-- If redemption puts an end to reluctance and regret, more power to it. Heaven knows that if any TV season needs to be redeemed, it's this one. And if anyone can do the job, it's Jack Bauer.
Granted, we'd rather have him and Kiefer Sutherland — still far and away his show's best, most stable asset — back in a full-run 24 season. But because that won't happen until January, we'll just have to make do with Sunday's exciting prequel, "24: Redemption."
Actually, how you view Redemption may depend on whether you see it as a stand-alone TV movie or as an introductory episode to next year's seventh season. As a film, it ranks as one of the year's best, admittedly against thin competition. As a "24" episode, however, it's just a tad less enticing.
Oh, there's much that is very good here, starting with the sheer joy of having Jack back. But there's also a bit too much that we've seen before, led by that glum, reluctant, repentant savior routine that threatens to bleed all the fun out of the series.
The purpose of this two-hour, real-time movie is both to explain Jack's funk and (one hopes) to jolt him and his series out of it. On the run from his guilt and some government inquisitors, Jack has landed in a mythical African country that's about to plunge into a very real-looking civil war. His task is to help an old friend (Robert Carlyle, always a pleasure to watch) get some students safely to the American Embassy before they're kidnapped into the rebel army.
This relatively straightforward story helps set up a patented "24-ish" conspiracy that's about to envelop yet another administration. At its center is the about-to-be-inaugurated president, played by Broadway icon Cherry Jones, who is a major reason why January holds such promise.
Now, if only the show would promise to shake a few bad habits. We'll put up with the not-so-surprising surprises — the man who delays sharing information long enough to be stopped from sharing it, the inevitable revelation of a mole — but we do expect the bad guys to be better drawn than the sniveling U.N. inspector or the cowardly aide are here.
And whatever one feels about Jack inflicting torture, I've seen enough of Jack enduring torture to last both our lifetimes.
On the plus side, "Redemption" does represent a reconnection with the real world, where actions have consequences, and the general populace notices when disaster strikes. There's a human element here that went missing last time around, one that allows us to fully invest in the characters.
And there's even a sign at the end that Jack may be getting a little of that Jack-flash back again.
We love you, Jack. Don't make us regret it.