This week, Matthew J. Brady finishes up the latest season of Fringe while Tucker checks in on the Biggest Loser.
Fringe - "6:02 AM EST", "The Last Sam Weiss", "The Day We Died", and beyond
Matthew J. Brady
Hey, remember when Fringe was all about weird science, and evil geniuses creating monsters and whatnot? Sure, shows change over time, and this one did kind of have a plot that developed as the episodes have continued to pile up, but what was once a quirky bit of pseudoscientific goofiness has turned into a show about inter-dimensional war and ancient prophecies, as well as a relationship drama in which multiple versions of the same characters fight for each other's affections. It's still (usually) pretty stupidly enjoyable, but it's certainly notable that it's pretty much become a completely different show.
Of course, shaking things up did seem to help inject some energy into the proceedings; the middle of last season was mired in increasingly tiresome nonsense about characters keeping secrets, but a jaunt into a parallel universe led to some neat developments, and the beginning of this season had a cool alternating structure in which one episode would focus on the regular cast (with Olivia replaced by an evil doppelganger) and the next would jump to the alternate universe for the adventures of a brainwashed Olivia and her otherworldly pals. That had to end, of course, with Olivia returning to find that Peter had been fucking her evil alternate, stranding everyone on the island of tears and regrets for a while, but then the next plot kicked in, in which everyone got all worried about a big, ancient machine destined to destroy one universe or the other, with Peter prophesied to be the guy who operates it for some reason. This seems to be the J.J. Abrams effect; didn't he pull something similar on Alias, where fun spy shenanigans devolved into a complicated conspiracy based around some Renaissance-era prophecy or something? This time around, it's all about some technology created by "the first people", an unexplained race of ancients or aliens or whatever, which is pretty silly stuff, but at this point you just have to go with it if you want to survive.
Anyway, there have been plots about the "good" universe starting to come apart at the seams like the other one is, and a tiresome few episodes in which Leonard Nimoy's character came back from the dead through a ridiculous plot device called "soul magnets", with his soul taking over Olivia's body for some questionable acting and a badly-concieved Inception rip-off in which Walter and Peter took a trip into her mind, which was revealed to be the land of bad computer animation. Oh, and the evil Olivia (or Evilivia, as I call her) in the other universe found out she was pregnant with Peter's kid, and then had the baby a couple episodes later, which evil Walter (which the show has nicknamed "Walternate", doing internet commenters' work for them) is now using for nefarious ends. That's the thing with this show; you just have to go with it and enjoy the ridiculousness, although it can certainly become pretty eye-rolling at times, and the occasional lapse into sentiment (Walter doesn't ever want anything to happen to his "son" Peter! Olivia and Peter are in loooooove!) can get really tiresome (don't even get me started on the flashback episode in which Peter and Olivia met as children, destined to fall in love someday, blah blah blah). But when it's just going balls-out with the nonsensical "science", throwing ideas at the wall, and coming up with sublimely dumb plot twists, it's, well, not exactly good, but it does feel like it's rewarding longtime viewers by having all the shit it's been teasing actually happen. That's something, right?
So here we are with the three-part season finale, which appeared to be leading up to a sort of resolution to all the stuff about the ancient machine and a final showdown where one universe lives and one dies, before taking a left turn into uncharted territory. Not that there weren't plenty of ridiculous revelations even before that, as first it turned out that Kevin Corrigan's "bowling therapist" character from a season or so ago is actually a prophet/historian who knows all about the "first people" and all the crap that will happen with their doomsday device (my favorite touch is his fancy version of one of those executive ball clackers that moves by itself to indicate that the universe is falling apart). Ah, but that's not dumb enough, there's more convoluted "everyone is connected to the big plot" nonsense to come. Yes, a heretofore-unknown prophecy indicates that not only is Peter the guy to operate the machine (which really should have been given a nickname along with everything else, shouldn't it? I think I'll call it the Penultimate Nullifier), but Olivia is the "key" to unlocking a forcefield around it, due to her ever-expanding psychic powers, which now include telekinesis, pyrokinesis, multiversal teleportation, and time-delayed technological manipulation. Hey, why not, we're just pulling things out of our ass at this point.
