24: The Complete Series (Fox)
Back in Season One, Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland) explained that “It’s just been a really, really long day.” He had no idea. What could have turned into a bland gimmick is worked for all its worth, with ticking clocks and tense cross-cutting creating drama by the very passage of time as federal agents race the clock to track suspects and defuse terrorist plots while breathless pacing, dynamic crosscutting and often outrageous twists keep the show zooming forward episode after episode, season after season. This set collects all eight seasons of 24—that makes it, what, 192?—plus the interim TV movie 24: Redemption for a big box of breathless TV action.
The big box essentially collects the previous releases, each in separate keepcases (some extra-wide, a couple standard size, all packed with hinged trays and multiple discs), in a handsome package, giving the owner the option to keep them boxed up or take them out and line-up up on their shelves library style—a choice that makes this simple design choice more attractive than many of the “clever” but unwieldy creations of past box sets.
Here’s a quick recap: Season One of TV’s solution to the war on terror, starring Keifer Sutherland as maverick FBI Agent Jack Bauer, established the show’s signature style and conceptual gimmicks. There’s enough dense plotting and criss-crossing conspiracy as Bauer weaves his way through an assassination plot around presidential candidate David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), to drive the full season and every episode ends on a cliffhanger or two, though around “late afternoon” the plotting gets a little desperate: a sudden attack of amnesia, for example, or a parked car suddenly pitching down an embankment and exploding in a ball of fire, for no reason other than creating artificial twists. But overall it’s smartly done, tightly designed, and breathlessly paced. One quibble with the title on home video: without commercials it’s actually closer 18 hours.
The original DVD release came out before TV shows became such hot sellers and featured only an introduction by Keifer Sutherland and the dull alternate “happy ending” as supplements. A few years ago (during the season-long hiatus caused by the writer’s strike) Fox re-released the first season with three hours of extras and that edition is in the box set. Five episodes (including the season finale) are expanded with previously deleted footage, and there is newly recorded commentary on the series premiere (by director Stephen Hopkins and director of photography Peter Levy) and the season finale (by Hopkins and actress Leslie Hope). You can hear the distance of six seasons in their strained recollections. The new 24-minute featurette “The Genesis of 24” is more illuminating. Also features 25 extended/deleted scenes and two online short films from “The Rookie” series. Seven discs in a paperboard bookleaf case packaged in a hinged metal tin. One note: even with the additional footage, it still runs closer 18 hours without commercials.
At the risk of spoilers, Jack ended the first season a widower and when he returns a year later in Season Two, his daughter (eternal damsel in distress Elisha Cuthbert, the show’s only glaring time killer) still won’t talk to him, but that’s just the set-up. Any reunion will have to wait for him to stop a terrorist bomb from detonating in Los Angeles, and President Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) is counting on him to find the bad guys and sort out truth from subterfuge in the tangled conspiracy he uncovers. Sutherland signed on as a producer for this second 24-hour go round and brings a dark edge of ruthless determination to his character that’s apparent from the first episode. As with the first season, there are plenty of opportunities for heroism from the CTU unit (Xander Berkeley dignifies his best moment on TV with touching restraint) and villainy from the forces against them (including the return of traitor Nina Myers, played by Sarah Clarke). The conspiracy reaches the highest levels of government, which turns the final hours into a drama as compelling and more inspired than the nuclear threat that drives the first half of the show. Tightly designed, breathlessly paced, and if anything even more smartly done than the first season (with the exception of Elisha Cuthbert’s dim-witted heroics and wilderness misadventures with a mountain lion and a survivalist kook). There’s commentary on six episodes, 44 deleted scenes with optional commentary and an option to shuffle them back into the show with branching video, multi-angle studies and three featurettes.
He’s back in Season Three, racing to stop a viral outbreak in Los Angeles, and his master plan includes breaking a vicious drug lord (Joaquim de Almeida) out of prison and back into Mexico. And this killer has a mole at CTU. But as in the previous seasons, that’s merely prologue to the thriller that arises from this situation. Dennis Haysbert is President David Palmer, deep in a campaign for re-election, Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) is now the head of CTU, with his wife Michelle Dressler (Reiko Aylesworth) as his trusted second, the eternally annoying daughter Kim now works in the building, and Jack has a tough, ambitious young partner, Chase (James Badge Dale), who is secretly dating Kim, but there’s a big complication added this time around: Jack is trying to kick a heroine habit. The ruthless Nina Myers (Sarah Clarke) is back once again and future CSI: New York investigator Vanessa Ferlito is memorable as de Almeida’s wife. There’s commentary on six episodes, 45 deleted scenes and the featurettes 24: On the Loose (a 32-minute documentary that tracks the logistics, the blocking, and the shooting of a few key scenes), Boys and Their Toys (on the pyrotechnic effects of an exploding helicopter), and Biothreat: Beyond the Series (a quite compelling look at the science behind the fiction, and a confessional of where fiction is brought in when science won’t serve the dramatic purpose).
