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Series
The FOX Network series Fringe revolves around a Homeland Security team that investigates a series of unexplained occurrences that are taking place all over the world in what is secretly being referred to as "The Pattern". If based on that description it sounds an awful lot like another FOX series that premiered in 1993 I can't say I'd disagree, but we'd both be wrong. For the most part at least.

Fringe: The Complete First Season
The team that Homeland Security agent Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick) has put together consists of no nonsense F.B.I. agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), a former government researcher who has spent the past 17-years in a mental institution and has a connection to many of the events included in "The Pattern", and Walter's son Peter (Joshua Jackson), who is brought in as his father's guardian but who also aids in investigations thanks to an IQ running somewhere "50-points north of the genius level" and contacts made during his shadowy, misspent youth.

It's not hard to see why many have labled the show an X-Files clone due to the fact that it involves an FBI-like investigative team and strange occurrences that are all part of a larger world spanning conspiracy, but instead of investigating aliens or paranormal activities, each week the team investigates occurrences that involve what is referred to as 'fringe science', which include such scientific theories such as teleportation, genetic mutation, mind control, and many others. It seems that someone is using the world as their own laboratory, and at the center of these experiments is the mega corporation Massive Dynamic led by the enigmatic but never seen William Bell, a former associate of Walter's when he was employed by the government. Since the source of many of these experiments is the work that Walter and Bell performed decades ago, the team uses Walter's unique knowledge to solve each episode's mysteries. The experiments that make up each episode--collectively referred to as 'The Pattern'--are outlandish to be sure, but the show is so well written that you can buy into all the mumbo jumbo without suspending too much of your disbelief.

Fringe: The Complete First Season
But plot devices aside, what really separates Fringe from that other conspiracy show and also makes it one of the best new shows from this past year's television season are the characters and the cast that portrays them. This is especially the case with John Noble as Dr. Walter Bishop who steals every scene he is in. Scary, sad, and humorous--often times all in the same instant--Walter is one of the best written and acted characters on television in the past couple of years and no matter whose name gets top billing the linchpin for the series. It is a crime that he wasn't nominated this year for an Emmy Award and someone should be made an unwilling participant in a Pattern experiment over his omission.

The only fault I can see in the series thus far is that it takes a while for it to really get on a roll. I watched the first 10 epsiodes week-to-week when they originally aired, but after the series took a month and a half long break I didn't watch the second 10 episodes unitl after they had all aired simply because I had forgotten all about the show. Luckily my DVR didn't forget about it as the second half of the season is where the overall story arc of the series really kicks into high gear and things get very interesting. Hopefully season two of Fringe will be able to keep up the momentum generated from the mind-blowing season finale.

In truth, Fringe is more of an amalgamation of a police procedural drama such as C.S.I. with a sprinkle of House M.D. and, yes, The X-Files thrown in, but the series can be easily forgiven for any similarities to other television programs due to its high production values, interesting though outlandish stories, and its excellent cast of characters.

Fringe: The Complete First Season
Video
All 20 episodes of Fringe arrive on Blu-ray with VC-1 encoded 1080p transfers and the results are very good, resulting in a better than broadcast presentation. The color pallet of the series runs the full gamut as just as many scenes take place in bright daylight as they do in the darkness of night. When the bright colors of Walter's lab appear on screen they pop, and black levels are excellent and consistent with a bit of digital noise every so often, but grain is barely noticeable. The source material used is unsurprisingly near perfect given the fact that this is a new series with no screen artifacts to be found. A slickly produced series with very good effects work, Fringe looks like a show were a lot of its production budget has been spent on both digital and practical visual goods.

Audio
There's some good news and some bad news with the audio. Bad news first--the only audio option for each episode in the set is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track--there is no lossless audio track here to be found. The good news--you're likely not to care one bit. Each episode's track is as good as any found on the DVD for a major motion picture with ample use of the surround channels throughout each episode and clear dialogue from the center channel. I found the sound design of the series impressive and quite surprising as it is a much more aggressive sound mix than I'm accustomed to hearing while watching a television series. The series' musical score (credited to frequent J.J. Abrams collaborator Michael Giacchino) is excellent and really sets the mood for many of series' more shocking moments as well as its more quieter ones.

Fringe: The Complete First Season
Extras
Warner Home Video has provided a decent batch of extras for the show spread across the five-disc set. Three episodes feature audio commentary, including "The Pilot" (with commentary from series creators J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci), "The Ghost Network" (with commentary from co-writers David H. Goodman and J.R. Orci, and executive producer Bryan Burk), and "Bad Dreams" (featuring commentary from episode writer/director Akiva Goldsman and executive producer Jeff Pinker). Of the three tracks, the first is the most interesting as it discusses the series as a whole more than the others as the participants go into detail on topics such as the genesis of the series and casting. Another feature found spread across the set is "The Massive Undertaking", which is found on four episodes ("The Pilot", "The Ghost Network", "The Transformation", and "There's More Than One Of Everything"). Each of these featurettes acts as an approximately 10-minute making-of for each episode in which they appear. Five episodes also contain a "Dissected Scenes" featurette, which are as you might have guessed deleted scenes from that particular episode. Each episode in the series also contains a "Fringe: Deciphering The Scene" featurette which focuses on a specific special effect from the featured episode, and each has a running time of right around five-minutes.

The rest of the set's extras are located on discs four and five, beginning with disc four's "Evolution: The Genesis of Fringe" (9 min.) in which the participants in the creation of the series discuss how they cam up with the idea about a series revolving around the investigation of weird, fringe science activities. The next featurette, "Behind the Real Science of Fringe" (10 min.), is a fairly self-explanatory title as the science focused on in the show is discussed. The last featurette on disc four, "The Casting of Fringe" (9 min.), features cast and crew interviews and a discussion of the casting process for the series.

Disc five features a Blu-ray exclusive extra, "The Pattern Analysis", which looks at six select scenes from the series and offers up some explanations and theories on the real science behind each with interviews from scientists in the particular scene's field of expertise. Running anywhere from three to six minutes in length, each featurette here kind of feels like a high school or low level college science class. The disc five features continue with "Roberto Orci's Production Diary" (13 min.) which chronicles the filming of the pilot episode, "Fringe Visual Effects" (15 min.) which goes behind the scenes for some of the series' more intricate visual effects work, "Unusual Side Effects: Gag Reel" (5 min.) which is exactly what it says it is, and finally a featurette entitled "Gene the Cow" (3 min.) which gives some special recognition to the cows who starred as Walter's laboratory pet in the series.

Disc five of the set also promises BD Live enhanced features, such as an exclusive to Blu-ray commentary for the season finale "There's More Than One Of Everything", but as of this writing there are no Fringe specific extras to be found through BD Live. Overall it's a decent set of extras for a television series, and I especially enjoyed the initial episode's audio commentary and the featurette focusing in the series' visual effects.

Fringe: The Complete First Season
Overall
On the surface Fringe might seem derivative of The X-Files, but there's much more to this series than what might be initially evident. More of a procedural drama than that show, Fringe builds slowly for the first half of its inaugural season, but it very soon sets itself apart from it older brother with some interesting and frightening stories, slick production values, and a cast of characters led by John Noble that represents one of the best ensembles currently on network television. Warner Home Video's five-disc Blu-ray set consists of a very good video presentation and an audio track that is surprisingly robust for a television program, and the whole set is tied together nicely with a decent batch of extras. I would easily recommend the series to fans of shows such as Fringe producer J.J. Abrams' Lost and, yes The X-Files, but others may not find it their cup of tea and will want to try it before they buy it.

*These images are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality


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