Counterpart: Season 1
I don’t envy any person whose profession is thinking up new ideas for television programming. Judging by what is deemed acceptable and becomes part of a network’s program lineup, it must be incredibly difficult to create something different. Currently, there is a plethora of networks, channels, and online video streaming services but the selection of television premiers continues to rehash variations of the same fundament genres that we watched in the fifties. Typically, there is are dramas centered around lawyers, doctors, detectives or large families. Over the years, the ever-popular genre, science fiction, is represented. Even with the vast potential diversity inherent to the genre most Sci-Fi series are concerned with outer space and are driven by elaborate special effects. Fortunately for all of us that are aficionados of high-quality television, the latest offering from the premium cable network, ‘Starz’ is a brilliant ray of hope, ‘Counterpoint.’ Science fiction offers the imaginative screenwriter the potential for highly textured storylines and social commentary under the guise of straightforward entertainment. Sci-Fi has the distinction of serving as both the underlying genre and the setting for another category of the story to play out. The specifics of ‘Counterpoint’ is a remarkable example of this powerful attribute.
At its core ‘Counterpoint’ earned its bona vides in science fiction with the defining sets of the series. The story unfolds on an Earth where an alternate universe had been discovered. Our universe, referred to as "Prime’, became aware of the ‘Other’ universe in 1987. Up until that point, the progression of their culture remained parallel. Once they became aware of each alternate, their respective societies began to diverge. Prime advanced in other at a quicker pace than the Alternate. From the perspective of storytelling, this afforded the unique opp opportunity to present their audience with a world sufficiently familiar to promote relating to the audience while retaining a period, film noir atmosphere. Such a dichotomy within a plot usually increases the degree of difficulty. Fortunately, under the direction of creator and showrunner, Justin Marks, it becomes a means to identify which universe in use visually. This is an imaginative means to accomplish this critical plot device. A more typical technique is an alteration of the color palette as demonstrate by J.J. Abrams in his hit show ‘Fringe.’ Marks chose a subtle methodology for orienting the viewer. This is indicative of the general way he handles the narrative.
The story is exceptionally dependent on character development through the use of a tightly written script and artistically textured performances. Proof of this can be seen with the selection of the principal performer, J.K. Simmons. He recently won the coveted Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. For years he was a hard-working journeyman actor undertaking a vast variety of character parts. He even became the face of comedic commercials for an insurance company. This variety of experience hs provided Mr. Simmons with an incredible understanding of the inner workings and motivations of the human mind. The result of this decision was to establish the fundamental genre as a tightly crafted physiological espionage thriller. Television series using spies as a focal point are commonplace, but the infusion of the psychological component on TV is extremely rare. The perfection of how Mr. Marks engages the audience with sharply focused dialogue, exquisite performances and finely detailed surroundings crafting a series that is far above the usual programming. The only way shows of this quality infused with mature content are possible with the inclusion of premium cable networks in original programming. Starz has established itself as a competitor to the leaders in the field, HBO and Showtime. Starz specializes in series that are cutting edge, frequently with historical content. With ‘Counterpoint’ represents a return to a period of history that Baby Boomers experienced firsthand, ‘The Cold War.’ Sociopolitical intrigue was heightened as the two superpowers faced off with mutual annihilation hanging over the world like the Sword of Damocles. This is reflected in the series through the opposition of the two universes. The vehicle for this is a division of the United Nations, the Office of Interchange. Within the OI are many layers of bureaucracy, each with its level of security, pro forma routines.
Howard Silk ( J.K. Simmons), ekes out a living working at IO headquarters in Berlin. His function is that of a clerk assigned one of the lowest levels of the organization’s hierarchy. Howard has been toiling faithfully for many years yet has been consistently passed over for any advancement. His job was in the Interface division, exchanging coded call-and-response messages with another agent. Recently, his life had become further depressing when his beloved wife, Emily (Olivia Williams), was in an accident that left her in a persistent coma. Every evening Howard dutifully visits Emily in the hospital. Adherence to a strict routine dominated much of his life. That grey existence crashes down around Howard when events far beyond his pay grade, is forced to read Howard in on a startling secret. He is told about the experiment that opened a portal between the two universes. That passage persisted and is in the OI headquarters. As if that was not sufficiently disconcerting the new reality is driven home when Howard meets his alternate from the other side. Although they are physically identical, the cumulated effect of a myriad of differences in their experiences resulted in two vastly different personalities. The Alter Howard is an active agent whose responsibilities included covert missions necessitating crossing between universes. That Howard was a man accustomed to danger, reacting with brutal efficiency when necessary. He views Howard prime as weak, indecisive and ultimately a liability.
Many cast members are called upon to undertake into dual roles. Without exception thus requires them to develop personality traits and subtle mannerisms to differentiate the inhabitants of each universe. A prime example was with Emily. Although the Prime version is in a coma, attended on by a loving and concerned husband. In stark contrast, the other Emily is also a duplicitous agent who is estranged from her Howard. Perhaps the most drastically different pair is a young woman known as Nadia Fierro / Baldwin (Sara Serraiocco). In the prime universe, Emily is a gifted classical violinist. But her alternate, Baldwin, is a ruthless assassin. Her targets are assigned by a rogue organization, Indigo, a Black Ops program originating in Dimension Two determined to \ exerting influence over Dimension One. While Nadia experienced a stable, nurturing childhood, Baldwin was trained explicitly to ablate every trace of humanity, Hine the physical skills required for her profession and the mental conditioning to narrow their attention to completing the mission. Even after apprehension, Baldwin became obsessed with eliminating her target. Almost without exception, every pair of doublegangers examined within the context of the story expounded upon the discrepancy between the alternates. Traditionally, actor undertaking roles demanding the portrayal of multiple personalities have long been considered among the most challenging expression of mastering their crafts. Typically, the requirement is limited to twins, usually with diametrically opposite personality traits. The most extreme display of this skill set was with the magnificent acting in ‘Orphan Black,’ where actors undertook to portray a significant number of clones. While all the performers with a two-fold part, there is little doubt that Mr. Simmons owns the series. His control over the presentation of the two Howards extended far beyond alteration of vocal characteristics or variations in body language Mr. Simmons reinvents each man completely. It appears obvious that his mastery of the human condition garnered through decades of character roles has imbued him with a keen, deep-seated understanding of their characters as different men with behavior resulting from very different backgrounds. The Howards differ through nuances, finely controlled brush strokes rather than broad strokes. The series possesses such an intrinsically cinematic style it is difficult to remember you are watching a television series. The quality is retained throughout without a single, discernable lapse.