Warning: Some mild spoilers about 24: Season Six may follow.
How much abuse can one guy take? After enduring five seasons' worth of excruciating punishment, double-crosses and, quite frankly, some of the most reality-straining plotlines on TV, the indefatigable Jack Bauer (Emmy winner Kiefer Sutherland) returned for a sixth season of government intrigue and gritty brutality on the always adrenaline-charged drama 24.
Personally, I've always felt that the series peaked with its first season, steadily declined in seasons two through four and snapped back in a big way with season five -- of course, it's probably worth noting that I dipped in and out of seasons two-four, so my judgment on those could be construed as suspect. (And I've only seen bits of season five.) But I was interested in sitting down to consume a full 24-episode chunk of the show that's raised the bar for prime-time dramas -- and even feature films. Indeed, many of Hollywood's tent pole action flicks are being compared to this often breathlessly paced thriller.
Robert Cochran and Joel Surnow's expansive, bloody look at one of America's most indestructible federal agents is at its best when it's dealing with tense face-offs -- it stumbles when it tries to be too ambitious, widening its scope to deal with a multiplicity of plotlines. Granted, 24 TV hours needs some filler to keep viewers from zoning out, but when 24 begins chasing storylines that are better left in the margins, you start to feel the writers straining a bit.
Picking up 20 months after the nervy, crushing conclusion of the show's fifth season (Jack being dragged away to a Chinese prison), 24 wastes little time establishing the main thrust of its sixth season: America, being bombarded by relentless terrorist attacks in heavily populated public places, must find a way to neutralize Hamri Al-Assad (Alexander Siddig), the man they believe is perpetrating the violence. In order to find Al-Assad, current president Wayne Palmer (DB Woodside) orchestrates Bauer's release from captivity and turns him loose on the situation. Bauer soon discovers that former nemesis Abu Fayed (Adoni Maropis) is the real culprit, and sets about bringing him to justice before he can carry out his murderous plans to detonate suitcase nukes across the United States.
Before long, Bauer is up to his old tricks, but the writers toss in Bauer's evil father (James Cromwell), some shady business with Russians and try to have Bauer wrestle with the violent nature of his job as he shakes off the aftereffects of his Chinese imprisonment. When the writers strip away all of the circus of political intrigue and the chase for suitcase nukes, focusing solely on Bauer's personal journey and efforts to reconnect with his humanity, they achieve some profoundly affecting moments (most notably in the season's final episode). But 24 has to blow stuff up real good to keep the folks watchin', so more often than not, carnage wins the day. I'd like to believe the creative team is striving to attain that perfect balance first glimpsed in the initial season, where the personal and the political played off of each other with equal intensity, rather than continue to amp up the action and render all of the characters as sweaty, dirty chess pieces. This sixth season suggests a more human element as it draws to a close, but odds are, the seventh season will bring the firepower and continue to gloss over the characters at its core ... unless the writers' strike isn't resolved. (As of this writing, the seventh season of 24 has been indefinitely postponed, pending the outcome of the ongoing writers' strike.)
Packaging wasn't available for review, but if Fox continues as it has with previous seasons of 24, the choices are either slim cases and a slipcover, or gatefold packaging. If the retail version is provided for review, I'll amend my review accordingly. The DVD
24 is presented as originally broadcast on Fox, both on its standard and hi-def channels, in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer on this seven-disc set cannot be accurately judged owing to Fox's supplying screener discs rather than final product. Plenty of smearing, pixelation and motion blur are evident throughout the entire run of 24 episodes. Should final product be provided to DVD Talk, this rating will be revised to reflect the quality of the image. The Audio:
Offered up in Dolby Digital 5.1, some episodes are more immersive than others, and some episodes are a bit louder than others. This could be attributed, again, to the screener discs that Fox provided for review. An optional Spanish Dolby 2.0 stereo track is included, as are optional English, Spanish and French subtitles. For the most part, these 24 episodes are clean and clear, but should Fox provide a retail version of season six for consideration, this rating will be revised to reflect the quality of the soundtrack. The Extras:
One of the trademarks of 24 season sets is the almost overwhelming amount of supplemental material and the sixth season is no exception -- there's plenty packed into these seven discs that will keep the most ardent 24 fanatics busy for a while. While there are commentary tracks with cast and crew sprinkled throughout exactly half the season -- 12 episodes -- and deleted scenes/alternate takes are included on 13 episodes (a 24 icon pops up onscreen, alerting the viewer to new footage), the bulk of the bonus features are housed on the seventh disc.
A more than likely obsolete feature -- the season seven preview -- is first up, presented in anamorphic widescreen and running a mere 17 seconds. A host of extended/deleted scenes are here, presented in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby 2.0 stereo, playable separately or all together for an aggregate of 29 minutes, 57 seconds. The extended/deleted scenes feature optional commentary from co-executive producer Stephen Kronish and co-producer Paul Gadd. The 11 minute, 39 second featurette "Master Illusionist: 24's Special Effects Make-up," is presented in anamorphic widescreen and details the process of making actors look like gruesome. The 18 minute, seven second featurette "24 Season Six: Inside the Writer's Room," is presented in anamorphic widescreen and delivers exactly what it promises: a look inside the writer's room. The 12 minute, 46 featurette "24 Season Six: Opening with a Bang," is presented in anamorphic widescreen and explores the making of the season premiere's explosive opening moments. The two minute, 16 second "Cameo: Ricky Gervais," presented in anamorphic widescreen, reveals "The Office" co-creator's cameo in the second episode (blink and you'll miss his creative partner Stephen Merchant's appearance as a CTU flunky in the season opener).
There are 21 "24 Webcast Diaries" included here, presented in anamorphic widescreen and playable separately or all together (for an aggregate of one hour). Five "24 Mobisodes: 'Day Six Debrief'" are also on board, presented in anamorphic widescreen and playable separately or all together (for an aggregate of 14 minutes, 55 seconds). A one minute, two second global warming PSA from Sutherland, presented in anamorphic widescreen, is thrown in, as is a 17 minute, eight second preview of the season premiere of Prison Break (presented in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1), a nine minute, 10 second "The Technology of 24" featurette, presented in anamorphic widescreen, and what could possibly be the most completely useless feature on the set, "24 DVD-ROM Exclusives," which asks viewers to put the seventh disc into their PCs (suck it, Mac users!) after each episode of the seventh season to access special content -- that is, if 24 returns for its seventh season. Final Thoughts:
24 has to blow stuff up real good to keep the folks watchin', so more often than not, carnage wins the day. I'd like to believe the creative team is striving to attain that perfect balance first glimpsed in the initial season, where the personal and the political played off of each other with equal intensity, rather than continue to amp up the action and render all of the characters as sweaty, dirty chess pieces. This sixth season suggests a more human element as it draws to a close, but odds are, the seventh season will bring the firepower and continue to gloss over the characters at its core ... unless the ongoing writers' strike isn't resolved. Even if these 24 episodes are a bit uneven, there's still a treasure trove of supplemental material worth sifting through here. Recommended. DVD Talk reviews of previous seasons of 24