The Lionsgate July 31, 2018 separate DVD and enhanced Blu-ray releases of the first season of the Starz original series "Counterpart" provides a good chance to see the best current show that you have never seen. An initial endorsement is planning to subscribe to Starz when S2 episodes premiere in early 2019; an initial note is that the Dolby HD Blu-ray looks spectacular using a 4K player to watch it on a Sony 4K set.
The exceptional special features include a video for each of the 10 S1 episodes in which creator/writer/producer Justin Marks ("The Jungle Book") shares his insider perspective on that offering. His enthusiasm and insight prove his great love and regard for his creation.
The following YouTube clip of the official "Counterpart" S1 trailer introduces the lore of the show and awesomely proves that sadistic Schillinger of the 1997 - 2003 HBO prison drama "Oz" still lives in J.K. Simmons. A different fanbase knows Simmons from numerous roles that include his Oscar-winning performance in "Whiplash."
"Counterpart pulls off the neat trick of combining quality Cold War drama, the 1963-66 sitcom "The Patty Duke Show" in which the eponymous young star plays an everyteen all-American girl and more worldly English cousin, and the 2008-13 Fox scifi drama "Fringe" that shifts the action between our reality and a more totalitarian version of our world.
The "Counterpart" and "Fringe" parallel (pun intended) is especially close. Having equivalents of Walternate and Fauxlivia from the Fox series is the tip of the iceberg.
In both cases, the link to the Bizarro world is the result of a science experiment gone awry. The alternate dimension this time is the product of Cold War research in Berlin that creates a separate but equal reality. Restricted access between what can be considered East and West Berlin is via a heavily guarded subterranean tunnel.
The other primary element of the lore is that the general populace on both sides of the tunnel is completely oblivious to even the existence of the tunnel. The extensive symbolism begins with the lore that only person at a time can walk through the tunnel.
The larger (and more fascinating) theme is that the responses of our counterparts to the same incidents that we experience here shapes the personalities of both persons. An example is the differences between a woman who embraces a highly violent lifestyle and her other who better blends into society.
The rare occasions on which one encounters his or her mirror image are series highlights. They often make both persons wonder what might have been and prompt introspection by viewers.
Our story begins with the balance between action and introductory exposition that marks good series. The idea is that modern ADD audiences want to know what is going on but have little patience for being introduced to the setting.
The aforementioned opening scenes show the police in our reality in hot pursuit of Baldwin, an assassin from the other side. The manner in which this hired gun escapes sets a good (and sustained) precedence for the series.
We then move on to a day in the life of mild-mannered middle-aged UN spy agency desk jockey Howard Silk (Simmons). Boss (and personal fave) Peter Quayle (Harry LLoyd) has just passed him over for a promotion. On finishing his really boring job as an office clerk, Silk follows his evening routine of bringing his comatose wife Emily and the nurses at her hospital flowers and then reading to his spouse.
The proverbial game-changer comes on Silk arriving at work one morning to have Quayle let him in on the secret and introduce him to the titular Silk Prime (Simmons). Of course, the mousy wimp Silk disgusts the tough and stoic Prime. The only disappointment is that "evil" Silk does not have a goatee.
The rest of the story is that Prime is here because the Emily on this side is a target of Baldwin. The bigger picture is that a covert group on the other side is planning a coup.
The related efforts to save Emily and to capture Baldwin are the beginning of collaboration and a beautiful unlikely friendship between Silk and Prime. Seeing this pair interact and Prime slowly but surely mellow while Silk learns to man up provides great entertainment. A poker game between these studs arguably is the best scene in the entire season.
For his part, Quayle is the son-in-law of the big boss but is not a model husband. The rude awakening of this spy-master-in-training wonderfully reflects the themes of "Counterpart." Suffice it to say that Lloyd plays his role particularly well.
Additional entertainment comes as we learn more about the specific basis for the other side resenting us; this relates to a wonderfully complex conspiracy in which virtually everyone becomes a suspect. The manner in which people with whom a character has a close bond often does not hesitate to throw that person under a bus is awesome vicarious fun.
The Cold War elements also include prisoner exchange negotiations, such swaps going horribly wrong, the luxury on our side seducing tunnel commuters, the other side brainwashing children and preparing them to serve the cause, moles, etc.
All of this culminates in a season finale that wraps up the S1 drama and sets the stage for S2. The tightening of the noose prompts drastic action by infiltrators, friends getting trapped in hostile territory, and diplomacy failing. In other words, just like the real Cold War era Berlin.
Lionsgate also gives us the bonus feature "Season Outlook" in which cast and crew discuss the series and favorite moments.
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