Review: HUMAN TARGET and 24

By: Aleks Chan

When Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) hears a knock at the door in the eighth season premiere of 24, both the viewer and our weary, retired super agent are in a shared consciousness: Here we go again. An old informant of Jack’s shows up at his doorstep bloodied and short of breath, desperate for help. Jack, who’s taken up full-time grandpa duties and has finally decided to settle down with his family, reluctantly agrees. There’s a hit out on the president of the fictional Kamistan, Omar Hassan (Slumdog Millionaire’s Anil Kapoor, in his first TV role), who’s stateside to hash out nuclear arms business with President Taylor (Cherry Jones).

Needless to say, Jack takes to the streets of New York, firearm in hand, kicking ass and busting knees with Sutherland’s usual grizzly machismo. He ends up at a newly reinstated CTU, packed with techno wizardry, a sleek, futuristic (almost science fiction-y) design, and a stable of new faces and one old, sour one. Even after setting off a nuclear bomb, sicking a cougar on Elisha Cuthbert, and assassinating a president, Mary Lynn Rajskub’s sardonic computer whiz Chloe O’Brian and her perpetual scowl has turned a character that could have so easily been overdone and made her a lovably prickly, impeccably smart source of much needed wit.

The opening four hours move along in 24’s usually well-paced, recognizable rhythm – it’s evident that this assassination conflict will quickly resolve itself before opening up into another story altogether.  Methinks a plot involving botched tech will surface before season’s end, given the focus on current CTU director Brian Hastings’ (Mykelti Williamson) technological tunnel vision, as contrived and strained a tension it is. It’s funny that a show that seemingly helped pioneer the use of preposterous gadgetry on TV would turn around and wag a finger.

Also among the new cast members is BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s Katee Sackhoff, whose Dana Walsh is thus far sidelined behind a keyboard at CTU where she must be fulfilling some contractual obligation to continually sweep her long, platinum hair across her shoulders. Her story is of the Big Fat Secret kind, and beyond standing alone in weirdly lit hallways (really, I don’t know how anyone gets anything done at CTU with its Italian restaurant ambiance) looking petrified, is sparsely developed. It could turn around (there are 20 more hours to go), but to have wasted even a second of the actress’ talent is almost offensive. Her love interest and co-worker, played by a surprisingly believable Freddie Prinze Jr., is more interesting as a young Bauer protégé who hasn’t yet figured out that busting chops cuts through office politics much easier than paperwork.
24 remains predictable but precise and streamlined for pure explosive, action-adventure enjoyment. It’s mastered sequestering any pretense of novelty and set its twists to timers, clicking and clocking with its timestamp, almost ritualistically beckoning us to return for seconds. At this point, it’s like comfort food.

HUMAN TARGET meanwhile, is the kind of generic junk food that fails to provide the satisfaction of actually tasting good at the cost of being terrible for you. Based on the eponymous comic book series, it centers on all-around badass/detective/bodyguard Christopher Chance (the piercingly intense, nearly stoic Mark Valley, whom I would love to see against MAD MEN’s Jon Hamm in a literal face-off), who embodies a character close to his client in order to flush out enemies. A lost looking Chi McBride (PUSHING DAISIES) plays Chance’s number two and an almost disturbing looking Jackie Earle Haley is Guerrero, Chance’s hired tech master and arbiter of fear. (Haley has always had a meek appearance, but his ability to instill a fear of death in a single glare is uncanny.)

It seems that this adaptation is loosely based on the comic, in which Chance would don elaborate disguises and physically alter himself to blend in – not something inherently telegenic, so this creative liberty comes as no surprise. But I can’t shake the idea of what kind of show HUMAN TARGET could have been had it followed the source material: in the comic, Chance has difficulty differentiating the personalities of his covers and his own, creating the ultimate identity crisis. But DOLLHOUSE does something very similar, and if you’ve paid any attention to that show, you’d know that it doesn’t always work.

But I’m not a huge stickler for faithful adaptations – good is good. Bad is also bad. This is the kind of ludicrous blockbuster that’s gets graded on a curve, where bombast trumps all sense of realism because it’s so stupidly fun. This can be tricky: How over the top can everything be before it seems too over the top? Allow me to relay a snapshot of Monday’s episode: Chance, aboard a airline in search for a computer hacker who has created a “skeleton key to the internet” is at one point flying the plane on fire, in a rainstorm, upside-down.

Is this supposed to be fun? Yes, the fighting is well-choreographed and the gunplay is dutifully sprinkled throughout, but in the span of the two episodes I previewed, everything felt like a drag. The bulk of the pilot takes place aboard a state-of-the-art high-speed bullet train, where Chance is tasked with protecting its engineer (BATTLESTAR’s Tricia Helfer, so much better than a damsel in distress) from an assassin. Like the train, HUMAN TARGET has a linear structure: it’s exactly what a superfluous, action-packed beat ‘em up that we love to watch for pure enjoyment’s sake looks like – so textbook that it fails to command any attention. As much as I would have loved to have a big, dumb fun time with HUMAN TARGET, it just wouldn’t let me.


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