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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fringe Season 1 DVD Review by Jessica Friedman

Fringe Complete First Season DVD Review

Jessica Friedman

J.J Abrams—the name conjures up many reactions for many people. He has his diehard fans (Lost, Alias, etc.) and his extreme haters. While Ian and I have often wavered from apathy to complete disgust for his popular programs, the release of Cloverfield made Ian a lot more susceptible to giving his shows a chance (how could a giant monster movie like that not affect my husband?).

When it comes to the sci-fi television show, Fringe, Ian and I would constantly see previews for the show that looked really cool during our beloved 24, but we never felt like putting in the effort to actually watch Fringe when it aired. “We’ll see it when it comes out on DVD,” we always said. Well, after devouring the episodes in the span of a few days, we both have decided to never make that mistake again and have deemed this show appointment TV that cannot be missed.

Why the sudden change of heart? For starters, this show is fantastically dense and is fascinating to watch again and again. The only other show that I enjoyed deciphering to such a degree was the sadly departed Arrested Development. There are minor clues hidden in each episode that become incredibly important later on in the season. I will not discuss any of them here, but one needs to watch each episode in succession in order to gain a complete understanding of the mythology Abrams and others have plotted within the universe the characters inhabit.

The three main characters who go about investigating bizarre and often supernatural “fringe” cases are the protagonist, FBI agent Olivia Dunham (played by Anna Torv), the wacky genius scientist, Walter Bishop (brilliantly portrayed by John Noble), and his sarcastic con-artist son, Peter Bishop (played by the always awesome Joshua Jackson). Jackson was the lure Ian set in front of me to get me interested in the show (he was my teen crush when he played Pacey on Dawson’s Creek), and Ian got me hook, line, and sinker. While I still love watching Josh play his usual cynical self, my favorite character of the three is definitely Noble’s Walter, who always provides great comic relief and really makes you feel for his character’s struggle with the horrible experiments he has conducted in the past and how that affects his present and future. Walter is sympathetic as soon as he leaves the mental hospital where he had been committed for the past 17 years because of a lab accident. Walter’s quirks include an obsession with food (he mentions wanting a root beer float repeatedly in one episode and compares a man’s exposed spinal cord to that of a shrimp in another) and drugs (he constantly talks about taking LSD), but the warmth that Noble brings to his performance makes Walter a joy to watch in every episode.

There are also a number of other important characters in the show that help to flesh out the Fringe universe: Homeland Security special agent Phillip Broyles (played by Lance Reddick), FBI agent Charlie Francis (played by Kirk Acevedo), and FBI junior agent and lab helper for Walter, Astrid Farnsworth (played by Jakisa Nicole). One of my favorite minor characters who appears in a few episodes is David Robert Jones, perfectly portrayed by Jared Harris (who also plays British head Lane Pryce on my other obsession, Mad Men). Jones is a biochemist turned criminal whose personality combines the charisma of Hannibal Lector and the crazy genius of Heath Ledger’s the Joker. Harris is immensely enjoyable to watch on screen during his rare appearances on the show, and his portrayal of Jones is captivating. I particularly enjoyed the double whammy of episodes 10 and 14 (“Safe” and “Ability”) that helps to highlight how massively diabolical Jones is, yet there is a sort of sweetness and vulnerability to his character as well. For example, when he congratulates Olivia for completing a task, there is a real paternal warmth to his voice that is striking and threw me for a loop.

Speaking of “massive,” one of the best parts of the show in my opinion is the futuristic, but always realistic portrayal of the pharmaceutical/medical technology mega-corporation “Massive Dynamic.” With every fringe case that the cast members try to solve, this company always seems to be involved. And for good reason—the founder of the company, William Bell, was Walter’s lab partner at Harvard. Bell appears to have carried on those weird experiments that Walter had worked on previously, and he plays a central role in the later episodes of Season 1 (and will likely be important in Season 2 as well). Since Bell is MIA for the majority of the episodes, the person in charge of Massive Dynamic is the enigmatic Nina Sharp, a woman who has a completely robotic arm and appears to be entranced by Olivia and her capabilities in solving crimes for the FBI. Jones also has an important relationship with the company, but I won’t divulge how or why this relationship affects the mythology of the show itself.

Another great component to the TV show is the glyphs or images that flash on the screen before each commercial break. Ranging from an apple with embryos for seeds to a frog with a phi symbol on its back, these symbols represent the combination of the natural with the man-made, which in itself is a common theme of the show. Although the images are fun to examine, the best part about them is that apparently they work as a code from which one can decipher a clue about the episode (similar to the alien language on Futurama). Needless to say, this is a really fun and interactive feature of the show that is great for cryptography dorks such as myself.

Aside from the amazing and thought-provoking stories that can be found in each episode, the DVD set also includes some fantastic special features: there are sidebars for every episode that decipher a particular scene; unaired scenes and “The Massive Undertaking” Docupods on certain episodes; a hilarious gag reel; a diary by a member of the production crew; and best of all, a feature on Gene the Cow, the animal Walter insisted on having in his Harvard laboratory once he got out of the mental hospital. The copy I reviewed had great picture and sound quality (some of the more gruesome scenes were definitely enhanced in their goriness because of the 5.1 surround sound), and the subtitles were very helpful.

All in all, this show is a must-have for anyone who likes exciting television that is complex, but fun at the same time. I’m not even a huge sci-fi nut, but the mythology established within the show is so intriguing that I have gone out of my way to read up on possible theories about the main three characters and story arcs within the first season. You should definitely not make the mistake Ian and I did before we watched this show: Do not automatically dismiss something because J.J. Abrams is involved with it. That sort of close-mindedness will lead you to miss out on some quality network programming.

The second season of Fringe premieres Thursday September 17 on Fox at 9 PM EST. Do yourself a favor and make it appointment television like Ian and I have. You won’t regret it.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thought that Jessica's review was well presented, to the point, and I look forward to seeing more of her writing.