Lynette Rice
January 18, 2010 AT 12:00 PM EST

When each new season of 24 commences, I immediately find myself focusing on two things: how marvelous Kiefer Sutherland still looks while playing TV’s No. 1 action star, and whether he actually takes the time to tape a fresh version of “events occur in real time” before each season begins. Someday, we intrepid reporter-types will have to take the time to ask him while we’re in the midst of inquiring about future seasons of Fox’s most-anticipated midseason drama (a popular topic for the nation’s TV critics at press tour this month). Until then, please follow along with our handy dandy recaps, coming to you (not so) live each week after the previous night’s thrilling episode. I’ll be your googly-eyed narrator (yep, after watching him for seven seasons, my crush on Sutherland knows no expiration date) so let’s get cracking!

What’s this? A reminder that my beloved FX drama The Shield is no longer on the air? Why, it’s series co-star Benito Martinez (a.k.a. the former David Aceveda to you Farmington Precinct lovers),  currently getting the crap shot out of him by a team of baddies. Injured to all bloody hell, he manages to track down Jack — now kicking it pre-school with his gorgeous granddaughter — to beg for much-needed assistance. It seems that Benito’s Victor Aruz was peripherally involved in a plan to assassinate President Omar Hassan, who’s in New York to negotiate a deal with President Taylor to dismantle his country’s nuclear weapons, and he now needs Jack to save his arse. “You are the guy who always does the right thing!” Victor pleads while bleeding out. But Jack’s retired, man! He just promised to follow his daughter, granddaughter, and son-in-law (Paul Wesley, earning some extra cash while on break from The Vampire Diaries) to Los Angeles. Now Victor wants to pull him back in? “You better not be screwing me!” Jack replies. Okay, that didn’t take much convincing, Bauer, but okay. We’re in. “Who’s the hitter!” he exclaims.

You’ll learn that soon enough, big guy. Back at the United Nations, the dapper Hassan (played by the wonderful Anil Kapoor, who really should go by the name of Fantastic Sam because of his incredible head of hair) seems a tad too eager to close the deal — and we’re not just talking about his plan to eliminate the nukes back home. Turns out he can’t wait to give the mother-of-all exclusives to a sultry reporter named Meredith Reed (played by the sultry Jennifer Westfeldt), and his brother Farhad is worried about how it may look. And it’s not looking good, indeed; when Meredith is delayed in meeting with the president, we see her talking to someone on the phone about “being behind schedule” but she will “get it done.” Yikes!

Meanwhile, it didn’t take long before Jack was ringing up his old buddy Chloe — now pulling her hair out at the new CTU under the maddeningly arrogant Brian Hastings — to orchestrate a pickup for him and Victor somewhere in the city. Looks like Freddie Prinze Jr., as agent Cole Ortiz, is fast on his way to becoming the new Chase in Jack’s life; he’s the guy sent to pick up Jack and Victor but he isn’t able to block the missile that proceeds to knock out Victor for good. If only Hastings would have listened to Cole and agreed to secure the area with more men, more drones! Cole’s gonna have to have a word with Hastings about this! And the man behind the missile? He looks to be our first official series villian – a guy who plays like he’s a motorcycle-riding policeman named Mike Farmer but he’s really a Russian dude named Davros (Doug Hutchison) who looks to be the point man in charge of offing Hassan.  (I do like that actor Hutchison, but dang if his bottom lip doesn’t look like its stuffed with cotton.)

By the end of the first two hours, Hastings and his crack team of know-it-all computer geeks (which includes Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff as Dana Walsh, standing a little too stiff for fear her hair will move off a shoulder) are convinced that Meredith is heavily involved in the assassination plan. While she’s tied up to a lie detector test looking scared out of her skull, Davros is now shooting the leg of another cop’s wife to insure that he’s on security detail when Hassan leaves the UN. Me thinks someone is sniffing in the wrong direction! Fortunately, Chloe is already one step ahead of the coworkers she seems to abhor and has now dispatched Jack to Davros.

I could go on about this mysterious convict in Dana’s life who has now reappeared and threatens to expose her past life (was she Bonnie to his Clyde?) but there’s plenty of time for that tomorrow when I’ll return to this space for more breathless recapping! Until then, regale us with your thoughts, 24 Popwatchers! Did Jack jump on board the crazy train too quickly? Is Hastings a tad too predictable as an obstructionist supervisor who prevents Jack from kicking butt? Are you as giddy as I am that Bauer is back and are already fully invested for another wild ride?

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