Parks and Recreation: Season Two (Universal) – Amy Poehler is Leslie Knope, the passionately driven Deputy Director of the Pawnee, Indiana, Parks and Recreation Department, in this sitcom from the creators of the American The Office in the same reality series/mock-documentary style (now becoming a sitcom format in its own right beyond the reality-TV reference—just see how Modern Family has offered its own take on it). After establishing itself in an abbreviated six-episode first season it defines its own sense of personality and chemistry in a full second season, where the supporting cast comes into its own: Rashida Jones as her clear-thinking best friend Ann, Nick Offerman as her militantly libertarian yet unexpectedly supportive boss (he’d like nothing more than to privatize the local government), Aziz Ansari as the would-be office player, Aubrey Plaza as a glum office intern and Chris Pratt as the cheerful doofus trying to win Jones back with schemes that he hasn’t quite thought through.
Poehler’s Leslie is no Michael Scoot blowhard but a spunky government bureaucrat who genuinely loves her job and takes public service seriously, which is fine by her co-workers since it means they can goof off while she does all the work. Along with the office politics and petty turf wars of municipal government and small town bureaucracy there is the obligatory romantic travails as the man of Leslie’s dreams (Paul Schneider) starts dating Ann and Leslie steps into the dating pool with mixed results (from near successes with Louis CK as a nice-guy cop and Justin Theroux as a globetrotting attorney to a predictably disastrous blind date with Will Arnett, Poehler’s real-life husband). As in The Office, this talented ensemble warps sitcom conventions with superb improv byplay, and the season ends with new elements tossed into the chemistry: Rob Lowe and Adam Scott as bureaucrats sent to keep the city from bankruptcy by shutting the government down. It’ll take more than that to stop Leslie. The third season begins in January.
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”