Once upon a time there was a plan to shoot season 7 of 24 in Africa. In between then and now, the idea was scotched, for reasons I’m not completely clear on. What we have been left with is 24: Redemption, a two-hour movie / season 7 prequel that airs Sunday on Fox. In it, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) is working at a school in a fictional African country—on the run from a Congressional subpoena over alleged acts of torture, and in expiation of various sins in his past. When the school is attacked by rebels who want to conscript the students as child soldiers, Jack springs into action to save the kids.
There’s not much to recommend the movie, but it does suggest a scenario for why the original season 7 plan was scrapped:
INT: WRITERS’ ROOM, LOS ANGELES
WRITER 1: But can Jack get a cell phone signal in the middle of the rain forest?
WRITER 2: Don’t worry about it. So he calls Chloe, and asks her— [The door opens, interrupting him.]
WRITER 3: Hey, guys. I just got the DVD of Blood Diamond. Want to watch?
INT. WRITERS’ ROOM, LOS ANGELES, TWO HOURS LATER
WRITER 2: Oh. Crap.
WRITER 1: Well… Can we get a TV movie out of it at least?
Similarities to already-made movies aside, Redemption does suggest a step forward for 24: hopefully, the show has realized—after the ludicrous season 6—that it can’t keep trying to top itself with bigger and bigger terrorist threats, and instead needs to focus on taut, smaller-scale thrillers. But by taking 24’s real-time format and scaling it down to two hours, the movie never gains momentum, partly because it also has to introduce characters and conspirators for the real season 7 (including new Prez Cherry Jones) and its conclusion feels rushed and forced.
At best, it’s a tantalyzing but skippable promo for the season that begins in January. But 24 has not redeemed itself yet.