I decided to move 24: Season 3 up in the queue recently because the ending of season 2 was such a cliff-hanger I had to know how the story continued. The producers took the easy way out, unfortunately, by picking up three years later with little more than a "oh, everything is fine now" throw-away comment. Considering how bloody good season 2 was (sans the Kim storyline) I had high hopes for season 3, especially how the Kate Warner-Jack Bauer situation is resolved literally in the first 15 minutes of the premier.
It's a shame then that the show feels like it's treading on water for practically the entire season run. The threat is just as serious, maybe moreso, than the nuke-in-LA threat in season 2 but for some reason it feels like everyone is just spinning their wheels.
The show wouldn't be 24 without at least one utterly ridiculous and show-stopping sub-plot. Last season that belonged to Kim Bauer and everything she did was useless. This season, that sub-plot is unfortunately given to President David Palmer and his Chief of Staff. Palmer is easily the coolest character after Jack Bauer himself and watching how he's sucked into a fairly stupid story involving his brother Wayne, Wayne's affair with the awful Gina Torres (who plays the wife of a major Palmer campaign backer), and Palmer's ex-wife Sherri just drags the show to a screeching halt everytime the focus shifts to it. The lone high point is how it all ends in the final two episodes, but it is a major beating to get there.
So are there any high points along the way? The way the show twists and turns this season remain pretty slick and unexpected, and I love how the initial threat is never the major one. Heck, the main villains of the first half of the season are dealt with by episode 12 and the major villain doesn't reveal himself until around episodes 15 or 16. Also, the biggest thorn in Jack's side is finally, and brutally, dealt with in a scene that I must have replayed a half dozen times. Kiefer Sutherland plays the character so perfectly that when he finally gets his long-in-coming revenge, you want to stand up and cheer.
I can see why Sutherland wants to stay with 24 as long as possible. The storylines may stretch credibility, but even when it veers towards the overtly ridiculous (as it does frequently in season 3) there are gems aplenty to appreciate. The way Bauer never lets anything affect him personally crashes on his head in the final minutes of the last episode and Sutherland sells it for all he's worth. He gives another magnificent performance as someone who willingly puts himself through the ringer time and again because he bleeds red, white, and blue.
While this certainly isn't the best that 24 has to offer, especially coming off the phenomenal season 2, it still has plenty of high points. I just hope future seasons pick up the tempo while refraining from the stupid.