24 - Season Three

With its high action and continual suspense and mystery, “24” is an absolute treat as far as television shows go. While its cliffhanger endings make awesome viewing to draw you in each week, the show is best viewed on DVD, where the entire season can be gorged upon like a holiday meal. Here comes Season Three of “24”. As a series, “24” follows Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), a field agent for the Los Angeles CTU (Counter Terrorism Unit) of the United States Government. Each season is made up of 24 episodes, one for each hour in the day. Events occur in “real time”, which means no slow motion or jumping a few hours ahead. This means utilizing multiple cameras in the same display or multiple camera angles to capture what needs to be shown, especially as events occur in multiple places at the same time. Each story has to be scripted within the confines of that hour of Jack’s life, and each season is a dynamic story arc, where events from one episode most definitely can and will affect future episodes. All of this adds up to give “24” a unique feel that has earned it much critical acclaim as it has quickly become one of Fox’s top rated shows.

The third season of “24” picks up three years after the day shown in season two. In the interim Jack has picked up a heroin habit, the byproduct of chasing criminal Ramon Salazar (Joaquim de Almeida) who has just been put behind bars. He has also picked up a partner, Chase Edmunds (James Badge Dale), the first of several changes to the CTU staff that aids Jack. Other changes include the promotion of Tony Almeida(Carlos Bernard) to Head of CTU and Tony’s marriage to Michelle Dessler (Reiko Aylesworth), as well as the addition of several other staff members, including Jack’s daughter Kim (Elisha Cuthbert). Putting Kim in the CTU office is the best thing this show has done with her character since she was a troublesome teen in the first season. Season two’s biggest weakness was Cuthbert’s character, who really had no place and nothing to do. Placing her in the CTU office allows her character to have some relevance to the main storyline, and add secondary storylines such as her romantic involvement with Chase.

As always, extremely bad things happen that will cause every character we see to stay up for the 24 hours depicted through the season (just once I’d like to see a character disappear for six or seven episodes as they go away for a good night’s sleep). This season the threat is bioterrorism, and within the first ten minutes a virus infected corpse is left on the steps of the Center for Disease Control. Immediately Jack and company spring into action as the threat leads them back to Salazar, whose brother is demanding be released from prison or will unleashed this viral threat. At the same time, President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) is dealing with his side of this risk, along with his personal ghosts that invariably cause the return of his ex-wife Sherry (Penny Johnson Jerald). However, in Season Three the key word is “deception”, and nothing throughout ends up quite as it first seems in any storyline. To say more would be to spoil the surprises that lie within.

To go into depth on some of the issues of the season also would spoil the shows, so you’ll have to take me at my word if I don’t use examples. The demands of creating a show that takes place in real time finally start to take their toll as Season Three shows stress fractures. For the first time, there are a few inconsistencies in the plots of the episodes, as characters heal serious wounds (or at least aren’t bothered much by them) in a miraculous amount of time. There’s one plotline introduced early on in the season that winds up leading nowhere - a red herring storyline that just makes the audience annoyed for wasting their time. Also, at times the dialog doesn’t work as well as the previous seasons, making for a few “soap opera” type moments as weak plot moments are poorly reinforced by weak dialog. Still, everything this season is heads above the plot that resorted to putting Kim against a mountain lion in Season Two. The few weak moments may bring down “24” as a show, but it still is better than most things on television these days. Still, one can’t help but wonder if these lacking moments of “24” mean the show can only survive this format for so long. “24” is one of those shows that really thrives on the DVD format, when it’s dynamic season spanning storyline can be watched in a marathon, without commercial interruption. Without a week between episodes, the show really does become a 24 hour movie, with a mini-climax at the end of each chapter to draw you into the next episode. If I didn’t have the responsibilities of a job, a family, or other movies to review, I could easily be drawn into watching all 24 episodes back to back. It’s just that good.

The bonus material on this set gets major points with me. The biggest of these extras are 45 deleted scenes from throughout the season. These scenes can be watched with the episode from which they were deleted or on the seventh disc, where all the scenes from all 24 episodes are collected together. If you watch them with the episode you’re in for a treat. Using “branching” technology, the deleted scenes are inserted back into the episode. You can either watch the show without the scenes, or press a button on your remote when the “24” icon shows up on the screen and be taken to the deleted scene that was originally intended to go there, or an alternate version of the scene you’re watching. It’s the next best thing to putting the scenes directly in the episode, and one of the best uses of branching that I’ve seen.

One episode per disc contains commentary by various members of cast, crew, or producers. This is one area where I think this release falls flat. As a 24 hour movie, the commentary should have extended beyond just six episodes. It feels like watching a movie with a partial commentary... and only a partial commentary within that commentary. There are a lot of dead gaps in the episodes that do have commentary, pulling your attention back to the episode and making the commentary feel more like an interruption to what you’re watching. Also, the selection of episodes that received a commentary is questionable. For instance, rather than the first episode where everything is established, or the last episode where everything is resolved, the third episode and the 22nd episodes get commentary (three episodes from the beginning and end). While in both cases these were good episodes, they were no better or worse than any other episode in the series, so I wonder what makes them more important that the beginning or ending of the story.

There are a couple of featurettes that really emphasize how much making “24” is more like making a motion picture than a television show. With its high action moments, the coordination and resources the show has to use is quite impressive and far beyond that of a normal hourlong television show. It’s also not without its share of problems because of that, which is also shown in the featurettes. There’s also a short featurette about real bioterrorism included - a little heavy a subject for this set if you ask me. Let me keep my fantasy by itself. I don’t need to know the real threats behind James Bond movies to enjoy them.

The best of the bonus material, however, is the inclusion of both a promo and teaser for the fourth season of “24”. A teaser for the upcoming season of a television series still on the air is not an uncommon thing. In fact, in this day and age it would almost be a crime not to capitalize on that potential marketing, even if it does date the set’s release a bit. The promo is something new to the world of DVD with this set though. Essentially what they’ve done is created a five to six minute prelude to season four. Through this promo we see a key event in Jack’s life following season 3, and also where he is right before Day Four begins. There’s also a brief introduction to what could be perceived as the adversary for season four. It’s put together like an episode segment too, so with the feel of the regular series, it’s a fantastic peek for a “24” fan. My biggest disappointment will be if they try and tack this on to the beginning of the first episode of the new season. Leave this little tidbit a DVD exclusive!!!

For fans of “24”, this set is another reason why the DVD format rules, but it’s also an awesome way to introduce new people to a show that really pushes what television can (and should) be. With the introduction of Season Four on the DVD, and the branching option for the deleted scenes, the third season of “24” may be one of the best television shows out on DVD.