Ah, but then comes the (sort of) big twist(s) of the finale, in which Peter gets thrown 15 years into the future to see the results of his actions, I guess. Which means, time for more wacky changes and "mysteries" about what could possibly have happened in all that time. The answer: not much that you wouldn't expect. Peter and Olivia are married and are bigwig Fringe Division agents, Broyles is a senator, Walter is in jail (with an awesome Ted Kaczyinski beard) because everyone realized that all the deaths from the multiversal collapse were his fault, Olivia's niece is old enough to be a rookie agent now, Astrid has a terrible haircut (just about the only noticeable visual character change; people age well in this world), and, oh yeah, the world is falling apart a little bit worse than it had been before. In the typical non-ambition of this show, most everything is about the same, except every so often somebody pulls out a high-tech cell phone or something. If you think nerds complain about the lack of jetpacks nowadays, just wait until 2026.
So anyway, while Peter seems confused about being in the future at first, he quickly regains his future memories or something, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. So it's like a normal episode of futureFringe, seeing a terrorist group setting off bombs that worsen the fissures in reality, hastening the destruction of the universe. And surprise, surprise, but Walternate turns out to be behind the plot, having been exiled in "our" universe for some reason just as his universe was destroyed by Peter in self-defense while he was in the Penultimate Nullifier. That's interesting enough, and it could have made a hell of a twist for the show, to have it suddenly taking place 15 years in the future, or being a place for occasional flash-forward episodes in the manner of the ones which jump to the other universe, but instead, the show decides to go big and overdramatic (is it any surprise that Akiva Goldsman is one of the writers of this episode?), having Walternate kill Olivia and subjecting viewers to endless scenes of mourning and sadness that doesn't mean anything, since we all know the death will be instantly reversed.
Yep, it's the time travel solution, in more ways than one. Walter comes up with a dual-pronged scheme: first, he'll be the one to create the Penultimate Nullifier and send it back in time a few million years, and then he'll figure out some way to drag Peter's consciousness forward to the future so he can see what horrors will transpire if he succeeds in destroying the other universe. This doesn't really make any sense, but he still attempts to explain it by saying that the past can't be changed since it already happened, so he has to send the machine back, but by influencing Peter, he can make changes within the past. Yeah, I don't get it either. And then he doesn't even have the courtesy to make up a dumb explanation of how he's doing this thing with Peter; we just suddenly jump back to the "present" and see Peter decide not to become death, destroyer of worlds. Instead, he zaps Walternate and Evilivia over from their universe so they can all work together to fix this multiversal silliness, and then disappears in a nonsensical cliffhanger. Yay, next season?
Objectively, this is all pretty terrible, at least from a writing standpoint, with big plot developments happening because they seem like cool twists, without much work being done to make them less head-scratching. Luckily, the rest of the show does attempt to make it all work, with pretty good visuals and sound (there's a moment in which a sci-fi bomb is being set in an opera house that almost manages to be dramatic and exciting, simply through the use of swelling opera music), some good attention to detail (my favorite touch was the title sequence, in which mostly-fictional science terms flash on the screen; in the dystopian future, those include "water" and "hope"), and actors trying their damnedest to make the characters believe this nonsense. If the writing was anywhere near the level of the rest of the production values, this might actually be a sci-fi show for the ages, rather than an entertaining bit of fluff verging on a guilty pleasure. After several seasons, it's easy to just keep watching a show out of momentum, but while I've felt that way about Fringe at times, I'm starting to think that it's one that I'll often roll my eyes at, but one that I'll almost always gain some pleasure from, be it a cute moment between characters, a completely ridiculous use of fake science, or a neat effect of some sort. It's not great TV, and nobody in their right mind should watch it from this point hoping to get any pleasure, but if you let it accumulate over a few seasons, it turns out to be engagingly pleasant and kind of fun. Basically, if you've been watching from the beginning, I recommend it, but otherwise, stay away. How's that for a backhanded compliment? I like you, Fringe, but it's nothing less than what you deserve.
