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Lifestyle

Here's the 411 for confused '24' fans

Don't ask me about Fox's coming "Bachelorettes in Alaska." As your "24" guru, however, I serve at your pleasure.

A friend called the morning after Tuesday's finale of our favorite Fox series, all upset that she somehow forgot to watch. Talk about irresponsible. When she pleaded for an update, I decided to have some fun and feed her something ludicrous.

"It turns out that Kim is Sen. Palmer's illegitimate daughter," I lied.

"OK," she replied, accepting that as plausible in a series whose exotic plot perversions became legendary in its turbulent first season.

Even those who did see Tuesday's episode needed my help, and e-mails immediately poured in asking for guidance. So I took a few days to study the tape, stroke my chin and carefully weigh its nuances and implications.

Yes, yes, I'll get to poor Teri shortly. But first the good news: Upstanding David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) went almost berserk, giving seething comeuppance to his scheming witch of a wife, Sherry (Penny Johnson Jerald), saying he no longer wanted any part of her. All right!

Not that we've necessarily seen the last of Sherry. I see her returning next season as an Irish terrorist.

The Drazens were history, meaning Dennis Hopper's Serbspeak is no longer available for comic relief.

Terrorist hussy Nina Myers (Sarah Clarke) was affirmed as the vicious mole inside CTU, and was finally on ice after blowing away some of her fellow feds and YOU KNOW WHO.

Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) had to be restrained from executing his former lover on the spot, relenting only after she blurted out that she worked for someone other than Victor Drazen (Hopper). If so, her new boss is surely someone much more insidious than Drazen.

I'm betting on Martha Stewart.

Now the bad news ...

Jack Bauer's grating daughter, Kim (Elisha Cuthbert), survived. She was safely in tow at the government's Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) after her underwater Houdini trick liberated her from the Drazen gang. However, she remains ripe for additional abductions next season.

As the father of a former teenager, I know the turf. But is Kim a load or what?

Her multiple abductions this season brought to mind a bit from Woody Allen's old stand-up act about him being kidnapped as a kid. It goes roughly like this:

The kidnappers send Woody's mother and father a ransom note. But his parents' habitually read only in bed when they turn in for the evening. So that's when they read the ransom note, inevitably falling asleep before reaching the end.

Naturally it takes them several nights to get through the note. When they finally do read it all, they send the kidnappers the ransom, but with another note: Here's the money, keep the kid.

Now, the big moment: The season ended with Jack devastated, cradling his bloody wife, Teri (Leslie Hope), in his arms after finding her shot dead by Nina, who had taken her prisoner. Yet this series, after all, found a way for Kim to survive after the car she was sitting in rolled off a mountain and burst into flames.

So the big question: Is Teri really dead?

"Coma! Definitely a coma!"

That comes from my wife, who (at my urging) watched "24" for the first time Tuesday and concluded that Teri is barely alive and will resurface next season, rendered comatose by her critical wounds.

Amnesia followed by a coma. I like it. If Teri is unconscious next season, abducting her will be that much easier.

Because this is an in-depth analysis, I called Stan Rosenfield, whose Los Angeles public relations firm represents Hope. We were fraternity brothers in college. So I planned to shoot him the secret password and beg him to give me the scoop, for old time's sake, on whether Hope is returning to "24" next season.

But Rosenfield, possibly fearing terrorist reprisals if he spoke to me, was said to be out of the office.

It's obvious that, unlike much of prime time, "24" is not a series you can easily put behind you. I'm now getting e-mails noting the odds against Hope's Teri and Clarke's Nina both returning to the series because the actresses look too much alike. Others are saying that Nina went bad after she stopped using a Mac (I didn't pick up on that).

As for the future, e-mailer Robert Levinson has a droll thought. With "Ally McBeal" now history, he suggests casting Calista Flockhart as an ally of Jack's and renaming the series "24-22-24."

Or ... maybe not. If you really want to know how the second season will begin, gather around once more, my followers. Here is my prediction:

Jack awakens in a sweat, shaken and still sobbing about the fate of his beloved Teri, only to realize that the show's entire first season has been a terrible dream.

"What is it?" asks the woman beside him in bed. When she turns toward him, we see her face. It's Nina.

Now get out of here, and don't bother the "24" guru again until this fall.

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