The SmarK DVD Rant for 24: Season Seven
"WHO DO YOU WORK FOR?"
– Jack Bauer
I’m sure that longtime readers already know my love affair with the world of 24 and the saga of this season, but here’s the capsule version:
24 was a really great show for the first four seasons, full of genre-bending action and great acting from Keifer Sutherland as Jack Bauer, the counter-terrorist so badass that he eats Chuck Norris and craps Bruce Campbell. I was personally never a big Keifer fan before so I passed on watching the first season when it was on, partly because the concept seemed gimmicky and partly because I was pretty sure that Fox was going to cancel it after a few episodes anyway. So did the producers, in fact, as they made the first season so that the 12th episode could have been a "happy ending" wrap-up if the network had in fact pulled the plug on them. My friends at work bugged me incessantly about getting into the show, so I finally picked up the DVD and ended up doing a marathon viewing session over 2 days and was completely hooked just in time for the second season. So skip ahead to the fifth season, as the producers start doing really stupid stuff like killing off Tony Almeida and his wife Michelle Dessler, two of the best characters on the show. And then things got worse with the sixth season, which rapidly descended into self-parody and Jack torturing everyone from the main villain down to the pizza boy while looking for information. As readers of my blog discovered, the season got so unwatchable (due to stuff like another evil president and entire chunks of the plot apparently dedicated to henchman having sex in the White House) that I didn’t even make it to the finale before giving up on the show completely because it had apparently run out of steam.
So by the end of that season, the writers apparently agreed with the volumes of criticisms leveled at them by the fans and the network (which they’re surprisingly upfront about on this DVD) and began their quest to reinvent the show yet again. The first plan was Jack In Africa, where he’d be there for 3 hours and then they’d do a time jump and go back to the U.S., something which would have shattered the concept of the show. This idea got shot down, although that first few hours was eventually retooled into 24: Redemption, which was a pretty awesome movie. I also thought Jack In Africa would have been a great shot in the arm for the show, but a time jump? No buys. So with time running out, they came up with another twist for the show, produced 8 episodes and then the writers’ strike hit. Suddenly they had a whole year to retool the show how they wanted it, and the result was one of the strongest seasons since the glory years.
So to start this season, Tony Almeida returns from the dead as a supervillain, and that’s a pretty good kick in the pants for the franchise. The season also has a theme, as the writers took the criticisms levied against them about torture and turned it into a recurring plot point for the season, as Jack finds himself wondering if he’s gone too far over the line and whether he should be encouraging young agent Renee Walker (aka Agent Freckles) to cross that line with him. Walker is actually quite the breath of fresh air for this show, adding an energy that it hasn’t had since the addition of Chloe in season 3.
The main plot for the season sees the African dictator from Redemption, Dubaku, apparently recruiting Tony to wage a war of terror on the U.S., and of course Jack gets sucked into things because that’s what happens to him. CTU is replaced by the FBI this season, and Los Angeles becomes Washington, D.C., but otherwise the basic elements of the show are all there. Recapping the ludicrous plot developments would be silly and futile, but suffice it to say we progress from Tony’s terrorist plot to a whole new group’s terrorist plot, and there’s an invasion of the White House and Jack gets exposed to a biological weapon and lots of people we’ve come to know and enjoy get killed off in various brutal fashions.
Thats kind of the downside with this year: For all of the talk about changing the franchise up, it’s all still "WHO ARE YOU WORKING FOR?" and "That’s our only lead!" and "Open a new socket!" over and over again. Yes, it’s a fresh new coat of paint, but it’s still the same engine under the hood. Not to mention that Allison Taylor, the ballyhooed female president this season, is one of the most annoyingly indecisive and poorly written characters they’ve introduced since, well, Kim Bauer. She’s the Hamlet of presidents, wringing her hands over every little deadline and threat levied by the terrorists, and she will not be missed if she disappears like every other head of state that this show has produced. The whole White House storyline in general was a loser, resulting in the second half of the season dragging at times because they assumed that the audience would care about the First Family drama if they stuck a character like Aaron Pierce in there with them. We didn’t.
Thankfully, all the weak points and stylistic U-turns were redeemed by the finale, which was one of the strongest that the series has produced. It even made me like Kim a little bit again. It also made me look forward to another season, something which I was skeptical of as the season began. If you’re like me and got burned by the sixth season, this one will once again whet your appetite for Jack and suck you back into the world of 24. It’s not perfect and by the end they were obviously falling back into their same lazy Mad-Libs writing style at times, but it’s way better than the sixth season and Tony is a lot of fun as a nemesis for Jack, which is makes it well worth the watch. I would, however, strongly recommend picking up 24: Redemption along with it, not only because it’s a great prequel movie, but because some of the plot points make a bit more sense given the extra context provided.
If you’re brand new to the world of 24, this is certainly designed as newbie-friendly season, but I’d still recommend starting from the beginning because seasons 1 and 2 were two of the best seasons of action TV ever produced and you’re gonna want to go back and watch them after seeing this season anyway. (Rating: ****1/2)
Audio & Video
Unfortunately the DVD version can’t help but be a letdown after watching the whole year in glorious HD every week. It’s a good transfer, but things just seem too soft to me now after seeing the super-sharp picture that broadcast HD gives you. But hey, it’s a TV show and not a movie, so I understand budget constraints and the like. Audio is really stunning, however, blasting out in Dolby 5.1 and really backing up the action-packed nature of the season. It’s good and bass-heavy (especially in the kidnapping that kicks off the season) and every DAMMIT from Jack is clear in the center channel. (Rating: ****)
Let’s talk about the packaging for a minute, because it’s AMAZING. They’ve somehow managed to pack six discs into a standard-size DVD case, by putting one on each flap and then adding two double-trays in between, and it works so stunningly well that I’m wondering why every other TV series isn’t packaged like this. This is a brilliant design that everyone else should rip off immediately, especially if The Simpsons producers intend to keep monkeying with their packaging like they are.
Anyway, bonus features are a bit light compared to other seasons (which is understandable since this was literally released the DAY AFTER the season ended) but if you’re a fan of commentary tracks, you’re in luck. Everyone from the producers to the writers to the actors are represented over the course of the season, with Carlos Bernard being particularly great on the season premiere’s track, and there’s tons to listen to here. The first disc also has a quick feature on the music of the show, and the sixth disc features a really interesting 15 minute "behind the scenes" chat with the writers. They are brutally honest at times about the process that went into creating this season and how bad the sixth season got, and it’s really refreshing to hear them just admit their mistakes instead of trying to pretend we were all the crazy ones. Plus there’s also about 30 minutes of deleted scenes, although 8 of those minutes is eaten up by a dull conversation between Kim and Jack and most of the rest is from the finale because they shot too much. (Rating: ***)
This season restored much of my faith in Jack Bauer, and hopefully it’ll do the same for you. Strongly recommended.
Tags: 24, Jack Bauer, SmarK Rants