Fringe Season One DVD Review

When it debuted last year Fringe was being flaunted as the next big thing. Everyone was expecting uber-producer JJ Abrams to deliver another Lost sized hit. Instead what we got was a moderately successful remake of The X-Files. Co-created by Abrams with his Star Trek writers, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, Fringe shares the same basic premise as Chris Carter’s magnum opus with FBI agents investigating strange and unexplained scientific phenomenon. Only this time around Mulder is the cynical sceptic, Scully is the more open minded believer and the Lone Gunmen are condensed into a single eccentric mad scientist. Oddly enough it all works.


For the first half of its freshman season Fringe is a distinctly hit and miss affair. Great one week, average the next. By episode ten ‘Safe’ things start to improve although the standalone tales work less well than the mythology driven episodes. Although in true JJ Abrams style it’s a mythology dense in puzzling questions, obscure clues and cryptic answers. By the end of the season you’ll find yourself just as confused as you were at the start if not more so.

Besides the up and down quality of the episodes another of the series main problems is unfortunately its heroine, Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv). For the most part Olivia was difficult to like, too cold and distant, focused entirely on her job. It didn’t help that Torv seemed to be sleepwalking through her performance half of the time. She improves as the series progress. Introducing her sister and niece warmed up the character and made her more relatable. Not sure how I feel about her having possible super powers and a grand destiny (too much like Sydney Bristow) but so far it’s given the series some great episodes (“The Ability” and “Bad Dreams”).

The Bishops, on the other hand, were instant favourites. The delightful contrast between Walter’s childish enthusiasm and Peter’s sarcastic charm help bring some great moments of levity to what could have been a very dour and overly serious show. John Nobel does tend to overdo it as Walter in the early episodes but manages to tone it down later on. Joshua Jackson is the only one of the core three who arrives pretty much fully formed. Peter acts as the audience’s window into this world, decoding all the tech talking and ready with a sarcastic quip whenever things get a little too unbelievable.

The remaining characters add very little to the show's central dynamic beyond having someone else around to spout exposition or asking Walter to explain the technobable for all the dummies in the audience. Olivia’s partner, Charlie, is the weakest link, lacking anything even remotely resembling a personality.

Okay, so to quickly recap; Fringe is the basically The X-Files with some 21st century sheen. The mythology episodes are great while the standalone ones tend to be iffy. The central trio are strong, even if it does take time to warm up to Olivia, but the rest of the cast are weak and forgettable. And those lacking in strong stomachs should be warned this is not the type of show you can watch while having lunch. Seriously, there’s at least one gross out moment every episode. You’d think they have a gore quota to meet or something.

Rating: * * * *

DVD Extras
-Three Full-Length Commentaries
-Evolution: The Genesis of Fringe featurette

-Behind the Real Science of Fringe featurette
-A Massive Undertaking: The Making of Fringe
-The Casting of Fringe
-Fringe Visual Effects featurette
-Dissected Files: Unaired Scenes
-Unusual Side Effects: Gag Reel
-Fringe: Deciphering the Scene
-Roberto Orci Production Diary
-Gene the Cow montage

Smallville: Season 8 DVD Review

It’s hard to believe that Smallville is still on the air after all these years. What’s even harder to believe is that I bothered watching it again after all these years. I all but gave up on the series during it’s sixth and seventh seasons, catching the occasional episode mainly because of morbid curiosity and my unwavering love for Alison Mack (please, someone find her a better show, she’s too good for this one now).

Season 8 was the first without the show’s original developers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar. A new creative team was brought in to take over and hopefully shake the series out of its lethargy. This was the year they finally got Clark off that farm and start working at the Daily Planet. Mind you, he still lives on the farm, long distance commuting being no problem when you’re faster than a speeding bullet. This was also supposed to be the year that Clark final got over that wet blanket, Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk), and started making gooey eyes at Erica Durance’s feisty Lois Lane.

Sadly this was not to be. Just when it looked like Clark and Lois were finally going to get together who should show up but the emotional black hole herself. Great, just what everyone wanted, more Clark/Lana moping. Like there hasn’t been enough of that in the last seven seasons. Worst of all Lois is given the boot in favour of Lana and vanishes completely for a several episodes (boo). Lex briefly returns (although not played by Michael Rosenbaum) leading the way for Lana to be finally written out. Hopefully for good this time.

The season's overreaching arc, the Doomsday storyline, limped along before reaching an underwhelming climax. Even the death of a few regular characters couldn’t save this from being anything other than a massive wasted opportunity. The problem with this entire arc is that Doomsday, even in the comics, is a very weak villain despite the very best efforts of Samuel Witwer.

The regular characters are all just going through the same motions they’ve been going through since day one. Bless’em, they try to hide it but you can sort of tell they are really not bothered anymore. Tom Welling’s face seems to be permanently set on ‘perplexed’. Green Arrow (Justin Hartley) is promoted to series regular and as such is dually wasted the entire season. New character Tess (Cassidy Freeman), a blatant Lex substitute, brings nothing new to the table except someone else to get on your nerves whenever Lana isn’t on screen.

But seriously, let’s all be brutally honest here, does anyone really give a shit about this show anymore? I certainly don’t. I struggled though this season in the vain hope that it would be a return to form and offer a promising new direction for the series. I was wrong. Smallville should’ve been put out to pasture years ago but instead it continues to be renewed, due to return for a ninth season at the end of September.

Rating: * *

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys Season Two Review

It’s hard to argue that Hercules: The Legendary Journeys was ever anything other than escapist fluff. Nevertheless, it was extremely well-made escapist fluff, crafted by a cast and crew who obviously loved and cared about what they were doing. After a successful freshman year the series went into its second season with greater confidence that is evident in these 22 episodes. The slightly darker tones of the first season had been ironed out and transferred over to spin-off, Xena: Warrior Princess, leaving Hercules free to fully embrace its place as a light-hearted hour of fun for all the family. The series had found its niche and never once looked back. At least, not until the dark days of season five but that’s a story for a latter review.

Without a doubt this was the year that the show’s wonderful supporting cast began to finally take shape. We got to meet Bruce Campbell’s dashing Autolycus, the king of thieves. Kevin Smith (no, not the chubby filmmaker) made his first appearance in ‘What’s in a Name’ only not as Ares but rather as Hercules other resentful half-brother, Iphicles. And ‘The Apple’ sees the arrival of Hercules shallow but adorable sister, Aphrodite, played with full Valley Girl ditzy cuteness by Alexandra Tydings. Despite the influx of new characters the strength of the series still remained the great partnership of Hercules and Iolaus and the wonderful performances of Kevin Sorbo and Michael Hurst. Wisely the producers give Hurst more to do this year, recognising his versatility as an actor by giving him the odd episode to carry solo.

Like most TV shows of its time the series was predominately episodic rather than arc driven. There isn't even so much as a two parter this season. The only recurring element linking many episodes together remains Hercules tiresome ongoing struggle with his wicked step-mother Hera. This plotline continues to go no where and just feels like its dragging on and on with no hope of ever reaching any sort of conclusion.

Standout episodes include season opener ‘The King of Thieves’ which, rather obviously, sees the introduction of Autolycus. Hercules journeys into the underworld in ‘The Other Side’ the series own take on the legend of Persephone and Hades. And ‘Once A Hero’ sees Herc and Iolaus team up with King Jason and their fellow Argonauts to go after the Golden Fleece again and battle some nifty skeleton warriors that would make Ray Harryhausen proud.
Rather disappointingly after such a strong run of episodes the season ends in low key fashion with a rather limp clip show (seriously, a clip show!). ‘The Wedding of Alcmene’, a reunion special that brought together almost every supporting character from the show’s first two seasons, would’ve made for a much more suitable finale.

It had a giant sea monster and everything.

Rating: * * * *