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Same look, different attitude.

Oscar winner J.K. Simmons takes a break from doing Farmers Insurance commercials to sink his teeth into this excellent new science fiction thriller from Starz, premiering on January 21st. If you’re a fan of shows like Fringe and Sliders, then Counterpart is right up your alley.

Simmons plays Howard Silk, a cog in the wheel of a U.N. spy agency in Berlin. After 30 years of doing the same old thing, Howard is desperate for something new and interesting to come along. And boy does he get his wish.

Apparently, there was a Cold War experiment that opened a doorway to another identical dimension and only a select group of people are aware it exists. As if that wasn’t weird enough, Howard gets a harsh awakening when he discovers that there is another Howard Silk that looks just like him. This is where Counterpart gets interesting.

The show uses the MacGuffin of a parallel dimension to do a deep dive into what makes an individual unique. It’s a fascinating character study that needed a skilled actor like Simmons to portray these very different versions of himself. His performance is mesmerizing, as he expertly creates two unique characters.

It’s all about the details, like how the Howard from…Let’s call him “Earth-2 Howard,” carries himself with confidence. His physicality immediately conveys the fact that this Howard hasn’t had his soul eroded by working in a dead-end job for three decades.

On the other end of the spectrum, Howard Prime slumps in his chair, fumbles over his words, and lacks the tenacity necessary to do what his alter-ego is able to accomplish with relative ease. He’s a great guy, but if you need someone killed, better call Earth-2 Howard.

The larger story is captivating as well. It appears that the two worlds are in a disagreement over how to coexist with each other, setting up some potentially reality-breaking conflicts for later in the season. After all, traveling between dimensions ain’t like dusting crops.

Another intriguing element of the show is Baldwin (Sara Serraiocco), a mysterious assassin running around Earth Prime targeting specific people, but no one on either side is sure why. Like Howard, Baldwin’s search for self-discovery is another compelling story as she contemplates what her life could have been if she had made different choices. Counterpart explores the minds of its villains and heroes with equal measure, and there isn’t a weak spot in the cast.

The show is visually impressive too. There are times when Counterpart intentionally slows its pacing and then suddenly launches into a frenetic shootout featuring some great fight choreography that creates a tense atmosphere. You’re never really sure what’s coming up next. I’ve seen the first 6 episodes and the story keeps getting more interesting with each passing hour. The writers give you just enough information to whet your appetite. It makes me wish the entire season was available now.

Watching multiple versions of J.K. Simmons is never a bad thing. Mix in a great story with a fantastic supporting cast and you have a recipe for a series brimming with potential. If you end up falling head over heels for the series like I have, rest assured, this is only the beginning of our discussions about Counterpart, since Starz has already ordered a second season.

Counterpart premieres Sunday, January 21st, but the pilot is available for early viewing at Starz.com.

David Griffin still watches DuckTales in his pajamas with a cereal bowl in hand. He’s also the TV Editor for IGN. Say hi on Twitter.





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