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I’ve just completed watching the first three seasons of 24 on DVD, playing catch up before the fourth season premiere next month, and man am I hooked.

A couple of observations. First, a general comment about all three seasons: The high quality of the acting, writing and production values, combined with the tightly knotted plots of each “day,” gives the show a tone that I think is truly unique in modern television. It feels like I just watched a movie and its two sequels rather than 72 episodes of a televison series over the past three weeks. This isn’t normal television.

Second, the third season in particular ought to be required study for about 98% of TV writer/producers out there. One of the worst things about watching a show you once loved hit the skids is that you keep watching, hoping the people who made the show you loved but have now lost their balance will right themselves. Sometimes you get lucky and they do, such as in the fourth season of West Wing. Sometimes you get Buffy, and they don’t, insisting to the end that they have everything planned out as they take the wagon over a cliff.

24 does.

The first nine or so “hours” from 24’s third season are wildly askew. They’re never flat-out bad, but there’s a feeling that the writers were throwing everything they could think of at the wall to see what stuck. The mid-course correction they achived is even more impressive when you consider that they did it by “retconning” the first part of the season. Reportedly never more than a few episodes ahead in their planning, they seem to have seen that what they were doing wasn’t working. So they blew it up and started over. And did it without destroying the willing suspension of disbelief the format requires (though I admit they stretched it even more than in previous years), That’s an amazing feat of TV engineering. As a bonus, some of the scenes from the first batch of episodes become re-watchable from a new perspective: Why is character X doing Y…

From the reboot, the show takes off for the finish line, until the last few episodes are about as incredible as anything they ever did. I can’t wait to see what the new day will bring.

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