by Tony Dayoub
With the recent announcement of a 24 two-hour TV movie, premiering this fall on Fox, now is the perfect time for Fox to release a special edition of 24's first season. Fans are hungry. Season seven was supposed to premiere this past January, and in fact, a few episodes were completed. But then the writer's strike interfered. Rather than leave fans hanging between episodes while that business sorted itself out, Fox has instead rewarded patient fans with a two-hour movie. Meant to bridge the gap between season six and season seven, the movie is filming in South Africa (!), and is a significant way to lead in to the new season which takes place in Washington, D.C. (!!). These locations will no doubt prove to be quite the game-changers in a series that has a long tradition of game-changers. So much so, that the Job-like obstacles that have afflicted its hero, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), were at this point bordering on self-parody. Let's go back in time to season one for a look at an innovative series that was just starting to affirm its strong identity.
Jack Bauer, family man and federal agent, is called back to the field to prevent an assassination attempt on Presidential candidate David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert). Unfortunately, the timing couldn't be worse, as Jack's teenage daughter, Kim (Elisha Cuthbert), has been missing since last night, and his recent restored marriage to Teri (Leslie Hope), may not survive the strain of the day's events. The plot is a somewhat traditional thriller scenario. What made the series unique was its structure. Each hour would take place in real time, so that by season's end, the twenty-four episodes would correspond to the twenty-four hours in a day, thus making it, as Bauer would remind us in the opening narration every week, "the longest day of [his] life."
The production crew and its creators weren't sure if they could pull this off. As co-creator Bob Cochran explains in the documentary "The Genesis of 24" (included in the set), without time-cuts every minute would have to be accounted for. For example, if character X gets on a five-hour flight, that means he'll be absent for five episodes, and you better have another subplot you can switch over to that will carry you through that wait. David Palmer's campaign, and Bauer's family's travails would prove to be essential components to the plot structure.
24 would innovate in other ways. Palmer would become the first black President, years before Obama's run as a viable candidate. The show's frenetic pace would influence future action thrillers, like the Bourne movies, and Mission: Impossible III. And Bauer's, at times savage, relentless pursuit of counter-intelligence would put his morally compromised character in the pantheon of TV's most memorable antiheroes. It's hard to remember that back then, there may have been only Tony Soprano or Andy Sipowicz of NYPD Blue to keep him company there. Today's TV landscape is strewn with such characters like Battlestar Galactica's Bill Adama or Lost's John Locke.
Most importantly, let's not forget that the first season struggled in the ratings. It's premiere on November 2001, which featured a plane blown up by a terrorist, was coming to viewers on the heels of 9/11. After thirteen episodes, Fox seemed to renew it only because of Sutherland's Golden Globe win for the role. Going into season two, Fox did something that would pioneer the way TV series and TV DVDs in particular would continue in the future. Conscious of the show's addictive nature which invite viewers to watch the shows in large blocks of episodes, they released a quickie DVD version of season one to prepare uninitiated viewers before the second season premiere. Relying on the core fans to promote the DVD set to their friends by word-of-mouth, the gambit worked, as the second season premiered to higher ratings. And after American Idol premiered as the 24's lead-in, it really took off.
Season one's previous DVD version was bare-bones. To correct that, a special-edition was released this week with added features, such as the aforementioned documentary, and commentaries on the premiere and season finale episodes by the cast and crew of the show. It elevates the season one shows to the same level as the rest of the show on DVD. It is well worth your time and money to purchase this set, especially to relive the first season while you wait for season seven.