Friday, September 18, 2009

Better the Second Time Around?

Fringe: A New Day in the Old Town
Season 2, Episode 1

I suppose I've been down this road more than most. Give something a shot, feel it comes up short and move on. But on rare occasions sometimes a show can sneak back into my schedule. And if this year is the year of anything, its the Year of Second Chances. Two shows I had completely written off and one I never wanted to give the time of day are anchoring the second half of my television week. But more than my disappointment in most of the first season of Dollhouse and my (until recently) ignorance of the fun that is the Winchester brothers, Fringe was a show I wasn't going to get into. I watched three of the first four episodes, found its vain attempt to be the next X-Files insulting and changed the channel. It just wasn't going to happen. Only then it did.

I gave the full first season a whirl on BluRay and like the second time I watched Dollhouse, the lowered expectations helped. This wasn't the next X-Files and was never going to be. The conspiracies are too limited. The direction cares more about looking pretty than setting a mood. It's X-Files Lite, or Diet X-Files and you know what? I really like Diet Pepsi. You can have some fun with Diet X-Files. The scripts get better and the actors really come into their own as the season goes on. And a pair of twists in last year's finale had me ready and raring to go for last night's premiere. And if you didn't watch the season one finale, don't read another sentence unless you like things being spoiled for you.

Putting aside my love and respect for Mr. Leonard Nimoy, the most important reveal of the finale was the idea hinted at mid-season that Joshua "Quack! Quack!" Jackson's character Peter is actually from the primary alternate reality that our characters have been interacting with (which the DC fanboy in me refers to as Earth-2), stolen as a child by his "father" because his son died. This might very well be the move that saved the show long term for me. John Noble (The Return of the King) is a fine actor and there were few performers who could have elevated Dr. Walter Bishop above the level of a joke. The trouble is his illness often comes off as shtick. He's stuck acting goofy for the most part as comic relief. The storytelling has now given him a way to add depth to his work because his interactions with Peter and possibly the cause of his advanced mental illness are the result of a moving tragedy.

This first episode since the reveal uses the wonderful device of Peter's approaching birthday (see party hat wearing cow above) to have Walter fretting over making him a custard that this Peter hates, but the late Earth-1 Peter loved as a small child. And of course at some point Walter effectively became Earth-2 Peter's father, so the son goes along with it as he does so many of Walter's eccentricities. And that's something else that made the show enjoyable. One of my very few gripes about The X-Files was that over time Scully saw far too much to remain a skeptic for so long. Once this show got past the Doubting Thomas Syndrome things picked up quite a bit, which has mostly involved Peter going with the flow as opposed to positing "That's impossible." every fifteen minutes like a commercial break alert.

The biggest problem this week is pulling a Lost-Season-Two-Premiere on us. They teased us with William Bell (Nimoy) for the entirety of season one only to reveal his swank location in the World Trade Center on Earth-2 in the last scene. Of course, why reveal anything when you can have Olivia show up with amnesia and drag it out some more. That's just plain annoying television.

Hopefully, they can get back in the swing of things in short order and don't drag that out too long. Olivia's usually the primary lead, so its unusual to see her so sidelined (in the hospital and scatter-brained). But it does give Peter and Walter a little more time to shine then they normally get. But even Olivia's best scene with Charlie is mostly about Kurt Acevedo telling a moving story and saying farewell to his character.

One of the biggest concerns was answered very quickly this year. After successfully taking down the first big bad last season, who was going to be a threat to the main team? Surely not Bell, he's Nimoy-tastic! Enter our Earth-2 Super Soldier disguised as our good friend Agent Charlie Francis, who will be a nice insidious force even without his changing identity device (I dub him Fake Face Francis). It was fairly easy to call that he was going bye-bye. When a new character shows up, like Agent Jessup, someone was on their way out (we call that one MI-5-itis) and it wasn't going to be any of the three leads. We can all just be glad it wasn't The Wire veteran Lance Reddick's Special Agent Broyles. The man has been a terrific contributor (this show's version of Skinner) once he stopped calling Olivia, "Le-A-Sun." Of course that was before he made the icky moment with Nina Sharp. That was just not fun.

But for the most part the show is fun. I mean this isn't Heroes seasons two and three level problems, just a few imperfections and limitations. Don't expect too much high drama and you can get a kick out of it most weeks. At least I hope we can... whether the show flows well week-to-week as opposed to a complete season at once on BD remains to be seen.

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