Just pretending to be a particular character is B-grade actor stuff, actually being the character is a performance. Kiefer Sutherland shows he can do much better than the pull-the-string-for-an-excuse military guy roles (hence the extra role in 'A Few Good Men') he's usually receiving in his mailbox. Sutherland ís Jack Bauer. The man is a pro. Jack Bauer is portrayed as a hero, the man who can't be harmed, who kills the bad guys and saves the innocents. Sounds ridiculous and Disney-esquire, but Sutherland makes Jack Bauer a believable person.
24's first season is the pick of the bunch. Even in this debut season, the scriptwriters didn't manage to write a story that could last for 24 hours, and to be very honest, you won't get a better season after this. It's not Jack Bauer's story, but all the sub plots that let this show down. Elisha Cuthbert made herself infamous by playing Kim Bauer, Jack's daughter who has some neurotic determination to get herself into trouble. While Cuthbert's character served a purpose in the first half of the first season, Kim Bauer hampers the show's pace by repeatedly getting kidnapped, arrested, or generally ignoring dad's wise advisory.
It's fascinating to see how much suspense 24 creates, even if most of the shots feature 'inactive activity', like characters driving a car, sitting behind a computer or being locked in a barn. The photography department does a good job in using the right techniques - e.g. the picture-in-picture idea that 24 adopted with good result. Almost every episode ends with a thriving cliffhanger. The finale, without giving anything away, is top grade television.
The second season is a bit of a let-down, at least in the storyline department. The writers bring in subplots that are totally irrelevant to the main - Jack Bauer - plot, nicely illustrated by a Kim Bauer running around LA with subsequently her au pair kid's angry dad, the PD, a cougar and a desperate wood cabin guy on her tail.
Even though the show features an 'open ending', you don't need to give in to the urge to smash your money on the other DVD-boxes. Season One is best seen as a 'stand alone', for it is a nice, wonderfully put together TV series, that sadly tries to milk its hype by advertising for Ford and Nokia and not by providing a compelling story, comparable with Season One.