So today, I finally sat down with my friend and finished the first season of Fringe, a sci-fi show from J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (the same brain trust that’s given us the last two Star Trek films) that recently concluded a five-season run on Fox. Whenever we’ve gotten together, we usually do “Fringe binges,” as we call them, watching episodes at a time. It really helps with a show like this.
So what is Fringe about? Well, in a nutshell, it’s a sci-fi procedural about unexplained phenomena. FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) is assigned to investigate a mysterious airplane accident where everyone on board wound up a skeleton. Because this is well outside the bounds of normal scientific and FBI procedures, she has to go to Iraq to track down rogue genius Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) in order to use him to free his father, Walter (John Noble), an astoundingly brilliant scientist who specialized in unusual phenomena–or fringe science (hence the title)–from a mental asylum where he’s been for 17 years.
In the course of the investigation, Olivia’s partner and lover John Scott (Mark Valley) is killed and Olivia is drafted by Special Agent Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick) to join the Fringe Division, teaming up with Peter, Walter and fellow FBI agent Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) to investigate the grotesque and bizarre crimes and deaths that frequently pop up in the Boston area, with it all being tied to the mysterious corporation, Massive Dynamic.
Like most sci-fi procedurals, this first season is very episodic. Which it would have to be, seeing as how, like Supernatural, this show needs us to be invested in its characters before giving them longer arcs. Unlike that show, however, rather than a core duo, here we have a whole cast of characters, each with a distinct personality. As such, it’s easier to find characters to like and characters to hate.
I pretty much like everyone though: Dunham can be a little bland sometimes, but when her personal life or past is touched upon, things really shine and Torv does a terrific job. Jackson is great as the wry, sarcastic Peter, who happens to be the only one who can control his dad who he doesn’t like all that much. He’s also very well-footed and holds his own in action scenes. Nicole doesn’t have too much to do as Farnsworth, really, but she’s still a fun counterpoint. Broyles is very much the boss, and Reddick plays him that way, using his body language and distinct voice to give him a commanding presence.
But for me, the real star is Noble as Walter. Best known for his role as Denethor in The Lord of the Rings, he has a lot to play with as Walter–a figure both comedic and tragic–and he hits it right every time. When he has to be funny, he’s hilarious; when he has to be mad, he’s seething…you get the idea. The fact that he, at his advanced age and having gone through all his mental anguish, can’t recall many things is heartbreaking, especially towards the end of the season. Noble uses all his talent to make Walter probably the most complicated scientist character on TV in the last decade, maybe one of the most complicated of all time.
Now, I know some people who have flat out refused to watch this show because they see it as a ripoff of The X-Files. To those people, and to anyone and everyone who may have a similar opinion, I offer this:
EVERY SCI-FI SERIALIZED SHOW THAT HAS AIRED SINCE THE X-FILES IS IN SOME WAY OR ANOTHER COPYING THE X-FILES!!!!! GET OVER IT!!!
Seriously, there’s no point in arguing this: every SF show–heck, a LOT of shows period–have ripped off that particular show. Ignore it and move on.
Point is, Fringe is really something: managing to pack a standard crime show inside of a REALLY good science-fiction show and emerging with a great blend of both. Granted, this season’s slow build of story elements is a bit jarring at times, but overall, it has the potential to suck you in. I started the second season today and I can’t wait to continue.