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24
Season Two

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Kiefer Sutherland, Elisha Cuthbert, Sarah Wynter, Xander Berkeley, Carlos Bernard, Dennis Haysbert
Directors:  Various
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  See Review
Length:  1064 Minutes
Release Date:  September 2, 2003

“It's not how you thought it would end, is it, Jack?”

“This isn't over yet.”

Show ****

What a difference a day makes…24 little hours was all it took to renew my faith in television.

Most people who know me know I'm not a TV person.  When asked about my favorite shows, I invariably mentioned classics like All in the Family, The Twilight Zone, or The Honeymooners.  The problem was, during my most opinion nursing years, television was bad.  Very bad.

In recent years, it got better, but not enough to win me back.  Friends told me to watch episodes of shows like Will and Grace, E. R., Ally McBeal and others.  I saw a few.  I was impressed, but ultimately, I thought television would never be as satisfactory a storytelling medium as film.  Reducing everything to restricted time slots and making way for station breaks and such seemed like no way to convey an idea to me.

Then along came 24.

The first season brought a revolutionary new concept to the airwaves:  a real-time drama that would take place over the course of a single day; 24 hour long episodes.  I found the experiment intriguing, but I didn't tune in.  Soon, everyone was talking about how great the program was, and I was intrigued enough to submit.  But how could I?  How do you walk into the middle of a daylong story that had already half unfolded?

That was when Fox had a stroke of genius that paid off.  Their next revolutionary idea was to release the entire first season to home video BEFORE letting the show go into syndication.  Many thought it was a bad business decision.  It wasn't.  People who were intrigued by the word-of-mouth now had a chance to ingest the entire first season in increments as big as they could handle.  As a result, by the time season two rolled around, people were primed…and glued to their sets like never before.

That first season was an unqualified success in every way imaginable.  So much so, that I often wondered aloud if the creative team could possibly duplicate their triumph in year two.  They didn't.

They surpassed it.

If I thought the first year was terrific television, I have to say that I thought (and think) season two is an absolute apex in the history of the medium.  There's no hyperbole here…it's difficult to put into words just what a work of sheer and utter brilliance 24 became in its second year.  It was the same perfect blend of writing, acting, directing and camerawork as before, just better on all counts.  It boldly expanded the scope of its story, making the stakes higher, the playing field larger, and the characters more desperate.

And therein lies my heartache.  I want SO much to tell you about this season and my exhilarating experience with it.  But to do so would undermine the ability of those who haven't seen it to lose themselves in it as I did, and to hang on every juicy twist, every plot point, every moment of unbearable suspense and every powerful stroke of drama.  There's so much at play here that I could easily tell you about just a couple of aspects of the season I found brilliant, but even that would be a vicious crime.

So I have to lay down only the groundwork and let you, dear readers, do the rest.  But be warned…if you haven't even seen the first season, then skip to the next section, because I can't move ahead with at least a partial recap of the year before.

At the end of that year, Federal Agent Jack Bauer (Sutherland) managed to stave off an assassination attempt against presidential candidate Senator David Palmer (Haysbert).  But he wasn't able to save his own wife when a double agent on staff at his Counter Terrorist Unit revealed herself.

As season two opens, it's a year later.  David Palmer is now president.  Jack Bauer has been away from CTU during that time.  His daughter Kim (Cuthbert) has become estranged from him because of that horrible day that ended with her mother's death.  She now lives with a family and works for them as a nanny.

But a terrorist threat kicks off a new 24 hours for Jack when the president learns that a nuclear bomb is set to go off in Los Angeles that very day.  Because he had dealings with the group that's suspected, he's the only hope the city has of averting a catastrophe.  Yes, friends…Jack's back.

The story grows from that simple seed into an unwinding series of complications, revelations and surprises.  You'll meet new faces, like that of Kate Warner (Wynter), and discover how her sister's wedding unravels into international intrigue.  You'll follow familiar faces, too, like Kim, who remains television's loveliest young damsel in distress when a crisis erupts with her employing family.  And Jack's CTU comrades are back, including Tony Almeda (Bernard) and boss George Mason (Berkeley), who becomes one of the day's most engrossing side stories. 

