Fringe: The Complete Fourth Season (Warner) opens by sending the cast of the brainy weird science fiction show of parallel universes and dimension-hopping villains into a whole new alternate reality where Walter (John Noble) is a little less stable and Peter (Joshua Jackson) never existed, until he pushes his way back in to reality. The war between the dimensions turns into an increasingly cooperative détente as they work together to stop the villain opening the cracks between the worlds, and even the two Olivias (Anna Torv) end up in a measured truce, both learning a little bit more about themselves through that distorted dimensional looking glass.
The slow romantic waltz between the hopelessly-in-love Peter, who bursts into a world that forgot his existence, and the emotionally closed-off Olivia, who starts to absorb memories from another life, is more than a love-conquers-all storyline. It’s mirrored in love stories and unlikely friendships across dimensions (see Astrid reach out to her OCD counterpart on the other side) and the healing of the damaged, guilt-ridden Walter all over again. But the most fun is had in a flashforward episode to a totalitarian future ruled by a society of Observer overlords who run the Earth like a supernatural mob. Hints of things to come in Season Five?
The pick for the week is not anything new but the Blu-ray debut of a classic: The Twlight Zone: Season 1 Blu-ray, reviewed on my blog here. I also featured one of my favorite shows in another DVD/Blu-ray release: Sons of Anarchy: Season Two, reviewed here. But this a month dominated by new shows and network productions rolling out as the fall TV season begins. Here are a few of the highlights from this week.
Neither nighttime soap opera nor tabloid exploitation, The Good Wife: The First Season (Paramount) is a classic legal drama reframed with a ripped-from-the-headlines twist. Julianna Margulies’ Alicia Florrick is the publicly loyal but privately ambivalent wife of a disgraced Chicago politician (Chris Noth), who resigns in the face of a sex scandal. “Six months later,” Alicia goes back to work as the junior attorney at a firm run by an old friend and colleague (Josh Charles) while her husband (now in prison) fights his conviction for corruption. The cases are pretty conventional, what with a firm that (with exceptions) manages to represent only innocent clients and consistently Perry Mason-style last-minute saves with evidence that reveals the true culprits (and, more often than not, humiliates the man who took down Alicia’s husband). What makes them interesting is how the cases reflect back on her struggle with her marriage and her loyalty to a man who wants to rebuild his political career and needs her support. Noth makes the husband a wonderful set of contradictions and questions and Margulies grounds the courtroom tactics and law-office politics with a compelling personal journey as her husband tries to rebuild his political career even as his appeal is barely underway and she has to decide if she trusts him anymore.
They may look warm and solid on TV, but walking through the sets of “Fringe” as the production wraps the final eight episodes of the season, all I can think is how cold it is. It’s winter in Vancouver and all the sets are in big, unheated warehouses. One complex houses Massive Dynamics, a maze of hallways and offices and laboratories that look they’ve been suddenly evacuated in the midst of activity. There’s no shooting here today so me and a small group of TV journalists are ushered through a quick tour. Quietly, because the sturdy walls of America’s most successful research and development firm are little more than plywood, canvas and paint and there’s a scene underway in the next set over. In between takes I get a chance to talk with a few cast members who have the day off.
Nina Sharp’s office is the showcase room of this set, a cavernous space of acute angles with a lone desk in the corner and a huge picture window carved pitched diagonally in the opposite wall with a view of the New York skyline, which turns out to be a giant photo blow-up. Appropriately enough, that’s where I sit down with Blair Brown, who plays the show’s corporate uber-villain. “Is she a villain? I don’t know. I think she has her moments.” Fair enough. We’ve seen some different sides to the powerful Ms. Sharp this season, including still-unexplored histories with Olivia and Peter and even Agent Broyles. And Brown clearly relishes the role a woman who likes to be “the smartest person in the room.” In this company, that’s no mean feat.
Fringe is about a lot of things, but the most interesting story to me is the human story of Walter Bishop rediscovering his conscience and his humanity as he reconnects with his son and starts to care for the people he works with, and starts to see the damage that his experiments have cause on people that he loves and cares about.
The retreat into insanity was a defense mechanism based on the theory you’re taking, which I do agree with. He became aware that he effected basically the whole stability of society. So whether he retreated into society to survive that or it’s a defense mechanism, which is also possible, I think it’s a very good point. However, coming out of it, he’s having to face all that again and it’s tragic. It’s bloody awful, isn’t it.
Fringe: Season One (Warner) – From producer J.J. Abrams and co-creators and producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci comes this stylish trip into fringe science with X-Files trippiness but decidedly earthbound conspiratorial overtones. Anna Torv is the serious, straight-laced agent put in charge of a special unit dedicated to cases that defy rational explanation and conventional science, sort of a CSI team that Fox Muldar would have loved. Joshua Jackson is the happy-go-lucky rebel genius to her crisply dedicated agent, an international hustler pulled out of his underworld shenanigans to babysit his estranged father and the team’s star player: brilliant scientist Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), who is pulled out of the high security psychiatric facility where he’s lived in isolation for 17 years. This is a show where freaky things happen on a weekly basis (Astral projection! Teleportation! Interdimensional travel! Humans transformed into hideous mutant creatures!), but the dark style and grave tone of the show is mellowed by Noble’s deft and playful as the eccentric Walter, whose already shaky social skills have long ago evaporated into the ether (“It’s like listening to a broken record but the lyrics keep changing,” describes his sardonic son). It’s one of the most expensive and visually impressive shows on TV, with wildly fantastic cases and a complex history that, like The X-Files, wraps all of the characters up in its web. Watch for the long-anticipated appearance of William Bell, the mystery man at the center of the web, in the season finale: you’ll love it when he finally reveals his face.
There are 20 episodes on seven discs (five discs on Blu-ray) with a nicely produced set of supplements. “Robert Orci’s Production Diary” is a tour through the shooting of the pilot episode and its lavish 31-day shoot, “Fringe Visual Effects” gives a sense of the scope of the show’s special effects by looking into a few key creations from select episodes and “Evolution: The Genesis of Fringe” charts the development of the show (it’s nice to hear Abrams describe how he drew inspiration from David Cronenberg’s films) . Also features commentary on three episodes (including the feature-length pilot) by the writers and producers, more featurettes and deleted scenes. Exclusive to the Blu-ray is “Fringe Pattern Analysis,” with comments on six select scenes by experts on the science and the theoretical ideas behind the applications in the show, and commentary by the writers on the season finale. Continue reading “TV on DVD 9/8/09 – Fringe Science, Wiseguys, Serial Killers and Lies”