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TELEVISION REVIEW

In its seventh season, '24' still going full throttle

Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) begins the new season of ''24'' on trial, but there is still plenty of action in store. Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) begins the new season of ''24'' on trial, but there is still plenty of action in store. (KELSEY MCNEAL/FOX VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / January 10, 2009
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One of the more fascinating jobs in Hollywood must be casting Fox's "24." You need to carefully select actors who can swing both ways - that is, actors who can be good guys, or bad guys, or bad guys who turn out to be good, or good guys who turn out to be bad. On "24," the landscape of allegiance is forever shifting, and the actors need to be convincing no matter which side of the fence they land on in a given episode.

The show returns for a seventh season tomorrow night at 8 on Channel 25, and once again you'll find yourself wondering whom to trust, scanning every face for the slightest hint of nefariousness. Which one of the White House staffers around new President Taylor (Cherry Jones) is going to betray her? That generic FBI guy in a coat and tie - is he a traitor trying to stop the United States from intervening in a civil war in an African country to stop a genocide?

And that's an essential part of the thrill of "24" - the unpredictable plot twists and character turns that come at you with the constancy and speed of a video game. With two action- packed hours tomorrow night and two more on Monday, the series starts off with its usual mind-blowing gusto intact. But then that's the way it goes every season, isn't it? "24" begins with a bang, and then, somewhere in the early middle of the season, the show loses its intentionality, and pointless subplots emerge, and gratuitous detours trail on. Much as I want to assure you that "24" is back on track after a weak sixth season, I know better. By episode 10, I'll be squirming in my chair.

The promotion around the show is making a big deal of the fact that Jack Bauer (the ever-grunting Kiefer Sutherland) is on trial. He has been brought before a Senate subcommittee for his human rights violations - that is, his extreme interrogation methods - while he was working at CTU. We are meant to think that "24" is somehow going to put its own glorification of torture on trial - a sort of nod to the Obama era. But the story quickly turns back into the "24" we've known all these years, as - (mild spoiler alert) - Jack and his "at all costs" approach once again kick into action with the FBI. In other words, "24" makes a feint toward change, before getting back on the same old mechanical cowboy ride.

As you probably know from the ads - (another small spoiler) - Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) is in fact not dead. In one of those "One Life to Life" absurdities that "24" loves, Tony is miraculously alive, and now - see the evil intensity in his eyes - he is working for the other side. Can Tony out-Jack Jack? Meanwhile, President Taylor's husband, Henry (Colm Feore), is strangely obsessed with the death of a family member, Janeane Garofalo is on hand as a Chloe-like FBI worker, and Chloe herself (Mary Lynn Rajskub) is in the house, too, kind of.

Oh yeah, and Nina's twin sister is in town. OK, I made that last one up.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit www.boston.com/ae/tv/blog.

24 Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Carlos Bernard, Cherry Jones, Kurtwood Smith,

Janeane Garofalo,

Mary Lynn Rajskub

On: Fox, Channel 25

Time: Tomorrow night, 8-10

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