24 Box Set (15)

Review by Jack Foley

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Alternate ending; Series two preview.

FORGET Big Brother, the real television talking point of the summer (for those people with a life and some sense of discernment) was 24, the landmark US television series which dominated BBC2's Sunday evening schedule.

Described as the most innovative drama to hit UK screens thus far, 24 set its stall out from the very beginning and managed to take a premise which seemed impossible and turn it into one of the most compelling, convoluted and damn-right surprising series in recent TV history.

Starring Kiefer Sutherland (he of Young Guns fame, and now enjoying a spectacular career revival), Leslie Hope, Elisha Cuthbert , Dennis Haysbert and Sarah Clarke, 24 focuses on a day in the life of Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) operative, Jack Bauer (Sutherland), a Special Forces veteran with a patched-up marriage, who is faced with the prospect of preventing the assassination of US Presidential candidate, David Palmer, while trying to track down his kidnapped family.

Each episode is told in real time (taking into account advert breaks in the US), starting at midnight and running until the following day, and each could be a movie in itself, such is the scale and complexity of each one. Indeed, it is credit to the producers that the momentum and tension has been maintained throughout, making each Sunday night essential viewing.

And as for the twists and turns, well they just keep on coming - even if some during the series' middle stages strained credibility a little too far! There's moles in CTU, deception and counter-deceptions, more dysfunctional families than you can shake a stick at (Palmer, in particular, is straddled with a wife of Lady Macbeth evil proportions) and shoot-outs and car chases to keep the action lively.

Then there's the terrorist units - two cells, one led by Ira Gaines (a for-hire, take-no-shit mercenary) and the other fronted by the Serbians themselves, who have their own reasons for targeting Bauer and Palmer on the same day.

To go into too many more of the plot details would be ruining the fun for anyone who hasn't seen it, suffice to say that this is the type of television which genuinely feels like something special and ground-breaking. I know Sunday nights won't feel the same!

And under-pinning the action are the performances - all of which are exceptional. Sutherland, in particular, manages to strike a near-perfect balance between the action and the moral dilemmas (he has been nominated for one of 10 Emmys); while Haysbert has been a revelation as the proud and right-minded senator trying to run for President while keeping his family intact.

A second series is in the pipeline and is previewed on the DVD (along with an alternative ending), but in terms of quality, 24 - with its split screens and dizzying camera techniques - has very few rivals (only Six Feet Under, ER, The Sopranos, The West Wing and NYPD Blue really come close). It is television so good, you can hardly bare to take your eyes off it!