The new series on the 2008-2009 broadcast network primetime television season left a lot to be desired. And when I say a lot to be desired, I mean the majority of them were only a couple steps above unmitigated disasters. There may actually have been more watchable mid-season replacements than new series that started the year (maybe-when talking about numbers this low, it’s tough to tell). The combination of the Writers Guild strike (which devastated the traditional television development season) with the global economic collapse and the threat of a Screen Actors Guild labor stoppage was too much for the nets to handle, at least in terms of quality.
The one show coming into Fall 2008 that really had my hopes up was Fringe. Luckily, it did not disappoint. Considering his fandom among many, I should point out that I am not a J.J. Abrams groupie and that, prior to Fringe, I never watched any of his shows beyond one or two episodes. More after the jump:
Fringe follows FBI Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) and her team as they investigate cases involving mysterious, unexplained phenomenon. Besides her fellow FBI agents, she is aided by the eccentric Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), who until this assignment had been locked up in a mental institution for nearly two decades, and his son Peter (Joshua Jackson), brilliant like his father but somewhat of a misfit, who has had some shady business dealings. What initially appear to be paranormal occurrences turn out to be the successful application of unorthodox “fringe” science, much of which stemmed from experiments Dr. Bishop conducted for the government many years before. As the season develops, it is revealed that these seemingly random happenings are part of something more sinister called “The Pattern’.
Sound like Abrams? Absolutely. Think of Fringe as an X-Files for the new millennium, slicker and with a more cohesive, less episodic overall plot than its predecessor had (at least initially).
Like many new series, Fringe doesn’t hit full stride until a few episodes in. It’s not that the first few episodes aren’t good (they are), it’s just that the interest really ramps up once the interconnectivity of the occurrences and of “The Pattern” begins to take form-in other words when the series makes the jump from feeling episodic in nature to serial. Once you get into that storyline… it’s great.
Acting is good but not spectacular, up to the level (but not surpassing) that which one would expect from other current primetime dramas. The one exception is John Noble, who truly excels as the just on the safe side of mad (but you never know for sure) Dr. Bishop. The role is probably the most demanding of any on the show, and Noble meets all its challenges, exhibiting at times both great pain and great humor.
Production values are off the chart, with huge stunt and special effects sequence and uber-cool 3-D location subtitles made to feel as if they are part of the set. Fringe runs longer than most shows, boasting half the standard hour-long-show commercial time. Fox calls it their “Remote-Free TV”; I call it J.J. Abrams receiving special consideration because he’s J.J. Abrams. Hey, if it makes for a better show, who cares if he does?
Video / Audio / Extras
Extras… wow! If you’ve read any of my prior reviews, you know that I am almost always disappointed by the special features included on most DVDs. Not so here. Not only does the Fringe Season 1 DVD set shine in bonus feature content, but in their production values, too. Every episode has a “Fringe: Deciphering the Scene” mini-featurette breaking down one of the episode’s huge set pieces; many also have deleted scenes and/or additional episode-specific featurettes. Other extras include Robert Orci’s Production Diary from the pilot (easily one of the best put together production diaries I’ve seen), featurettes on various elements of production (casting, special effects, etc), and a gag reel. All of these are very well executed, even if the interest level sometimes varies (I found the casting docu a little dry, but, admittedly, working in the industry, I know the process inside and out).
My only complaint is how the extras are interspersed across the various DVDs. While it makes perfect sense to match the deleted sequences and “anatomies of a scene” to the individual disc on which the corresponding episode resides, I found it very frustrating having to swap out numerous DVDs to watch all of the various featurettes that deal with the series as a whole.
Looking forward to Season 2!