My 4 stars score is a trade off between what the best seasons of 24 can offer and what competitor shows can offer. My latest ranking of 24 seasons, best to worst would be: 1,2,5,3,7,4,6 which means that season seven is neither great nor terrible compared to the shows history. I felt the need to review this critically as this season was still missing some 24 quality control! (Also I hate people ruining whole seasons of 24 for me, just to suit their sudden burst need to feel superior having seen an episode before you, so I've not divulged any specific plot lines or twists here in case you have not yet seen it)
Against the backdrop of the admittedly badly written series 6, this season had much to live up to, especially given how long it had been since the last season due to the writers strike in the US. After watching it, unfortunately I feel they have still missed out the best things about 24 and carried on some of the worst traditions, This is by no means the worst series but while the writers acknowledged that season 6 was poor, this season supports the fact that they just nodded along without understanding why it was poor.
The season starts in its normal fast paced attempt, with the first scene being a heist, events then unfold that reveal a terrorist situation. CTU is no longer running though thanks to its over controversial methods being picked on by senators and the FBI has taken over these sorts of counter terrorism investigations. There is a new president in the white house, who was inaugurated in the 24:Redemption 2 hour episode. Of course Jack Bauer is central to the series, but we definitely get to see a more human side to him unlike his normal terminator style drive, his humanity was touted for season 3 but this season makes a much better show of it.
Season 1 remains the best as it was the only one to capture the essence of being awake for 24 hours and exhaustion and stress it would really bring. Its slower pace allowed some proper character development. This season like the last just completely failed to address this once again, everyone is as awake by the end as they are at the beginning, including all the FBI staff. Not only is this aspect of the 24 hour real time badly handled, but this season gets slammed with the "Instant Travel" method again, where the writers are trying to cram so much into each episode that they make people travel to Washington destinations in a matter of minutes, the first ten minutes of the season are the perfect example of this, with a super difficult computing/engineering task done within 1 to 2 minutes!
The characters are fairly decent in this season, there are many new members of cast due to the introduction of the FBI and new white house administration. There are very few extremely annoying people who are just irritating and aggravating to watch, the presidents daughter being one of them. There's a few old faces from 24 history, which also highlights that this season like the last few have had consecutive story lines that mean you should have watched the previous seasons before approaching this one or you'll miss out on vital story aspects.
Plot wise this season is a mixed bag, some bits are good but having more than 2 or 3 plot sections in my opinion just trivialised the whole atmosphere and made each bit feel immaterial to the overall picture. While this was better in that regard than season 6 (the worst offender of too many plots), it still had a few too many sudden introductions of new plot lines. Yes they are then fast paced and exciting to watch, my adrenal glands were depleted many times by the end of an episode, but the lost sense of realism is really missed. If tonnes of plot lines are unanimously what the viewers want then the only way I see to feasibly do this, while maintaining some sense of realism, is to remove the 24 hour real time idea, but then frankly that's the most unique selling point about 24!
One thing that annoys me about 24 are pointless deaths, they are a cheap way the writers have found to make an episode as impactful as possible, but overuse in previous seasons has almost rendered this tool lame. This season has a couple but certainly not as bad as some previous seasons. Something I did like in this series were the moments of calm. Not every moment was a chase, which I found a relief, and allowed for some real character development, the FBI agent Renee walker gets a full character development arc running alongside the rest of the story, and isn't just confined to the "lead, chase, new lead, chase again" mechanic.
Overall a decent piece of viewing but a shaky step compared to the strongest seasons. It did not learn effectively from its past mistakes, but still managed to come across competently and entertained none the less. Jacks humanity makes a welcome visit, and the moral backdrop of the whole counterterrorism methods debate provides a rich enough texture to supplement the action. Definitely worth a watch, just don't expect this to trump previous seasons.