TV Week: 24, Countdown and Eurovision: Your Country Needs You
By Dan Owen
Jack Bauer's about to have another very bad day, as the alarm goes off for Day 7 of television adrenaline jab 24. After the widely-panned sixth season (which never recovered from the premature nuclear explosion in episode 4) and a strike-related gap of 19 months for the creators to ponder their mistakes, there's a minor reinvention underway...
We begin in the Senate, where Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) is on trial for illegal practices during his time at the Los Angeles Counter-Terrorism Unit, particularly his morally-questionable view on torturing terrorists for information. Fortunately, he's whisked away by the FBI, to assist Agent Walker (Annie Wersching) in stopping terrorists who have stolen a CPI firewall (software the government use to protect vital infrastructure) and are currently taking over air-traffic control above Washington D.C. What's more, their suspected leader is none other than Jack's best-friend Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard), who supposedly died two seasons ago.
It's the usual mix of preposterousness and gripping action, but still the 24 we know and love. The move to D.C allows for a different aesthetic (huge white buildings replacing flat L.A suburbs), and there's a large ensemble of new faces to be introduced to – various agents at the FBI's Washington Field Office, and the new administration at the White House, led by President Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones). The cosmetic changes help keep these opening episodes arresting and entertaining, but 24 has traditionally had very strong starts. It's only once the story is in full-swing that problems begin to rack up by around episode 8, and the writers struggle to maintain the pace, while keeping the story focused and developing plausibly.
Time will tell if Day 7's injection of fresh blood will have the desired effect. The production is in the unique position of finishing its finale just as the season premieres on television -- so, they can't readjust or change direction based on audience feedback (good or bad). They also can't blame a tough schedule if this make-or-break season flounders, because they've had more than enough time to prepare. SKY1, SUN, 9PM.
A ticking clock of another kind hangs over the heads of COUNTDOWN, which returned last week for its 60th series, without veteran number-cruncher Carol Vorderman. Thanks to a widely-publicized pay dispute with bosses, the iconic maths whiz quit her position and has been replaced by 22-year-old Rachel Riley – who wasn't even alive when Countdown started 26 years ago. Sky Sports presenter Jeff Stelling steps into Des O'Connor's shoes, but more importantly has to try and live up to the late Richard Whitely.
A new, curvy, toothpaste-blue set highlights the sense of revitalisation here, although the fundamental game hasn't changed. You don't want to upset the legions of old-age pensioners and students that make up Countdown's core audience, so the heart of the show is as cheerfully nerdy as ever. Stelling's infamous wit and head for trivia is in evidence, although I'm not sure his brand of blokey chit-chat will go down well with some of the geekier contestants (who probably haven't strayed anywhere near Sky Sports in their lives). He's also mildly cheesy and overeager to please, but that's probably down to nerves.
Likewise, Rachel's lack of TV experience shows right now; the poor girl looked a little startled by the cameras at times, and not entirely comfortable having to look into a camera straight ahead, with contestants talking to her from the extreme left (a quirk of set geography, see.) Still, she's undeniably very pretty and is being dressed and filmed in ways that accentuate her blonde, youthful, sexy student appeal. It remains to be see if she's as sharp mathematically as Carol (not helped by some ridiculously easy numbers games in her first week), but I doubt the producers will have hired a bimbo who just looks good in a skirt. CHANNEL 4, MON-FRI, 3.25PM.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's back on BBC1, fronting EUROVISION: YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU alongside host Graham Norton and co-judge Lulu. The world-famous musical maestro has decided to inject some credibility into the UK's entry at the Eurovision Song Contest this summer, by writing the song. But first, it's a great excuse for a short reality TV show, which essentially feels like a cut-price version of the X Factor.
The problem with Britain when it comes to Eurovision is that we don't know how to approach it. If we enter a genuinely good singer, they look stiff and sensible compared to the array of Euro oddballs gesticulating on-stage in front of 100 million people. But if we send an intentionally camp bit of nonsense, the Euro voters seem to think we're taking the mickey. And then there's the obvious problems with politically-minded voting (the UK is often a whipping boy) and the age-old issue of "block voting" (where neighbouring countries vote for each other), which is having a big effect on results now that there are so many Eastern European countries snuggled up together.
The contestants here are fairly uninspiring, unfortunately. The best is probably Jade -- "Plaistow's answer to Rihanna"; a leggy singer with more stage presence than anyone else, who has a certain exotic look that might play well to the Euro masses. The stupidly-named Emperor's Of Soul may also be in with a chance (despite being voted into the bottom two last night) -- because they're ridiculous-looking, but quite fun and watchable. All the others are pretty terrible, or too bland to make any kind of impression.
Throughout it all, "The Lord" sits like a gurning gargoyle to give his views (it helps to close your eyes whenever it's his turn to speak), and Lulu makes do with her supportive role by his side. Guest judge this week was "Duncan from Blue" (currently appearing on Channel 4 comedy Plus One, poking fun at his cheesy pop persona). Why don't we just send him to Moscow; he seems to have all the qualities we're looking for already. BBC1, SAT, 6.35pm.
If you enjoyed this TV Week, why not head over to Dan's Media Digest for more entertainment related news, reviews and musings? Recent highlights include:
Sexiest Women On TV In 2008: four-part list of the most attractive actresses on American and British television last year.
Dan Owen is a self confessed TV "obsessive" and passionate film buff. Check out his blog at danowen.blogspot.com