In Season Four, former CTU agent Jack Bauer is serving as head of security to the Secretary of Defense (William Devane) until a terrorist strike on American soil and the kidnapping of his boss thrusts him back into the center of yet another crisis—this one involving potential nuclear strike on America’s largest cities and an attack on the President—and his actions come at the cost of his relationship with the new love of his life (Kim Raver). Mary Lynn Rajskub returns as the socially handicapped CTU agent Chloe O’Brian and Oscar nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo co-stars in the first half of the season (their performances are series highlights), Alberta Watson is the head of CTU, Carlos Bernard and Reiko Aylesworth return as Tony Almeida (disgraced from his last season actions) and Michelle Dessler and Dennis Haysbert is even back as former President David Palmer, called in to advise a weak-kneed Vice-President thrust into command. Best of all, Elisha Cuthbert is nowhere to be seen! Supplements include commentary on select episodes, an exclusive “prequel” bridging seasons Four and Five, 39 deleted scenes (with optional commentary), four behind-the-scenes featurettes and all 24 one-minute episodes originally produced for mobile phones
The former CTU agent faked his death at the end of Season Four. Season Five opens on a new life for Jack Bauer that comes under fire the same day that the former President (Dennis Haysbert) is assassinated and Bauer’s former comrades are attacked. It’s the start of a conspiracy that begins with Soviet separatist terrorists (led by Julian Sands) and can be traced all the way up to the President (Emmy nominee Gregory Itzin). Mary Lynn Rajskub returns as the socially handicapped CTU agent Chloe O’Brian, Jean Smart earned an Emmy nomination as the First Lady, Peter Weller has his best role in ages as a former agent turned conspirator, Sean Astin is a by-the-book official who compromises CTU security, and other co-stars include Kim Raver, Carlos Bernard, James Morrison, Roger R. Cross, Reiko Aylesworth, Jude Ciccolella, Sandrine Holt, DB Woodside, Geraint Wyn Davies, Stephen Spinella, and Louis Lombardi as Edgar Stiles. But it was Sutherland who went home with the gold this season: he won his first Emmy Award for Best Actor.
Season Six opens with Jack Bauer returning home from the hell of twenty months in a Chinese prison and is plunged into the middle of a terrorist conspiracy when a nuclear weapon is detonated in Los Angeles and he’s CTU’s last, best hope to stop the rest of the rogue weapons from being unleashed. In this case, it means taking on his brother (Paul McCrane) and his father (James Cromwell), a real ruthless pair. DB Woodside takes the reigns as the new President with Peter MacNicol as his chief advisor and Powers Boothe as his scheming VP, while James Morrison holds down the fort at CTU with Mary Lynn Rajskub, Roger Cross, Eric Balfour, Carlo Rota, and Rick Schroder on his side. The show is as tense as ever, even as it pushes the weekly cliffhangers into increasingly unbelievable twists. Commentary on twelve episodes, bonus scenes on as many, an alternate ending to the season, featurettes, webcast diaries, and other supplements.
The long writer’s strike led to abbreviated seasons across the board at the networks. That wasn’t an option for 24, which by design runs 24 episodes each and every season and plays out straight through without breaks for reruns. So they skipped the 2007-2008 season and bridged the hiatus with the TV-movie 24: Redemption, with Bauer alive and brooding and hiding out in Africa, risking his life and freedom to save a group of orphaned boys from militia units rising up in a violent coup. It keeps to the classic “real time” gimmick as it bounces between Africa and the politicking back in the U.S. as a new American president (Cherry Jones) prepares to take the oath of office, and essentially lays the groundwork of new characters for the season to come. Features commentary, two featurettes and an extended version that runs ten minutes longer.
Bauer has had some bad days but the twenty four-hours of Season Seven are arguably his worst yet: He starts the morning investigate by a congressional committee for torture and ends up facing domestic terrorists while slowly dying from a biological attack. In between he helps the FBI, goes rogue with a Scooby Gang of former CTU agents (including Carlos Bernard as Tony Almeida and Mary Lynn Rajskub as fan favorite Chloe O’Brian) working outside the intelligence community, battles a truly audacious assault on the White House and takes on the show’s equivalent of Blackwater as it engages in domestic terrorism. It’s still full of the crazed twists, shady endgames and wild card intrigues while blithely making the case for torture as a legitimate intelligence tool (easily the show’s greatest fiction). But if can roll with all of that, it’s as good as the series has ever been. Jon Voight and Will Patton make fine guest villains, Cherry Jones is the president, Janeane Garofalo gets to play the impotent liberal voice decrying the trampling of American civil rights, and even the return of his daughter (Elisha Cuthbert) is mostly bearable. The effect of the season-long break caused by the writer’s strike is discussed in the 15-minute featurette “24-7: The Untold Story,” which chronicles the difficult development of the season’s storyline. There are also featurettes on the pyrotechnics of “Hour 19” and the show’s music, deleted scenes and chummy commentary by various members of the cast and crew (but not star/producer Kiefer Sutherland) on twelve episodes.
Which brings us to Season Eight: the one where they finally pushed Jack Bauer too far. Keifer Sutherland’s obsessive maverick agent has been blackmailed, hunted, framed for treason and murder, imprisoned, tortured and abandoned by the very government he risked his life protecting, but this season—on the verge of getting his life back for good—he’s pulled back in to save America one more time. Mary Lynn Rajskub is back as Chloe O’Brian (and just wait until you see her promotion at CTU!) and Cherry Jones is Madam President, trying to sign a peace treaty while terrorists are on loose, but after his mission accomplished he loses yet another love one and goes over the rails, embarking on a scorched earth rampage of vengeance beyond all justice. It makes about as much sense as any of the previous seasons, what with the traitors and moles and bad decisions undercutting the course of justice, but it certainly ends on a dynamic note. Features extended versions, deleted scenes, featurettes on the special effects and the new CTU set, and 21 brief “Scenemaker” featurettes.
Exclusive to this box set is a bonus disc featuring the four-part half-hour series retrospective featurette “Eight Days,” the Season Eight cast and crew on the “Comic-Con 2009 Panel,” the wrap party reel (with clips through the whole series) and a bonus scene, a Season Eight coda of “Chloe’s Arrest” that looks designed to launch a ninth season storyline. But that’s not going to happen. Run, Jack, run.