When it debuted last year Fringe was being flaunted as the next big thing. Everyone was expecting uber-producer JJ Abrams to deliver another Lost sized hit. Instead what we got was a moderately successful remake of The X-Files. Co-created by Abrams with his Star Trek writers, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, Fringe shares the same basic premise as Chris Carter’s magnum opus with FBI agents investigating strange and unexplained scientific phenomenon. Only this time around Mulder is the cynical sceptic, Scully is the more open minded believer and the Lone Gunmen are condensed into a single eccentric mad scientist. Oddly enough it all works.
For the first half of its freshman season Fringe is a distinctly hit and miss affair. Great one week, average the next. By episode ten ‘Safe’ things start to improve although the standalone tales work less well than the mythology driven episodes. Although in true JJ Abrams style it’s a mythology dense in puzzling questions, obscure clues and cryptic answers. By the end of the season you’ll find yourself just as confused as you were at the start if not more so.
Besides the up and down quality of the episodes another of the series main problems is unfortunately its heroine, Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv). For the most part Olivia was difficult to like, too cold and distant, focused entirely on her job. It didn’t help that Torv seemed to be sleepwalking through her performance half of the time. She improves as the series progress. Introducing her sister and niece warmed up the character and made her more relatable. Not sure how I feel about her having possible super powers and a grand destiny (too much like Sydney Bristow) but so far it’s given the series some great episodes (“The Ability” and “Bad Dreams”).
The Bishops, on the other hand, were instant favourites. The delightful contrast between Walter’s childish enthusiasm and Peter’s sarcastic charm help bring some great moments of levity to what could have been a very dour and overly serious show. John Nobel does tend to overdo it as Walter in the early episodes but manages to tone it down later on. Joshua Jackson is the only one of the core three who arrives pretty much fully formed. Peter acts as the audience’s window into this world, decoding all the tech talking and ready with a sarcastic quip whenever things get a little too unbelievable.
The remaining characters add very little to the show's central dynamic beyond having someone else around to spout exposition or asking Walter to explain the technobable for all the dummies in the audience. Olivia’s partner, Charlie, is the weakest link, lacking anything even remotely resembling a personality.
Okay, so to quickly recap; Fringe is the basically The X-Files with some 21st century sheen. The mythology episodes are great while the standalone ones tend to be iffy. The central trio are strong, even if it does take time to warm up to Olivia, but the rest of the cast are weak and forgettable. And those lacking in strong stomachs should be warned this is not the type of show you can watch while having lunch. Seriously, there’s at least one gross out moment every episode. You’d think they have a gore quota to meet or something.
Rating: * * * *
-Three Full-Length Commentaries
-Evolution: The Genesis of Fringe featurette
-Behind the Real Science of Fringe featurette
-A Massive Undertaking: The Making of Fringe
-The Casting of Fringe
-Fringe Visual Effects featurette
-Dissected Files: Unaired Scenes
-Unusual Side Effects: Gag Reel
-Fringe: Deciphering the Scene
-Roberto Orci Production Diary
-Gene the Cow montage