Sunday, May 2, 2010

Once Upon a Time, There Was a Parallel Universe - Fringe review

Fringe – “Brown Betty”

Fringe does a musical episode. Sorta.

In the previous episode, Peter (Joshua Jackson) found out that he is not Walter’s (John Noble) son. Well, at least not the Walter of this universe. Now Peter has gone missing. So Walter copes the only way he knows how. By getting lit (he crosses a couple of different pot plants, including some Afghan Kush, to come up with something he calls "Brown Betty").

Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) asks Astrid (Jasika Nicole) to babysit her niece Ella while she runs down a lead on Peter, and “Uncle” Walter ends up telling the little girl a story to pass the time. The yarn Walter spins is a trippy noir-esque tale with 1950s trappings, which puts the main cast into different but familiar roles, for example SA Broyles is Lt. Broyles who also happens to sing and play piano and Olivia is a former cop turned, what else, but private eye.

Dunham the P.I. is hired by a wheelchair-bound Walter to find a special glass heart. It turns out the Walter in this tale created rainbows and bubble gum and this glass heart is his most prized creation, but it was stolen by his assistant Peter Bishop (no relation in this tale). Dunham runs up against Massive Dynamic, Nina Sharp and her Watchers, as the Observers are called here (and a more clear nod to the Watchers of Marvel Comics who inspired the Observers).

It all has a happy ending, more thanks to little Ella than Walter. Except that in the real world, Peter is still missing, leaving Walter to grieve a while longer.

This episode really didn’t work for me. It was advertised and discussed on the web as “the musical episode” but it really wasn’t a musical. A few characters sang a couple of lines from some songs and that’s it. They never sang a complete song, nor were there any big Glee-like production numbers. Full-blown musical episodes have been done on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena: Warrior Princess and Scrubs (with the creators of Avenue Q working on the latter). Buffy’s is especially noteworthy in that creator Joss Whedon wrote and composed original songs for the episode, and the songs directly reflected and commented on the character’s states of mind and then-current arcs. The Buffy musical episode, called “Once More, With Feeling,” was exceptional television; Fringe’s “Brown Betty” was not. I didn’t care for the 1950s milieu (it seemed like warmed over Dixon Hill, P.I. leftovers from Star Trek: The Next Generation), the songs were all over the place and not very interesting or memorable (several were culled from Walter’s selections that he was playing on his turntable).

All in all this Brown Betty was a huge downer. Puff, puff…major PASS.

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