The Biggest Loser Couples: Week 19
Jay - He actually got kicked off a while back and returned almost immediately, because of some game-play thing I don't remember. He should've gone home last week, but Tim Gunn saved him in the last act of his "fairy godfather" role on the show, which is as over-the-top as it sounds. It's actually more over-the-top than it sounds, now that I've written that down. They had a carriage that resembles a pumpkin, and they wouldn't give Gunn a break despite what sounded like a pretty nasty illness. Remember Val Kilmer in Tombstone? That kind of sick.
Austin - For some reason, the producers haven't taken to Austin the way they have to Jay and Olivia--they like to show him off, because he's young (21 years old) and has lost a tremendous amount of weight--but he seems to lack the deep emotional scarring that keeps the rest of the contestants in a constant state of almost-crying. That isn't to say that Austin is a monument of stoicism--the dude's losing tears like a busted toilet main of sorrow--but that his weeping often repulses more than it does inspire. I like Austin, and think that he's probably going to suffer the least amount of emotional damage that a show as irresponsibly exploitative as this one will undoubtably cause in all of those it touches, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out he was home schooled.
Irene - Do you know anything about Irene? Of course you don't. Neither does anyone else. Here's the facts about Irene: she's better looking than anyone on the show, is almost never in danger of leaving the show because of her fearsome commitment to weight loss, and almost never cries. That last one is the reason the show doesn't focus on Irene.
Hannah & Olivia - The announcer claims that no one ever thought they would make it this far. This is a made up conflict that has never been mentioned until now. But sure, whatever, nobody ever expected these two to make it this far. No one remembered to mention that they were sisters since the first episode either. If anything, Hannah's most important relationship seems to be the friendship she's built with Irene, but the last few episodes have been dedicated to building Olivia into America's favorite contestant. This may be succeeding somewhere, but in my heart, rooting for Olivia is like rooting for an owl in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
As there aren't enough people left on the show for them to do crazy shit like pull a fucking steam engine while a couple of team members throw gigantic burlap bags of vegetables and grain at train signals in the middle of the night (yes!), the producer's make the contestants take individual tests with each of the four trainers. Those tests:
First up is Bob, who puts them all on exercise bikes and pretends to be a new student. It's as ridiculous as one could imagine, with Bob constantly going "Oh my GOD" and raising his eyebrows in horror whenever the contestants forget that they're supposed to pretend they're talking to someone who has never seen a bicycle before, much less one that is attached to a giant piece of steel and doesn't actually go anywhere. The sequences get funnier the more you're able to not take "spinning" seriously as a sport.
Second up is Brett, who is dressed up like a quirky Brooklyn hipster version of a college professor. He's doing a multiple choice test on nutritional and exercise trivia. He's also acting like a clown, which is part of the reason why nobody bought his exercise videos.
Third up is Cara--as one might expect, it's the most awesomely ridiculous thing ever. See, Cara's obsessed with using the word "fighter" in every sentence her crazy ass New York accent can produce. No question, if you made a drinking game out of Cara's mention of being a "fighter", you'd end up spraying a liquified liver out of your back end before an episode was halfway done, and you wouldn't care, because you'd already be in a fucking coma on your way to brain death. And of course, Cara's test is on whether or not the final contestants are "fighters". The test begins with Cara pressing her forehead against the contestants foreheads, and since Cara is about as tall as Papa Smurf, it's hilarious...which is why Hannah loses points, because real fighters don't laugh at things that are funny, and there's nothing funnier than watching Cara press her forehead up against yours while growling at you. Then they do a little boxing workout and it's over. Everybody wins! Seriously, everybody wins. Cara doesn't seem to have come up with a very good grading scale. You're a fighter just for watching!
