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TV: Damien Love on this week's TV...including return of 24

"The following takes place between 11:06AM and 12:00PM..." For devoted 24ers, it's this muttered statement, six minutes into the hammerheaded American espionage show's comeback, that will have them punching the air.

Wednesday, May 7

24: Live Another Day

9pm, Sky1

Most cult TV shows have theme tunes fans can whistle, hum and generally have a good time with. 24, though, has never gone in for groovy music. One of the ways the programme avoids facing how funny it is, is by refusing to have any fun at all, even when it's being completely hysterical. Which, in this new series, is every second scene. In place of an iconic tune to set the spines of the faithful tingling, then, we have instead to wait for that moment when everything goes black, and Kiefer Sutherland, as if with buttocks clenched like flinty rocks, squeezes out those familiar, anthemic old lines. That's when you really feel it. Jack's Back.

It's four years since Sutherland last went prowling, Glock stiff in his hands, as the scarred but indestructible Jack Bauer, scourge of subtlety, in the mildly insane eighth season that ended with him, yet again, branded traitor and forced to disappear underground. In this resurrection, he pops back up in London, a little older, a little exactly the same in every other way, just as the American President arrives. The local CIA, who have brought with them a handy replica of the old CTU headquarters, are in a panic: can Jack's return be mere coincidence?

From here, it's the familiar 24 holding pattern. Jack goes after bad sorts, while squabbling American intelligence agents go after him, not realising he's RIGHT, dammit. Between scenes of everybody explaining what's going on, a cliffhanger arrives roughly every six minutes.

It clunks along fast, but that doesn't disguise how dated it looks. 24 was never as cutting edge as its boosters claimed, but the first two series were seriously addictive. Wrong-footed by its own dunderheaded sense of relevancy post-9/11, though, the show dropped the popcorn ball, and has grimly been playing catch-up ever since. The Bourne movies gave it a serious scare, then Homeland changed the game for paranoid spy shows, before going fatally off the boil itself. Ruling that field currently is The Americans, which makes this new 24 seem like something written by 15-year-olds after binging on the old box-sets, while playing Call Of Duty.

Those 15-year-olds, though, might at least have ripped off some more contemporary cool stuff. As it is, 24 goes running after things we've left behind. Crammed into the British setting, it's like watching an old band reform to play smaller venues, then getting the old songs wrong by tarting them up with "new sounds" that are already pretty hackneyed. Look at that title, winking after a Bond movie from 12 years ago. Or the whole bit about CTU's former geek boffin, Chloe O'Brian, now working with Assange-style "freedom hackers", for which they've forced actress Mary Lynn Rajskub to Goth up like The Girl With The Unconvincing Tattoo. It's a bit 2009.

And yet. It's Jack Bauer, crunching around, battering folk, doing his loud-quiet-loud whisper-shout. There is an undeniable, brain-pummelling, security blanket aspect about just switching off and easing back into the sheer, daft, mindless, over-serious rhythm. I fear I'll keep watching. Even if only to see whether Sutherland finally cracks, and actually changes his facial expression.

Sunday, May 4

In The Flesh

10pm, BBC Three

There has been a lot of dreck on BBC Three, but as soon as it was announced that the Beeb was axing the channel from TV, people started remembering how many decent (or, at least, popular) programmes its young-and-bolshy remit gave birth to: Little Britain, Being Human, Gavin And Stacey. Returning for a second series, this supernatural drama from writer Dominic Mitchell is another on the pro-Three side of the scales. It's a zombie show, but steals a trick from vampire hit True Blood, with the idea of a serum that can stop the undead from stumbling around eating brains, allowing them to live side-by-side with "normal" humanity, in an atmosphere of mistrust and resentment. The whole thing has a very British feel. Luke Newberry stars as Kieran, a young zombie - or, as the new jargon has it, PDS (Partially Deceased Syndrome) sufferer - reunited with his family in their rundown rural town, and longing to leave. The official line is that the living and the undead can exist happily together, but, as we begin, local tensions and bigotry are about to reignite.