This cast is first rate, taking terrific material and elevating it by investing their characters with heart.  I was pleased to see Michelle Forbes come on as Palmer's press secretary Lynne…she's been a favorite of mine since her stint as Ensign Rho on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Sarah Wynter is a great find as well.  There are even a couple of returning faces you might not be expecting, but ones who will play a pivotal role in the unfolding drama.

The most striking aspect of this season is the frequent and unflinching forays into the darker side of humanity.  We're not just talking about terrorists setting off a bomb…we're talking about characters being driven by desperation into unthinkable acts.  Even the good guys show darker sides when up against the wall.  It's sometimes horrifying, often unsettling, and yet, completely true and impossible to look away from. 

The real time action mostly works, although I don't think the creators were as unflinching with it as they were the year before.  Occasionally, there's a sequence that doesn't flow, like one where Jack and his staff are outside a building after an operation, then commercial break, then they're up in an airplane.  Nobody gets to a plane and airborne in just 4-5 minutes.  But these are few and far between; for the most part, the concept of real time, though pliable, is still dramatically effective.

There's not much else I can say except that year two of 24 is a season of almost unimaginable brilliance.  Everything works to perfection, with people we care about and a story that leaves us constantly hungry for more.  My day with this series was a day well spent, and for the first time in my life, I believe television to be as capable as movies of being a complete, thorough, and satisfying entertainment experience to engage your mind, touch your heart, and rattle your nerves. 

Oh, just one more thing…where is Kiefer Sutherland's Emmy for Best Actor??

Video ***1/2

I'm guessing that because the first season was such a hit on DVD, Fox endeavored to do everything even better the second time around.  The anamorphic transfers are all striking in color and detail, maintaining integrity even in most low light situations (and of course, there is 12 hours of darkness at play).  Only one or two brief scenes seemed to show a bit of extra grain and softness, but considering the amount of material in this set, those are minor complaints.  The fact that Fox gives this show anamorphic widescreen transfers for disc is proof of their commitment to quality with the program.

Audio ****

WOW!  A 5.1 audio track makes a good thing even better, especially when mixed as fully and boldly as these episodes are.  I was pleasantly surprised when I popped the first disc in and realized that Fox had put forth the extra effort in this department.  Everything from busy scenes at CTU to action sequences in the field are made livelier by the rear stage…don't feel bad if you look over your shoulder from time to time thinking that's YOUR phone; I did it once or twice.  The dynamic range is strong, and the subwoofer adds an extra dimension of foreboding with the music and sound effects.  Crossovers are smooth and clean, dialogue is clear and consistent…this is a tremendous offering.

Features ****

Fox also went the extra mile in the features department.  Each disc has extras, and there's a bonus seventh disc of nothing but features.  There are 44 deleted scenes in all; you can watch them as you go with the episode discs, or watch them altogether on disc seven with optional commentary by the creators.  Each disc also has one episode commentary, and over the course of the show, most everyone gets their turn.  The best of the bunch is actually the first one, as actors Carlos Bernard, Sarah Wynter and Michelle Forbes seem to have the most fun making the track and with one another…it's an entertaining listen.  I don't want to tell you who participates in a couple of the commentaries because it might give away a surprise or two, but I will say that Kiefer Sutherland, Dennis Haysbert and Xander Berkeley are also on board, as well as some of the show's writers and directors.  They all recorded their commentary while making season three, so they frequently refer to the set building and activity going on around them.

In addition to all deleted scenes, there are three featurettes, one on production, one on post-production, and one on the behind the scenes of making one of the season's most explosive action sequences.  There is also a multi angle presentation of a key interrogation scene.  Just don't tune in to the extras before you watch the series…in fact, don't even read the booklet that comes with it until afterward, just to be safe.  Then enjoy the features package to your heart's content.

Summary:

I never thought modern television could compete with the classics of the past, but 24 has proven me wrong not once, but twice.  Season two truly is one of the very best offerings to ever grace the small screen.  To watch it is to feel like you're participating in television history.  This is by far the best show on the air right now, and this terrific and attentive DVD release is a perfect way to either experience it for the first time or to relive it.  Highest recommendation.

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