24 September 2010

Fringe: Season 1

Fringe - Season 1

Created by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, J.J. Abrams
Starring Ana Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble, Lance Reddick
Transmission season: 2008-2009
FOX, 22 episodes, 43 mins.

Plot: The Fringe division at the FBI investigates advanced 'out-there' scientific anomalies that are affecting the world; their mission is to find it, contain it or stop it. Led by Special Agent Olivia Dunham, she recruits Peter Bishop and his father Walter Bishop, a man who experimented with scientific realms not thought possible years before.

Truth be told, I finished Fringe: The Complete First Season about three months ago, so this review will be short, sweet, and to the point. Despite rave reviews, I had some trepidation of getting into a procedural science fiction program. Also despite rave reviews, I found myself bored most of the time throughout the first two seasons of THE X-FILES, so that didn’t quite bode well for FRINGE. Turns out this series, developed by mega creative minds J.J. Abrams (LOST), Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci (STAR TREK), is not only genuinely a damn good show, but also highly addictive, intelligent, and very dimensional (and more ways than one; yeah, you get the joke). Although the series is most definitely science fiction heavy, the real heart of the program is the relationship between all the characters, most specifically that of the strained Bishops.

FBI Special Agent Olivia Dunham [possibly deliberate reference to Carl Dunham from KING KONG? Hey, for all we know, they’re major fans] finds herself exposed to a world of unimaginable scientific possibilities when she races against time to save her comatose lover, John Scott (guest star Mark Valley). Even with the resolution of that storyline, Olivia is nonetheless pulled into the Fringe Division, a special sector of the FBI tasked with investigating, cleaning up, and preventing scientific anomalies such as the one that wrecked havoc on a airliner and left her boyfriend for dead. In order to save the day on a daily basis, she recruits Peter Bishop, begrudgingly from his perspective, to persuade his father, Dr. Walter Bishop, to help her. Easier said than done, taking into account Peter has nothing but spite for his father after having the opposite of a pleasant, homey childhood. But Peter, a young man in his early twenties who isn’t exactly with the straight and narrow of the law, agrees. However, as Olivia and the Bishops seek their teeth further into Fringe Division and solve these anomalies, Peter is beginning to see a grander connection to all these events. Not only are Peter and Walter significant components of science gone awry, but Olivia discovers something about herself that forces her to confront her past.

Science attacking the universe, literally. It’s a gorgeous, brilliantly executed idea. There’s heistmanwho can move through walls, plenty of genetic animal anomalies that wreck havoc not only on the mainland but also sewers, folks with extraordinary powers thanks to childhood treatments, heart-crushing parasites, message-imprinting flashlights, computers liquefying brains, emotion sensors, pyrokenesis, and the much-overused-but-yet-somehow-super-fresh teleportation device. Of course there’s much, much more – a whole universe worth of totally unconventional scientific phenomena gone awry, and it’s up to our trio to stop it. Basically, this show can best be summarized as so: Um, COOL!

Indeed, all the science mumbo jumbo – and believe me, there is plenty – is actually pretty damn cool, as are the generated effects – visual and computer generated – of the messed up science stuff. Watching these anomalies brought to life is nothing short of beautiful, and from the little I’ve seen of season two at this point, it only improves. Furthermore, this show wisely doesn’t just turn into a freak out the week type program, but more often than not, these scientific anomalies have a close, personal connection to a member of the team, which allows for some utterly great emotional writing and performances. Additionally, Olivia finds out she may not be as normal as she initially thought, which also conjures up some great moments for Anna Torv to play with.

As I said before, FRINGE works great as a science fiction procedural program, but the main crux of the show is the family formed at Fringe Division. Olivia’s close friendship with her partner Charlie, a man who is always there to have her back and believes in her; Olivia’s relationship with her sister, which may also spark a relationship with Peter. Hell, even the work-related relationship between Olivia and her boss Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick, a Abrams favorite) is awesome to watch. Broyles believers in Olivia, trusts her, and backs her up. Damn good boss. And of course, the strained relationship between Walter and Peter. Walter, who just spent the last seventeen years locked up in a mental institution, is perfectly delighted examining bodies, recalling memories, and eating random delicious foods, not having a care in the world. For the majority of the season, Peter is torn on whether or not he’s pleased to have his father back in his life, or regrets getting him out of the institution. Of course their father/son relationship has moments of dramatic strains, it nonetheless is perhaps the most amusing and fun aspect of the show.

Even with disasters each episode to deal with, there are arcs spread throughout the season that’s just as engaging. First and foremost is the search for William Bell, the mastermind behind the world’s leading scientific company Massive Dynamics. As each case gets solved, there are more and more connections to Bell, making him a top priority for the Fringe Division. Another arc is Olivia’s past, and what was done to her as a child that causes her to posses abilities a regular everyday Joe really shouldn’t have. The third arc, and perhaps the juiciest and most epic, is the devious plan by David Robert Jones, a biochemist who is cunning, manipulative, and possibly a little bad. Immediately, his sights are fixed on Olivia, and helps her explore who she is and conjures up aspects of her past. He also has a personal vendetta against William Bell, which makes finding Bell of even greater importance for the Fringe team.

FRINGE excels in basically all levels. The characters are gripping, and entirely three dimensional. They don’t act as devices to keep the story flowing, these are true flesh and blood characters, even the bloody guest stars. All the actors are at the top of their game: Anna Torv never fails to impress in every episode, showing vulnerability, kickassery, sheer determination, and simply awesomeness. Aside from the whole being beautiful thing, Ms. Torv is possibly one of the most promising actresses on television right now. John Noble is obviously having a blast playing Walter, and his charm and playfulness can’t help but be absorbed by the audience. Kirk Acevedo is a faithful friend and husband as Charlie Francis, and Jasika Nicole is fun and gets some great one-liners as Walter’s assistant Agent Astrid Farnsworth. Pretty boy Joshua Jackson, arguably the best part of DAWSON’S CREEK a millenia ago, shows a tremendous talent that I had never seen before, making him entirely likable, charismatic, and another reason why this show is must-watch television.

Cinematography is gorgeous, making FRINGE one of the best lit and directed shows on the tube right now. Music by maestro Michael Giacchino (LOST) is also basking in the realm of brilliance. Even the bloody editing is quick and smooth. Oh, and lest I forget, a creative aspect of FRINGE that makes me giddy every episode – the dimensional pop out location titles that hover in mid air [there’s a name for them, I just don’t know what it is…]. Sure, it can get a bit repetitive with how many times ‘Harvard University’ shows up, but I can deal. It’s bloody fun!

Sadly, I feel like I’ve given far too much of the overall story arc away, so perhaps it’s best to end this review nowish. FRINGE is a terrific show. Brilliant in writing, performances, cinematography, score, and editing, the series is highly addictive, and the scientific jargon doesn’t fall into the ‘distracting’ category. The characters are gripping, the storyline intense, and similar to me, I have very little doubt you won’t be wowed by the imaginative scope of the series as I was. By the season finale, you’ll be screaming for me. Which, lucky for you, you can do basically ASAP with the recently released complete second season on DVD/Blu-Ray, and season three having just premiered on FOX. It’s a good time to be a FRINGE fan.

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