Monday, May 5

Prey

9pm, STV

One of the bizarre rewards of this daft but tasty wrong man thriller is the chance to see Rosie Cavaliero - a performer whose career to date offered very few clues that this was coming - stepping out as an action woman, engaging in gritty, frantic foot-chases, scaling high fences and getting punched in the face. As an extra bonus, her character, DI Reinhardt, also does creepy stalker stuff on her ex-husband and his new family. You go, girl! Meanwhile, her prey, cop-turned-wrongly-accused-murder-suspect Farrow (John Simm), flees just out of her reach through Manchester, trying to track the shabby fiends who slaughtered his wife and child, and clear his name. But with conspiracy on the wing, who can he trust? No, don't trust that one! It's implausible and predictable, but the cast and crew keep it moving so fast you barely care: a Bourne movie with the budget of Cannon and Ball's Boys In Blue.

Tuesday, May 6

Happy Valley

9pm, BBC One

The idea of Sarah Lancashire and Siobhan Finneran playing sisters is a pretty great one, but, if it's only going to happen once, I'm not sure Sally Wainwright's grim and glum drama is really the programme I'd have picked for it. The cast is tremendous, with some beautifully nuanced work from Lancashire. But there's something lacking. I miss the spark of the unpredictable and the offbeat that made something like Rose and Maloney. Lancashire's underrated double act with Phil Davis, such an unexpected delight, Still, Wainwright keeps it moving and always watchable, balancing a grubby little case-of-the-week (tonight, some odious drug dealers in an ice-cream van) with the unspooling events surrounding the ongoing kidnapping case. The victim, Ann, remains tied up in a derelict basement, as her captors begin to fall out - and then the police show up outside...

Thursday, May 7

Blurred Lines: The New Battle Of The Sexes

9.30pm, BBC Two

Is there a poisonous new strain of misogyny in the air? That's the fundamental question Kirsty Wark poses in this essay. Taking a handful of recent examples - online abuse hurled at women in the public eye, such as historian Mary Beard; bomb threats sent to campaigners agitating for more female faces on bank notes; the sexually explicit portrayal of women in music videos; a trend in rape jokes - Wark charts how an apparent rise in vicious sexism has developed along with the rise of the online world. Dressing sexism up in wink-wink irony began with the Lads Mags of the 1990s, but Wark explores whether we've reached the stage where a new generation is emerging unable to tell the difference between misogyny and liberation, offensive attitudes and "harmless fun". To explore the issues, she talks with academics, campaigners and comedians, and also meets with teens in a sex education class, as they discuss the influence of porn, the pressures they face and the behaviour they experience.

Friday, May 8

The Trip To Italy

10pm, BBC Two

And so The Trip ends, not with a bang, not quite with a whisper, but with a lingering, nicely inconsequential fade out: that feeling of something that seemed important having almost happened, that you're already beginning to forget. Rob Brydon's dream of visiting Sicily evaporates as the pair change plans, to instead head for Naples, where Steve Coogan will meet his son, flying in along with his very pregnant PA Emma - there's a whole poignant little subtext about parents and children going on by the end, as the whole thing fades away in the haze of the ancient sun. This series perhaps hasn't gone quite as deep as the first, but it's been more ravishingly widescreen, and still has about two hundred times as many layers as your average sitcom. I could watch Brydon and Coogan reuniting to go through this stuff every few years, until they are at least old as Roger Moore is now. So long as they still do the Roger Moore impressions, of course. Come back for another Trip one day, please.

Saturday, May 9

Eurovision Song Contest 2014

8pm, BBC One

Some measure out their lives with coffee spoons. Others by giggling, and then just staring, with a growing, hollow, empty feeling, at the horrendous, funny, shouty music competition full of foreigners as it rolls around every year, as regular and melancholy as autumn. Yes, somehow, it's that time again, and so we're off to gentle Copenhagen in the company of Graham Norton's commentary, for the 59th contest. Molly Smitten-Downes is flying the British flag with Children Of The Universe, best described as more of that awful drummy Lion King music stuffed with phony you-are-a-special-snowflake optimism. All eyes, though, are turned to the Austrian entry, Conchita Wurst, popularly known as "the drag queen with a beard", with her Bond-theme-esque power ballad Rise Like A Phoenix. If you want to melt your mind in a cultural fry-up tonight, try flicking back and forth between this and BBC Four from 9pm, as there's a celebration of Alan Bennett's 80th birthday over there, featuring an interview with the great man and a couple of episodes of Talking Heads.

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