of stem cells, he's all better, 18 months later. What luck!
A former informant tracks down Jack in New York and draws him into a plot to kill a Mideast leader. President Hassan ("Slumdog Millionaire's" Anil Kapoor) is about to sign a groundbreaking anti-nuclear treaty with Madame President Alison Taylor (Cherry Jones) at the United Nations. Peace is at stake!
When Jack checks in with the New York Counter Terrorism Unit, he finds the place being run by efficiency-minded Brian Hastings (Mykelti Williamson), and girl Friday Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) floundering.
Why is she back in the game? Her husband was downsized, they need the money, and she's trying desperately to get up to speed on the new software. Even worse, no one takes her crackerjack instincts seriously. Don't they know who she is?
The new CTU also boasts geek goddess Katee Sackhoff ("Battlestar Gallactica") as a data analyst with a mysterious past, and her fiancé (Freddie Prinze Jr.) as sort of a Jack Bauer Jr.
The brilliant thing about casting Kiefer Sutherland is that, despite some seriously rough days at the office, you never doubt that Jack will rebound. Sutherland himself probably shouldn't still be functioning - Remember his rodeo circuit phase? And head-butting that fashion designer? - but he perseveres, racking up vicious wounds and time in confinement. Like Jack, he's battle-scarred but seemingly invincible.
The new season is solid - things really get good once Renee Walker (Annie Wersching) returns and contributes her unique expertise. But overall, I do have a few complaints.
*Even I was rolling my eyes at some of the hokey writing. "It's not about me," says the Mideast leader. "It's the message that's important." Poor Prinze is saddled with the line "History is happening upstairs, people, and it's on our watch."
*The more I have to rewind to figure out what's going on, the less entertaining I find a show. And with "24," I rewound a lot. How can I be expected to keep up with a quadruply-split screen?
*A little reality would be nice. My favorite part is when someone says, "We'll need offshore accounts of $100 million at least," and Hastings unhesitatingly says, "I'll get on that."
*Sutherland pronounces "nuclear" as "nukular." Twice.
Our scrappy superhero gets competition this season, though, from comic-book-based Christopher Chance in "Human Target." He's played by the icily excellent Mark Valley, who should have been a star with 2004's failed "Keen Eddie." It's hard to say whether this will be the breakout role for him. Remember when Rick Springfield tried to adapt "Human Target" for television in 1992?
Me neither. But I wish I did.
The cartoonish spirit is kept alive as Chance works as a sort of Method bodyguard. We learn that it's his specialty to "blend into the background" as he protects his clients, although it's difficult to imagine Valley blending in anywhere. He's got a jaw that won't quit. Maybe it's not a coincidence that his cases invariably involve beautiful women.
In the first episode, Chance skirmishes with baddies on a high-speed train. This is when we learn, by the way, that he speaks fluent Japanese. What luck! In the second episode, Chance is required to fly a plane. Upside down.
The dialogue is just as hokey as in "24," but it's not as out of place in "Human Target." After Chance survives two bullets, his client shrieks, "You wore a vest? Where's my vest?"
"I'm your vest," he says with a straight face.
Chi McBride is wasted as Chance's overseer, who does an awful lot of fretting. At least when he had a similar role in "Pushing Daisies," they gave him a secret ambition to be a pop-up book author.
I loved Jackie Earle Haley as the grizzled Guerrero, an investigator friend of Chance's who manages to be chilling with nothing more than some John Lennon glasses and elegantly veiled threats. If "Human Target" doesn't work out, I call for a spinoff.
The best part about the show? No rewinding. I managed to follow the action without even trying. So if you find Jack Bauer overwhelming, try "Human Target." It's the non-thinking man's "24."