On the subject of returning television, another of my favorite shows returned to the airwaves last week: Fringe. I didn't realize how much I missed this show until I watched last week's episode. Fringe is truly one of gems of current television. J.J. Abrams, in my book, is 3 for 3 in the tv dept. I was a big fan of Alias, loved Lost while he was a part of it, and now Fringe! Parasites, blinking lights, alternate universes, teleportations and other things just beyond the event horizon of modern scientific knowledge spun into a thrilling narrative that, for me, goes just past compulsive to being a moral imperative!
For all of season one, Fringe was my WTF show. Every single episode for 20 episodes, there was a point in the episode where I stare at my tv in consternation (or horror, or fascination) and all I can say is, "What the fuck". (Season 2 is ongoing, so hasn't gotten a rating yet.) In a landscape being increasingly taken up by the banality of reality tv, it is encouraging to find that there are people in the television industry willing to produce solid, intelligent programming. Not to mention programming that can be so consistently mind-boggling in its writing. And its not just the stories that work so well. J.J. Abrams has a proven track record of pulling strong talent into his shows, and he hasn't stopped with Fringe. The actors he chose for Fringe are inspired.
Anna Torv, plays FBI agent Olivia Dunham. She gives the character a unique mix of strength, cold calculation, compassion, and creepiness that makes her performances exceedingly intriguing to watch. John Noble is frustratingly wonderful in his bizarrely random performance as Dr. Walter Bishop, Fringe's nearest local equivalent to Doc Frankenstein. And in the part of Peter Bishop, son of Walter and Doc Frankenstein Jr, is Joshua Jackson, who is rapidly repairing the damage done to his career by Dawson's Creek. While these three are the stars of the show, the two hidden gems in the show are Lance Reddick (Agent Philip Broyles) and Kirk Acevedo (Agent Charlie Francis).
Reddick, initially comes across wooden and off-putting, but during the course of the two seasons the show, Reddick has breathed a stalwart power into the role giving a necessary authoritative grounding in reality to the show. Acevedo is the real surprise, though. He took a role that essentially was FBI Agent #2, and made him an essential part of the show. The actor's latino, though, so it's only to be expected that he'd be good. It was also good to see a latino as a good guy for a change. Unfortunately, his character was killed off.
There are those who say that Fringe is just a bad rip-off of The X-Files. Superficially, I could agree with that statement. But upon a more rigorous examination of the two shows, it becomes MORE than obvious that Fringe has a much grander scope than X-Files. In limiting itself to dealing with extra-terrestrials and the government conspiracies surrounding them, the X-Files locked itself into a small subset of story telling ideas, the motivations of the characters further limited the range of events X-Files could cover, which is why the show lost most of its power when THE main character, Fox Mulder, was taken out the show. Dana Scully couldn't maintain the show without completely violating the basic tenets of either her character by turning her into a believer instead of informed sceptic, or the show by expanding past extra-terrestrials into other arenas of science fiction which would have turned it into Fringe. What made the X-Files work, aside from Mulder's obsession, is the tight focus of the show, which gave an air of claustrophobia that enhanced the conspiratorial nature of the show.
Fringe works in exactly the OPPOSITE way. The scope of the show is criminal events dealing with areas of science that have not been properly vetted and are considered to be on the edge, or "out there". Go back in time far enough, and the PC I'm currently working on would fall into that category, as would the glasses I wear, cars I've driven, activities I've participated in. In fact, last week's ep took place in the 1985, and in an extra bit of coolness, they modified the show's intro to reflect the fringe science of the day. Things like: Personal computing, DNA profiling, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, laser surgery, in vitro fertilization, stealth technology, virtual reality. Amazing what's come about in just 25 years, isn't it? In the end, that's basically my point. Fringe isn't just about aliens, abductions, losing time and the other bits of sci-fi associated with that phenomenon. Fringe also covers genetic manipulation, medical experimentation, cryogenics, dark matter research, hypnosis, and many other pieces of science and sci-fi.
There's also no compulsion from any main character driving the show, theoretically ANY and ALL of the cast can be replaced and show could still go on just as believably in just as thrilling and compelling a fashion. All of this makes Fringe a much more versatile show than the X-Files could have ever been. Not better, just more versatile.