Owing a great deal to Mike Figgis' "Time Code" - where the screen is divided into four active sections covering different story threads and/or angles of a scene - "24" similarly follows each hour in 'real time' as government agent Kiefer Sutherland tries to stop terrorists from assassinating a high-profile U.S. Senator from becoming the first African-American President, while the lives of Sutherland's wife and daughter - respectively played by fellow Canucks Leslie Hope and Elisha Bauer - are threatened. Unlike "Time Code," the show's occasional use of split screen and combined views serve as scene transitions, or to heighten key suspense points, and most of the show is visually conventional.
As star Sutherland explains in the short video intro to the series (more of a promo for Season 2, which should have been put on Disc 1, and not in Disc 6's Special Features), the cast and crew worked closely to establish a driving tempo as each character faces yet another challenging roadblock and must use his/her wits to find a solution/escape. Series creators and co-writers Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran put a lot of effort to map out the plot twists, so for once "24" - nominated for 10 Emmy Awards - isn't a series with padded chase scenes and inane twists - there's a lot of little character scenes buffering the action, and viewers will likely get hooked after the first few episodes and may spend half a day blowing through the first discs. (Be proactive: buy lots of chips and tacos).
Visually the transfer is quite clean, and most of the night footage shows little artifacting. Because the series doesn't involve aliens or vast pyrotechnics, there's minimal CGI work, though a few tricks - such as in-car conversations and digitally dimming the exposure in the "6am" episode - aren't wholly flawless. The Dolby Surround mix contains an effective measure of ambience, and some subtle sound design adds a little eerie atmosphere.
Each disc contains four 41-minute episodes (remember when hour long shows used to be 48 minutes?), which are preceded by a short text card, and later episodes use a brief prologue recapping the show's premise (but not the last episode's twists). Perhaps the DVD producers thought a Lynchian presentation was suitable, trapping viewers in the world of "24," but the complete lack of chapters or indexing for all episodes means if you lost your place or had to answer the phone, you're in for some heavy shuttling.
On the plus side, the DVD adds an alternate ending with optional commentary from co-writer/co-creator/co-executive producer Joel Surnow, regarding the original ending, and the reasons for using the superior version which is more in tune with the show's dramatic design.
Several writers - including "Nowhere Man" veteran Lawrence Hertzog - contributed to the series, and genre director Stephen Hopkins (who also executive produced) handled most of the show's action episodes.
Best advice: try to gauge the amount of info you read before watching the series, as story and cast details will spoil some great surprises!
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan