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Fringe: The Complete Second Season(TV) (2009-2010)
Fringe revolves around three unlikely colleagues – a beautiful, young and determined FBI agent (Anna Torv), a brilliant but off-the-wall scientist (John Noble), and his sardonic, roguish son (Joshua Jackson) – who team up to investigate a series of peculiar deaths and disasters known as “The Pattern.” The trio suspects that someone is using the world as a laboratory. And many of the clues lead them to Massive Dynamic, a shadowy global corporation that may be more powerful than any nation.
For more about Fringe: The Complete Second Season and the Fringe: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray release, see Fringe: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on September 8, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Directors: Norberto Barba, Joe Chappelle, Brad Anderson, Jeannot Szwarc, Akiva Goldsman, David Straiton
Writers: J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Zack Whedon, Jason Cahill, Akiva Goldsman
Starring: Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble, Jasika Nicole, Lance Reddick, Blair Brown
» See full cast & crew
Fringe: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray Review
Slight sophomore missteps aside, 'Fringe' remains one of TV's finest hours of science fiction...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, September 8, 2010
The television wildnerness is littered with refugees. Battlestar Galactica survivors are scouring the airwaves for the next cerebral sci-fi epic worthy of their devotion. Sopranos exiles are wandering toward Boardwalk Empire with wide eyes and guarded hearts. And Losties are currently, well... feeling a bit lost. Some viewers have been refugees for even longer. Classic genre junkies are still mourning the loss of The Twilight Zone -- its mere mention causing a surge of nostalgia and longing -- and millions of '90s outlanders remain displaced in the wake of the Great X-Files Cancellation of 2002. But every now and then a soft, soothing voice and the warm glow of a distant beacon draw their attention. Every now and then a series whispers through the fog, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" For many Twilight Zone and X-Files fans (and now many a Lostie), Fringe is that shining genre bastion; a welcome return to twisted-TV form that invites weary wanderers in, tends to their wounds and provides some much-needed food and shelter. I would know. I once counted myself among their number, that is until creators J. J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, God love 'em, finally gave me a place to lay my hat and rest my bones.
Obligatory spoiler warning! I have no intention of spoiling Fringe's delicious second-season secrets, but anyone who has yet to finish the series' first season should duck out now... before it's too late. Alright, let's get cracking. The recently discovered Alternate Universe takes center stage this go-around as Agent Dunham (Anna Torv) makes a dramatic return -- in true Fringe fashion -- from a visit with William Bell (Leonard Nimoy), shapeshifters begin to run amok, a fan-favorite hero is replaced by one of the silver-blooded beasties, and Nina Sharp (Blair Brown) introduces Olivia to a mysterious man (Kevin Corrigan) who promises to help her gain control of her budding abilities. Meanwhile, Walter (invaluable series asset number one, Denethor himself, John Noble) struggles to keep a dark secret from his son and colleagues, Peter (invaluable asset number two, Dawson Creek's older, wiser Joshua Jackson) starts to suspect his father isn't being entirely forthcoming, Astrid (Jasika Nicole) grows closer to the Bishops, and Special Agent Broyles (invaluable asset number three, The Wire's Lance Reddick) is forced to defend the Fringe Division from political scrutiny. Lingering mysteries are put to bed -- Peter's backstory is revealed, the Observer (Michael Cerveris) is fleshed out, and Massive Dynamic's role in all the madness is unraveled a bit more -- and chewy new mythos mysteries are introduced. Even so, the series rarely tromps down Lost's winding path, answering the majority of its questions before season's end and tying up most of its loose ends before creating more. Larger arcs are developed and promising seeds are planted, sure, but Fringe is more accessible than Abrams' Island labyrinth.
The real fun in following Fringe? Keeping up with the Joneses. While the creature-feature misfits and Beta-Universe baddies that dominate its second season are every bit as intriguing as Season One's monstrosities, it's Torv, Jackson and Noble who ensure both the show and its showrunners stay on target. No gag goes by unchecked, no line passes through their mouths unconsidered. The infinitely talented trio not only keep their heads above all the blood, gore and gangrenous gunk that floods each episode, they maintain the series' focus, making Fringe a character-driven drama first and foremost, a palate-pleasing genre gumbo second. In the hands of any other actress, I suspect Olivia would be a one-note, furrow-browed blowhard; a guns-n-ammo ice queen with little to offer Fringe Division beyond sex appeal and investigative know-how. But in Torv's steady hands, Olivia is an idealistic upstart with a tragic childhood and an intense desire to do for others what no one seemed able to do for her. Dunham may be the series' uber-serious Girl Scout, but the Australian natural keeps her feisty agent grounded and her priorities straight. Jackson channels his patented Pacey charm in two distinct directions this season, and his character is all the more human for it. Easing up on his angsty-son schtick, delivering sarcastic quips with the assuredness of a master, and slowly unearthing convincing turmoil from Peter's past, Jackson comes into his own, so much so that a brief disappearance left me wondering where in the world my second favorite Bishop might be. And Noble? While the veteran actor continues to walk a fine line between lunatic and savant, he imbues his absent-minded doc with such brisk wit, such infectious genius, such a fragile soul that it works. Under Noble's watch, Walter has emerged as one of the most memorable television characters to come along in a long, long time. No hyperbole, just the facts.
Wrap the world's greatest actors in rags though, surround them with cardboard cutouts, scribble down whatever comes to mind, and lash it all together on a dream and a dime, and no amount of ensemble-cast magic or deftly delivered performances will save your show. Thankfully, Fringe surrounds Torv, Jackson and Noble with the best network TV has to offer, and then some. Reddick, Cerveris, Nicole, Nimoy and Corrigan tackle their supporting roles with aplomb, gnawing on dense dialogue and spitting out captivating, fully realized men and women worthy of more screentime than they can possibly be afforded. The writers rise to every challenge as well. Subplots come and subplots go, and yes, some simply fizzle (more on that in a bit), but the showrunners and writers continue to churn out engrossing storylines and fantastic standalone episodes, all in service of the Pattern at large. Dialogue, pacing and plotting are smart and efficient, necessary exposition is delivered with care, and twists, turns and surprises abound. Episode highlights? "White Tulip," with guest star Peter Weller as a time-hopping professor, is one of the season's best; "Peter," faux-80s intro and all, offers a sobering glimpse into the Bishops' past; and "August," "Grey Matters," "Jacksonville," "The Bishop Revival," and "The End, Part 2" go above and beyond. No expense is spared on the series' costumes and special effects either. Light and shadow are wielded with care, lending set pieces authenticity and gruesome deaths stomach-turning believability. Television-quality CG rears its ugly head here and there -- Sharp's arm is an eyesore best left covered -- but for the most part, particularly when the use of CG is limited to augmenting Fringe's blood-soaked practical effects, seams and shortcomings aren't apparent.
Season Two only falters on occasion, and even then, personal taste will dictate whether the showrunners' at-times questionable choices roll off your back or fester in your gut. Specifically? Is it just me, or is the manner in which the Alternate Universe is handled a bit heavy-handed? Black leather, dyed hair, glowering expressions, gruff posturing, eeeevil intentions at every street corner. It's the first time Fringe wholeheartedly embraces comicbook sensibilities and, for once, I don't mean that as a compliment. Don't get me wrong, it isn't the sort of series-derailing misfire that should send newcomers scurrying, but I do hope the writers' infuse the Beta-Verse with more nuance in Season Three (set to arrive September 23rd). Other oddities stand out as well. Peter's... hm... late-season mood swings are a tad clumsy, major plot twists are more akin to guided missiles than the atomic bombs I was hoping for, the season's two-part finale nearly squanders its potential (just before it goes out swinging) and "Brown Betty," despite cleverly pouncing on a misguided and mandatory Fox Network stunt, feels out of place. Nitpicks? Perhaps. But I walked away from Season One with slightly stronger feelings. Regardless, Fringe's second season is a solid, sometimes staggering series offering that expands upon its past and points to its future. Even if you, like me, don't accept every late-game reveal with open arms, the show's absorbing characters, arresting storylines, mesmerizing mysteries, intense intrigue and thrilling momentum make The Complete Second Season worth watching and, more to the point, worthy of a coveted home on your shelves. I, for one, can't wait to see where Dunham and the Bishops do next.
Fringe: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray, Video Quality
While the Blu-ray edition of Fringe: The Complete First Season selflessly spread twenty episodes across five discs, The Complete Second Season packs twenty-three episodes onto just four discs. The result? The series' latest 1080p/VC-1 transfer isn't quite as impressive as its predecessor, although it still manages to come pretty close. Minor compression issues are the chief culprit, mingling with Fringe's already noisy disposition and invading everything from out-of-focus backgrounds to brief establishing shots to a few mismanaged closeups. But don't shoot off any angry e-mails to Warner just yet. The fleeting artifacts that appear never amount to a significant distraction -- videophiles will have to scour the image to find them, and even then the anomalies won't be as apparent on most small to medium displays -- and generally blend in with the series' grainy veneer. They also aren't pervasive, and only affect a handful of scenes per episode. Otherwise, negligible ringing and intermittent smearing are the only lingering complaints I have, both of which trace back to the showrunners' judicious use of edge enhancement and shot-specific noise reduction.
"Minor." "Fleeting." "Negligible." I can't stress those words enough. The second season's presentation may not be perfect, but it's still quite remarkable. Colors are bold and vibrant, transforming every mangled corpse and frozen head into a fittingly gruesome sight. Skintones are warm and lifelike, contrast is striking throughout, and black levels are fairly deep and satisfying (despite the fact that underground lairs, moonlit forests and shadow-cast warehouses are prone to increased noise). Detail is outstanding as well, and many a closeup looks fantastic. Take note of the pores spilling down Broyles' cheeks, the weathered wrinkles that grace Walter's face, the rough-hewn texture of Peter's five-o-clock scruff, the fine hairs that stir on Olivia's neck... when the stars of Tom Yatsko's photography align, the second season is a stunner. Filmic softness creeps in, but it's rarely unwelcome; special effects are a tad waxy, but it's hardly the fault of the transfer. If anything, screenshot scientists will assume the series doesn't pack as much visual punch as it does. Again, unless you plan on pausing each scene, putting every frame under the microscope, and tackling the impossible task of distinguishing every speck of natural noise from every tiny compression blip, The Complete Second Season won't disappoint. To the contrary, it outclasses a number of other high-profile television releases and should please fans and newcomers alike.
Fringe: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Brace yourselves, dear audiophiles. I'm about to go against my better judgment and award Warner's 640kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track... sigh, a relatively high score. I wanted to cling to principle, I did. I want the studio to grant their television releases the lossless audio mixes they deserve, I desperately, desperately do. I know full well that many believe any high praise only serves to justify the further use of lossy audio, and for any part I have in that, I'm sorry. But Fringe's second-season sonics sound so good -- not chest-thumping, DTS-HD perfect, mind you, but so good -- that I can't, in good conscience, award the track anything less.
Dialogue is bright, clean, and carefully prioritized in the series' busy, often intense soundscape. Yet lines rarely lose their luster, and music and effects aren't pinched, tinny or choked. (A handful of anomalies creep in from episode to episode, but none that require a hot-blooded rant.) LFE output is strong and earthy throughout (albeit slightly spongy at times), and dynamics are better than I anticipated; separation is impressive, pans are creepy-crawly smooth and directionality, though somewhat restrained on occasion, is precise. Moreover, rear speaker activity is lively and engaging, effectively wrapping atmospheric noise, believable acoustics, Michael Giacchino and Chris Tilton's pulsing score and immersive environmental ambience around the listener. Is it all as crisp and nuanced as lossless hounds are accustomed? Not quite. But unless you know exactly what you're listening for, the differences aren't as obvious as you might expect. (At least not in this particular case.) To be clear, I can only imagine how high a lossless track would have catapulted Fringe, and I almost feel obligated to drop my score a wee bit more to compensate for the short-sighted use of a standard Dolby Digital mix. But The Complete Second Season's audio experience, lossy or no, is too commendable to treat so harshly. I will say this though: chances are, a DTS-HD Master Audio track would have been a top tier television beast.
Fringe: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The 4-disc Blu-ray edition of Fringe: The Complete Second Season isn't a supplemental powerhouse, but its content is decent enough. Four commentaries, a full-length bonus episode, an hour of behind-the-scenes material, and a quick-hit collection of deleted scenes. Nothing more, nothing less.
Fringe: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Fringe's second season isn't as gripping or rewarding as its first, but it isn't far off. A few tweaks here, a few tweaks there and it would have been every bit as good. The same could be said of Warner's video transfer. While still quite impressive and striking on the whole, its presentation is slightly less refined than its first-season counterpart. As for the rest of the release, the studio's standard Dolby Digital track excels -- despite its lossy nature -- and its supplemental package is generous enough to help justify the set's cost. Ultimately, neither the series' second season nor its Blu-ray release is flawless, but Fringe remains one of the best hours of sci-fi on television and The Complete Second Season is still one of Warner's more notable TV releases.
Fringe: Other Seasons
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