The final test isn't a test at all, it's just Jillian sitting there with her new feathered haircut (she's going for an original Charlie's Angels look) while the contestants try to replicate the show's stock non-workout scene, which always consists of contestants opening up with weird descriptions of why they got so fat, why they hate themselves, and how they plan to maintain what they've achieved after they get sent back to their miserable lower-middle class existences. It's as disgusting and offensive as it sounds, but as these people weren't kidnapped and brought here, I'm somehow able not to feel sorry for them. I do like the fact that Jay treats the whole situation like he's some mind-reading Blade Runner that quite nearly blew Jillian's mind, but I don't like it enough not to hate myself for paying attention.
After the final test, there's another test/advertisement, this one for the X-Box 360 Biggest Loser game, which is almost completely the same as the old Nintendo Power Pad fitness routine, but with better graphics. Some of the contestants do well, some don't, Hannah seems sweatiest, so Hannah wins. It's really boring, but at least the producers were nice enough to place host Alison Sweeny's teleprompter off to the left side of the camera. It makes it seem like you're watching a hostage video, the way she keeps glancing off to the side. Allahu Akbar, Alison! All of the contestants win a copy of the Biggest Loser game, which leads me to wonder if they're all getting X-Box 360's as well. NO ANSWER WAS PROVIDED.
In the second of what will ultimately be five or 17 in-show advertisements, Bob shows up in one of his John Varvatos-provided jackets (you can tell its Varvaotos because the seams are exposed on one side) and tells you to go online and join the Biggest Loser community forum, where the Biggest Loser Elders will teach you where to go when the revolution begins. Also, they will tell you that you are fat and why this means you should hate yourself. I think you get a sweet 15% off deal on TV dinners, too. What a conundrum!
After that, it's time for the workout, which focuses mostly on watching videos of Irene when she was fat and Jillian trying to murder Jay with exercise. At one point, you can see how much steam is coming off Jay's body, and it actually looks like he's been lit on fire. He falls off the stairmaster at one point and so Jillian screams at him until he screams back, and he looks like he's going to murder her when he does so. According to Jillian, he's "not switched on", so she keeps pushing him until he cries, and he cries a lot and starts talking in this panicky voice about losing his family. In Jillian's weird, fucked up world, this indicates progress. And yeah, maybe it does. She's a professional, sure. But really--take an old man who's had some pretty major surgery and all kinds of fucked up shit in his medical history, work him until he nearly pukes, push him, scream at him, humiliate him, make him cry--is that really worth whatever bullshit emotional outcome you're going for? I could probably get the cat to stop eating my roses by breaking his legs, but you know, I think I'll just keep the bedroom door closed.
The rest of the workout segment focuses on the girls doing boxing shit with Cara. In the most egregiously forced moment of this episode so far, Olivia runs uphill into a swamp while wearing boxing gloves and screams "I am a champion!", for no reason whatsoever. It would be funnier if it weren't Olivia, but Olivia can't help but be so earnest that it just feels like watching Girl Scouts fold up a flag in slow motion while somebody plays that House of Pain song about Jumping Around.
After the workout routine, it's time for another product placement ad. This one's for milk, and since it isn't a specific company, it just seems like Austin is having a weird conversation with Cara about why he likes cereal, to which she responds in her best impersonation of a synthetic Fran Drescher, "Milk is very important. It makes me happy that you are eating it with cereal." Afterwards, Austin tells us that 19 weeks ago, he didn't even know what it meant to be "Vitamin D deficient". I think that's more a reflection of being poorly educated on the meaning of the word "deficient", if you ask me.
Now that an hour of the show has passed, the show stops to recap the first hour. Is that really necessary? Is the general American audience--the millions of people who watch this show at an exponentially higher number than Breaking Bad, The Shield, and Parks and Recreation combined--so fucking stupid they can't remember what they've been watching for the last sixty minutes? Apparently they are, so the recap continues.
