Addicted to heroin after going undercover with a group of Mexican drug dealers, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) is back at the Los Angeles Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU). He’s faced with a big problem: Terrorists have acquired a deadly manufactured virus and are threatening to release it into the general population. A simple storyline on paper, the writers of “24” were once again able to create a thrilling 24-episode epic that rarely misses a beat.
Season three of the critically acclaimed Fox drama, like its first two installments, takes place over the course of 24 hours. The real-time aspect — each hour-long episode spans one hour of Jack Bauer’s chaotic day — is the show’s greatest asset, but also its greatest weakness. With a multifaceted plotline that must stay cohesive and continuous throughout the season, possibilities for lapses in logic within the storyline are far more pronounced and show up too often.
However, the positive aspects of this device overpower its faults. After two seasons, the writers have a firm grasp on the constraints of the time-based device and are able to use it to their advantage, keeping the suspense more palatable and real for the audience. Most episodes end in a genuine cliffhanger, making each disc easily consumable in one sitting.
Also, because the show is written in four or five episode chunks, the writers are given the freedom to create dramatic plot twists that completely alter the direction of the season.
In the past, “24” wasn’t afraid to push the boundaries of network television, and season three is no different. Whether it’s a prison riot that turns into a deadly game of Russian roulette or an epic F-18 missile strike on an escaping enemy helicopter, the intensity of the screenplay is matched only by the intensity of the actors.
Even though the entire cast is strong, Kiefer Sutherland easily stands out. Time and time again, Sutherland puts in a chillingly convincing performance as an agent pushed to the edge, willing to do anything to put an end to the terrorist threat. It’s a role he’s tailored to play.
A show of this caliber is worthy of a DVD package of the same quality, and, much as it did with the second season, Fox delivers in spades. In addition to the standard commentary tracks, the DVD has over 40 extended or alternate scenes. These scenes can be seamlessly integrated into each episode at the touch of a button, expanding and exploring the existing storyline. It’s rare to find this kind of supplemental material on a theatrical DVD release, let alone that of a television show. In addition, a trailer and an exclusive prequel to the fourth season are also included, providing a satisfying, appetite-whetting experience.
Picture and sound quality are also excellent, supplying rich color definition and contrast in widescreen format as well as 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound. In fact, the transfer shows slight signs of graininess only in overly bright locales.
Encompassing seven discs, the third season of “24” doesn’t disappoint its fans, raising the bar for its highly anticipated fourth season.
Show: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Picture/Sound: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Features: 5 out of 5 stars