- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2007

Jack’s back

Jack Bauer needs a day off in the worst way.

The indestructible hero of Fox’s “24” no sooner gets sprung from a Chinese prison in the show’s season opener than he’s back on the job chasing terrorists.

We wouldn’t have it any other way.

“24’s” sixth season begins with four episodes spread over two nights (8 to 10 p.m. Sunday and Monday) before reclaiming its 9 p.m. Monday slot the following week on Jan. 22. Unlike last year, the first two hours seem more like a mood piece rather than a jolt of pure adrenaline. They’re also among the weaker episodes of the series, with hackneyed dialogue and spastic pacing.

When we last left “24,” Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) had just saved the day again before being dragged off to a Chinese prison. In season four, he invaded the country’s embassy and accidentally killed a Chinese national, and by the end of last season (number five) the Chinese government had caught up with him.

It’s been roughly 20 months since then (in “24” time), and Jack is being set free as part of a complicated exchange the U.S. government hopes will stop a string of terrorist attacks on our soil.

Longtime “24” fans should be concerned right from the start. Why, they may wonder, is the government negotiating with terrorists?

Meanwhile, the new President Palmer (D.B. Woodside, portraying the brother of Dennis Haysbert’s President David Palmer, who was offed in season five) is far less regal than his predecessor.

Still, if you stick with the series’ four-hour season opener, you’ll be encouraged by what lies ahead. New cast member Peter MacNicol — best known as the nose-whistling lawyer John Cage on “Ally McBeal” — grounds the fantastic material with some brilliant line readings. He’s been gone from episodic TV for much too long.

His character supports rounding up Arab Americans to prevent future attacks, launching “24’s” clumsy attempt to debate the proper balance between freedom and security in an open society. Similarly, President Palmer’s sister (played by Regina King of “Ray”) gets bogged down in an American Civil Liberties Union-style battle over personnel files.

Far less predictable, though, is the state Jack finds himself in. He endured months of torture without so much as uttering a syllable that could help his interrogators, and he’s still haunted by the ordeal.

“I don’t know how to do this anymore,” Jack says at one point. Heck, he can’t even torture a suspect properly during one sequence. Is the world upside down?

Good thing the masterminds behind “24” still keep us on the edge of our seats, even if we have to suffer through some inane workplace drama surrounding Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub), whose prickly behavior is now wearing thin.

However, by the final hour, it’s no surprise that we’re hooked. “24” remains raucous entertainment — albeit not for the faint of heart.

Christian Toto

‘Losers’ sought

Could you be the next “Biggest Loser”?

If you’re game, you can find out Sunday at Jillian’s restaurant/video game arcade (333 Waterside Drive) in Norfolk, one of seven cities nationwide that will host an open casting call for the NBC reality hit.

With its fifth season approaching, “The Biggest Loser” is seeking potential contenders who are outgoing, charismatic, candid and at least 18 years of age. According to a posting on accesshollywood.com, candidates “should be ready to make their weight-loss dreams a reality, in addition to possessing personality, desire and a competitive edge.”

Sunday’s casting call at Jillian’s — a curious location choice for “Loser” wannabes since its menu includes double jalapeno bacon cheeseburgers, buffalo wings and other high-calorie delights — is from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The show’s casting teams guarantee the first 500 persons in line will be seen — however, people won’t be allowed to line up prior to three hours before the start of the open call.

‘Rome,’ ‘Extras’ return

Two original HBO series return Sunday night: “Rome” at 9, followed by “Extras” at 10.

“Rome’s” second season opener picks up with the aftermath of Julius Caesar’s (played by Ciaran Hinds) murder and promises a fresh take on the oft-told tale of Antony and Cleopatra, say the show’s producers. In all, there are 10 episodes in “Rome’s” second — and likely final — season.

“Extras’ ” second season may also be its last. Creators of “The Office’s” British version, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, return as a movie extra with big ambitions and his ineffectual agent.

Those tuning in for the first time can now catch up with “Extras: The Complete First Season,” released on DVD earlier this week. Bonuses include a featurette about the difficulty of following up a success like “The Office,” plus deleted scenes and outtakes.

Lopez doing ‘Extra’ duty

“Dancing With the Stars” heartthrob Mario Lopez will be joining Dayna Devon and Mark McGrath on “Extra” as a daily correspondent, reports TMZ.com. And he’ll also co-host the weekend edition of the syndicated entertainment show alongside District native Tanika Ray.

Mr. Lopez, 33, makes his “Extra” debut Monday on the red carpet at the Golden Globes Awards, airing live on NBC.

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse and Kelly Jane Torrance from staff and Web reports.

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