A day in the life of Judge David Johnson would make for excellent television viewing...as long as some creative liberties were taken. For example, instead of eating cereal while watching Hollywood Squares, he could, say, fight robots.
Our reviews of 24: Season One: Special Edition (published June 6th, 2008), 24: Season Two (published October 7th, 2003), 24: Season Four (published January 9th, 2006), 24: Season Five (published January 1st, 2007), 24: Season 6 (published December 4th, 2007), 24: Season 7 (Blu-Ray) (published June 26th, 2009), 24: Season Seven (published June 1st, 2009), and 24: Season Eight (Blu-Ray) (published December 29th, 2010) are also available.
The following takes place from whenever you start reading this review to whenever you finish reading it.
The most unique, riveting, and heart-palpitation-inducing show on TV hits your DVD shelf with the impact of a .40 caliber slug with this, its third season of terrorist-whomping mayhem. 24: Season Three has arrived.
Facts of the Case
Federal agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland, The Lost Boys) had a real bad day once. His family had been kidnapped and a presidential candidate was targeted for assassination. One year later, some dirtbags tried to blow up L.A. with a nuclear bomb, so Bauer had to punch in again. Now it's been three years, Jack's the head of the field ops division of the Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU), and the newest threat facing the United States is even more gruesome than before.
It all begins when a bloodied, crusty dead body shows up, apparently infected with a highly contagious, almost 100% lethal viral strain. Attached to the corpse is an ultimatum: a recently captured drug kingpin, Ramon Salazar (Joaquim de Almeida), must be freed from custody or the virus will be released into the general public. Ramon's brother Hector is though to be behind the plot.
Bauer, the arresting officer, who had spent a year undercover with the Salazars (along the way developing a nasty heroin habit) is suddenly thrust back into the Salazars' world. CTU must try to locate the virus, which may or may not be carried by an unsuspecting kid, while monitoring the volatile situation that surrounds the Salazar brothers. Working with Jack in the field is his partner Chase Edmunds (James Badge Dale); back at CTU, new boss Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard), his wife Michelle Dessler (Reiko Aylesworth), and Jack's cougar-prone daughter Kim (Elisha Cuthbert, The Girl Next Door) are coordinating the intelligence efforts.
Meanwhile President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), caught up in his reelection bid, finds more on his plate than a potential bio-terror outbreak when he's forced into his own ultimatum, this one of the political variety. He gathers to him his closest and most ruthless aids to fight back: his brother Wayne (D.B. Woodside) and his cold and calculating ex-wife Sherry (Penn Johnson Jerald). But when Sherry is involved, trouble always follows.
As the timer ticks down on the viral plot, Jack is forced to seek an alternate solution, the consequence of which would, at best, be a charge of treason, and at worst, a terminal case of being dead. But as is always the case, the real truth behind the plot reveals itself as new players join the scene—some of whom are persons from Jack's past.
I think 24 is the best slice of televised entertainment on the airwaves. It's 24 weeks of movie-quality production values, down-to-the-minute suspense, more twists and turns than a Britney Spears marriage, and one of the most ass-kickingest characters to hit the boob tube. If that's not bang for your buck, what is?
Sure there are episodes that flounder, and plotlines that disappoint, but taken in the context of what the producers put together each season—a cinematic action movie spread over 24 episodes!—these occasional flubs can be forgiven.
Who here hasn't laughed at the contrived troubles that follow the hapless Kim Bauer around? (On an episode commentary track, even Carlos Bernard makes a passing joke about the infamous "cougar scene" in Season Two.) But that's the nature of the beast when you're doing a sprawling drama that takes place in real time. You gotta just fill up space sometimes.
In Seasons One and Two, the most compelling narrative always centered around Jack Bauer. The political trials of David Palmer or the bureaucratic maze that CTU always has to navigate were well done, but it always felt like they were used to give Jack a breather.
It's the same with Season Three.
This isn't an indictment of the writers' ability to craft solid stories for the supporting characters, because they do a good job—particularly in this season, where Palmer was given a meaty problem to face and Kim's goofy misadventures were limited. Plus, the addition of Chase Edmunds, who at first seemed like an N'Sync back-up dancer who wandered off the studio lot, but who later became a nice Bauer-lite badass, added another field ops plotline (which is where the action's at).
No, what it is, is Jack Bauer. Kiefer Sutherland's do-what-it-takes Federal agent seems to be widely recognized as the coolest character on television. No argument here. Like I said, as far as I'm concerned, all the other plotlines are just killing time until Jack takes the stage again.
With each season, the creators push Bauer into hairier circumstances: from his one-against-the-world assault on the Drazens in Season One to his torture and brief death in Season Two. Bauer's commitment to protecting the country is tested even further in this season, which finds him in the middle of a prison break, a game of Russian roulette, facing off against two former friends, and, of course, in the line of lots and lots of gunfire. And because this is 24 you can bank on some Eurotrash making an appearance.
Now, because of the nature of the show, which relies heavily on plot and character twists, I'm going to shy away from specific details. Just know that like its predecessors, this season keeps the narrative and the settings fresh. I've always admired this aspect of 24: the action never grows stale. Jack will find himself in Mexico at one moment, then back at CTU, then running like a crazy person through the streets of L.A.
Without getting into particulars, this season can be broken down into three acts. The first act felt a little too "been-there done-that" at first; it was as if the writers just replaced plot devices—instead of a nuke, it's a deadly virus. But as the plot unfolded, the familiarity subsided. Season Three emerged as its own adventure, and when the third act rolls around, the show has never been better. Never. Seriously, the final eight episodes are just dominant.
Taken as a whole, a superb though occasionally uneven outing for Jack and his pals.
Fox is my favorite distributor of television sets, and they get better as they go. The difference in quality between this set and the Season One offering is gigantic. On the technical end, the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is sharp and well-defined, making it one of the finer TV transfers I've seen. The sound receives a significant upgrade to a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix, which is strong, though, admittedly, not as enveloping as I would have liked.
What really rings my bell is the seventh disc in the set, devoted solely to bonus features. It contains 45 deleted scenes (which are also spread throughout each feature disc), some Season Four promotional stuff (including an F-bomb Jack Bauer!), a multi-angle study, and three featurettes.
The meat of the bonuses is reflected in the featurettes: 24 : On the Loose, Boys and Their Toys, and Biothreat: Beyond the Series. This last extra is a fairly dry, but sometimes interesting, look at the world of contagion, and how the producers developed their own virus for the show. The two other featurettes, however, are killer.
Boys and Their Toys goes in-depth on the process of putting together just one scene, which called for two fighter jets to fly low-level in L.A. airspace. The rigor that was involved in making this one sequence happen is detailed very well, showing how many players are required to bring 24 to the screen.
24: On the Loose just might be the best television series behind-the-scene feature I've seen. It's an unbridled, uncensored peek into high-pressure filmmaking. Watching director Jon Cassar flip out and spew profanity is priceless. Even the extras get a little face time, and an interview with a career "thug" is priceless.
And if that wasn't enough—each disc contains a one-episode commentary track from a mix of cast members (Kiefer Sutherland, Sarah Clarke, Carlos Bernard, James Badge Dale, Reiko Aylesworth, Riley Smith, Mary Lynn Rajskub) and filmmakers (Howard Gordon, Evan Katz, Joel Surnow, Tim Iacofano, Robert Cochran).
High marks all around.
This show is hands-down the most thrilling ride on television. And with this primo set, Fox does it justice. Excellent features, a swell transfer, and a nail-biter of a story add up, once again, to another memorable day.
Not guilty. Lock and load, Jack.
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Scales of Justice
• Cast and Crew Commentary (Selected Episodes)
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