The second challenge--the winner will get a 1 pound advantage at the weigh-in--is an individual challenge, where the contestants have to move some random number of sandbags up a gigantic staircase. I don't know or remember the amounts, so let's just say that all of the fat people have to climb up and down a giant's staircase while carrying 20 pound sandbags, which they use to make little staircase mountains on each one of their steps. And since I'm just filling in gaps here, let's also say that they're all dressed like Starfire from the Teen Titans while doing so.
There's a break for another in-show advertisement, this one for the Pledge Your Pounds Challenge, which is something I don't understand, nor do I want to understand. The commercial is insanely packed, too--first you watch a fitness class with a bunch of tattooed dudes doing lunges in a gymnasium, then the mayor of San Bernandino talks about giving back and does a pretty intense ab workout, and then a woman who is 105 goes "I am 105 years old and I cannot get by without certain things" and then some other old lady holds up the 105 year old woman by her bony left arm inside a factory where a forty year old woman mouths something about boxes and Jillian tells you to "pledge your pounds" in a voiceover. If it wasn't so brightly lit, it would seem like a Burmese snuff film.
We return to the challenge, which is a foregone conclusion, no matter how the producers try to edit it. Austin is handily beating the shit out of everybody. Olivia almost seems like she's going to say "he doesn't need the advantage, and should just let one of us win", but she stops herself and says that she wants to win. And then they cut to her later and she says she doesn't care. She's really hard to root for, this lady. And then Austin wins, so no more of that jibber-jabber. Dude doesn't even seem tired, if we're being honest.
Commercial, again: this one's for Subway. All the contestants go to Subway, with Brett of course, because Brett is always drawing scut work detail. (In part because he's the new guy, and in part because Cara is clearly on loan from some kind of hospital, and thus has limited working hours.) What do you think people talk about at Subway? Go with that thought, it's probably no more or less interesting than what these people talk about. Oh, and when you imagine the conversation, you have to include a goofy Jamaican sounding steel drums soundtrack. Because that's what's playing on this one, son.
Back for the last chance workout, which is always awesome in terms of having kick-ass sound effects whenever weights are thrown around, as well as dope-as-fuck camera moves to make it seem like those push-ups are so intense they are actually making the camera shake. The workouts are cross-cut with shots from the previous weeks, so that you remember the fucking crazy ass amounts of weight that these people have lost. The sound effects build up. The camera shakes. Jay screams, throws the weights on the ground, rips the head of a baby off with his teeth, and then he and Bob go out and drink the skin of their forefathers. Or something.
The girls work out next. For some reason, Jillian and Cara don't work them as hard, but that's probably just some weird editing. Either way, Bob shows up and screams at them and makes them work some weird metal gear style machine, the sort of thing you don't see at normal gyms due to the fact that it's not actually exercise equipment. Hannah maybe starts crying? The best part of watching Bob is how he always storms off and on during the workouts--there's nowhere else he has to go, but the way he runs around, you'd think he's delivering babies in the other room. Also, the dude is single handedly proving that black socks look awesome pulled all the way up past the calves. Seriously, Bob is one fly motherfucker.
The Weigh In:
This segment takes up a good forty five minutes of the show, but it's almost impossible to explain what happens in a way that would make you believe it takes that long. They just weigh people, and then the two people who lost the lowest percentage of weight are voted on to go home by the people who weren't in the bottom two. The only thing that makes the weigh-in interesting is seeing what Bob wears (one time he wore a cape!) and listening to Jillian say "fuck", which can be a whole lot. But even that is a gamble--like this time, Bob's just wearing jeans and the unfinished blazer, and Jillian's just keeps doing her whole "I DON'T GET IT, SHIT IS CRAZY" schtick, which is a lot less entertaining than her "FUCK YOU AND FUCK THIS COUNTRY ALSO FUCK DIABETES, S'MORES" schtick. So who cares? Some people lost weight, Olivia and Hannah continue being groomed to be the show's winning duo (despite the fact that the show can only have one winner) and Austin goes home because he only lost one pound.
-Tucker Stone & Matthew J. Brady, 2011