During my internet-free week, I took the opportunity to fill up some of the time in my day by watching the entire first season of 24 on DVD. I’d watched the first 7 or so episodes on TV back in the States, then forgot to tape episodes 8 and 9, so the rest of the season seemed kind of pointless.
How wrong I was! 24 is easily the best, most suspenseful and exciting television show I’ve ever seen. (And I used to watch Dallas, too, right up until the whole Bobby-in-the-shower idiocy.) If the Emmys weren’t so rigged it would have easily won best series, best actor, and more supporting actor/actress awards than they’ve got.

For those who don’t know, the title refers to the hours of the day, one very very bad day in the life of Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), former Special Forces soldier and federal agent for the CTU (Counter-Terrorist Unit). Each episode is played out in real time and is titled “1:00 AM”, “2:00 AM”and so forth. Jack and the CTU team has been given intelligence that strongly suggests there will be an assassination attempt made on the life of David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), an African-American Senator running for President within the next, yep, 24 hours.
At the same time Jack’s rebellious daughter Kim (Elisha Cuthbert) has sneaked out of the house. Jack’s wife, Teri (Leslie Hope), goes out onto the streets of Los Angeles to look for her, and soon complications emerge there as well.
The third strand of the storyline is an event in the past that comes back to haunt Senator Palmer, his grown children, and his ferociously ambitious wife Sherry (Penny Johnson Jerald) and makes things even more complicated, impossible as it seems.
I adored this show when it was on TV, and I vowed I’d pick up the DVD to recap what I’d missed. Like potato chips, however, you can’t have just one. One episode turns into two, then three, and soon you’re spending half the day holed up watching nervously to find out what happens next. It’s tremendously exciting. In fact, it’s almost too exciting. When you watch the episodes on TV there’s a week’s rest in between, but on the DVD it’s almost like adrenaline overload to watch more than one episode. You wind up frazzled and tense, much like the characters. I suppose that’s the point. The writing and directing is by necessity tight and smooth. I’d hate to be the continuity person on this show.
Performances are almost all phenomenally good. I’m extremely happy to see that Kiefer Sutherland has gained some much-needed gravitas (something his fellow Brat Packer Charlie Sheen has yet to do) as the put-upon Bauer. Elisha Cuthbert makes a fine Kim, a seemingly average teenager who can draw on unexpected reserves of strength when needed. Dennis Haysbert looks great and acts Presidential, especially when making some excruciatingly difficult decisions in the second 12 hours. As his wife, Penny Johnson Jerald paints a frightening portrait of a virago who will let nothing stand in her path to the White House. Excellent smaller roles are ably filled by Carlos Bernard (a suspicious underling at CTU), Tamara Tunie (a CTU bureaucrat looking to score points with her bosses over Jack’s dead body, literally), and Zach Grenier (a sublimely sleazy political fixer). The two performances I was not enamored with were Sarah Clarke’ as Jack’s right-hand woman, who must play her character as opaquely as possible (for reasons best left unmentioned), and the usually excellent Zeljko Ivanek, whose role as a vengeful Serbian war criminal is left sadly underwritten. (I suppose the writers were too busy with other stuff, understandably.)
I’m also glad they left in the controversial ending. It made the most sense in terms of the characters who caused it to happen, and the alternate happy ending available on the DVD would have rung terribly false.
About the politics of the series: I read someone on a message board saying that it would have been less predictable if they’d made the Palmer character into a black Republican. This is true, but at the same time it’s nice that the political dirty-tricks men and big-money corporate donors in the series are Democrats. For a change.
A few minor complaints about the Australian edition of the DVD set. While the afternoon episodes still bear the on-screen titles and countdown clock of ‘2:00 PM’ and the like, the episodes are labelled on the DVD itself and the box as ’14:00′, “15:00′ and so forth. This causes a bit of confusion. And the extras are terribly skimpy. Having said that, it is surely a sign of the quality of the series and the DVD set that I found something so niggling to complain about. It’s beyond worth it. I’m saving up for Season Two already.