These days, we’re so used to the unique twice-round-the-clock, whole-day structure of 24, as well as the ceaselessly energetic yet subtle performance by Kiefer Sutherland, that we not only take its innovations for granted, we feel free to criticize the TV series when it lets us down. (I’m still not quite sure what ever happened to D.B. Woodside’s President Wayne Palmer last season, are you?) So it’s invigorating to crack open the 24: Season 1 special-edition set and reexperience the series’ jolting debut, and — in the package’s only notable extra — hear commentary provided for the first and final episodes. What’s most interesting about the remarks from director Stephen Hopkins and director of photography Peter Levy is the extent to which they speak as though they were creating the look and pace of the show as they went along. Hopkins notes that ”from the beginning, we kind of abandoned the concept of ever looking pretty.” And indeed, the gloomy CTU space resembles a failing Staples store with the lights turned down low.
It’s fun to revisit, in this election year, a period when Sen. David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) was running for president. When Penny Johnson Jerald, who plays Palmer’s wife, Sherry, appears on the screen, Hopkins expresses his delight at the casting of a Larry Sanders Show alum (”my favorite show ever”). Hopkins acknowledges the pride that he and 24 producers Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran felt when creating not only the first black First Lady, but a woman who proved to be ”one of the great villains” on television, calling her a ”Lady Macbeth character.”
For all the first season’s plot twists and echoes of real-life terrorist activities, there was still an innocence to 24. Sutherland’s Jack had yet to develop the perennially exhausted, anguished air he now possesses as the country’s most beat-up, love- and sleep-deprived government employee this side of an IRS auditor. This was that golden era before Elisha Cuthbert (Jack’s daughter, Kim) became catnip to cougars and then, inexplicably, a CTU agent herself. More importantly, season 1 reminds us that 24 was forged in the aftermath of 9/11. Having noted that the pilot was filmed in April 2001, Hopkins takes us through the scene in which a pre-L Word Mia Kirshner, as a flirty terrorist, bombs an airliner. By the time the series premiered, on Nov. 6, 2001, Hopkins says they ”had to cut out the shot of the plane blowing up” — the image was too fraught with our collective memories of the attacks.
Soon enough, CTU would become populated by kooky Chloe and lovable, doomed Edgar. But in this debut season, 24 was ruthlessly lean, mean, and surprising. Watch and be exhilarated all over again. B+