15 February 2010

Crazy old men, gung-ho feds and the unexplainable, explained – a review of “Fringe” Season 1


I recently tore my way through the first season of the instant cult classic, “Fringe”. Produced by JJ Abrams, the mastermind behind “Lost” and the latest (and my personal favourite) iteration of “Star Trek” on celluloid, “Fringe” is best described as “X-Files” for this generation – a lot less boring, too. At first, it centres around FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), who is pulled from her standard American post-9/11 terrorism-based assignments into a world of messed-up science experiments gone wrong. The top secret ’Fringe Division’ are tasked with stopping the rapidly spreading wave of unexplainable crimes to do with Fringe Science (the clue is in the title, science on the fringe of belief, not generally accepted by the scientific community... cryogenics, teleportation, mind control, etc), and Anna is drafted after her boyfriend/FBI partner is caught in the explosion of a bomb unlike any other. As he literally begins to go invisible whilst in a coma, Anna is approached by “The Wire” alum Lance Reddick, playing Agent Philip Broyles, who heads up Fringe Division.

Y’know what? I can see myself going on for another 2,000 words just trying to explain the damn first episode of this thing. So I’ll nutshell it – she does a little research into the Fringe division, finds that this strange occurrence (and many others) can be linked back to a former Professor at Harvard, and his old colleague. The Professor, Walter Bishop (the excellent John Noble), is now in an insane asylum, and his colleague is the shady CEO of a shady corporation who always seem to be involved in these messed-up cases. Dunham, to get to Bishop, must contact his son, Peter (a much less annoying Joshua Jackson, long removed from those awful Pacey “Dawson’s Creek” shenanigans) to get to him – Peter being a veritable jack-of-all-trades, holding quite a mysterious side himself. Together, Dunham and the Bishops along with the help of Agent Astrid Farnsworth (relative newcomer Jasika Nicole, a revelation), solve these Fringe cases week by week, all the while trying to peel back the curtain and find out just what is going on with Massive Dynamic, the previously mentioned shady corporation which is headed up by William Bell – Bishop’s old colleague. Just wait till you see who they cast him as – the surprise is an awesome one, especially if you count yourself as a card-carrying sci-fi nut.

Okay, so I said I’d nutshell it, and obviously that didn’t work out too well. Really, the whole appeal of Fringe is watching it for yourself and uncovering all the mysteries as you go along. Each episode is at first an interesting curveball, with cases that range from a baby being born, growing and dying of old age in minutes, to bank robbers who walk through walls - and they only get better as they go along. The whole direction of the series does an about-face just over halfway through, and suddenly the viewer is confronted with what seems like a completely different show. Clearly Abrams knows what he’s doing, because it worked on “Lost” and here, it works again.

The acting is really good in parts and serviceable (at best) in others. John Noble steals the show in every episode, his insane character often having the best lines, with his deliveries making them even better. You grow quite fond of the character, as he is very much a tragic figure with a dark past. Even though he’s not all there, you can see that he very much wants to be, and yearns for his glory days. His arc is definitely one to watch, with a few revelations along the way that’ll leave you speechless and craving more. As I said, Joshua Jackson is much better here than he has been in the past. He actually plays somewhat of a badass, believe it or not. The weak link, which is a pretty big weak link, is Anna Torv. Here she does her best Cate Blanchett impression, albeit with a little edge – but it’s just not enough to be a cut above the rest. She comes off as pretty bland, but I can’t tell if it’s the character or the actor. Then again, this is the trouble with characters such as this, being the point-of-reference for an equally clueless audience. What she discovers, you discover. What information she is spoon-fed, you are spoon-fed. You’ve seen the same character a thousand times – it’s necessary, but in the end she is but a mechanism from which the story flows. As the season goes on her character becomes less important, even if she’s meant to be the main attraction. Hopefully they will find a way to remedy this for the second season.

The budget really helps a show like this – they go all out with the special effects, which one needs with a show of this nature (in my opinion this is where “Heroes” falters – you can’t have a show about superheroes and not show any superhero fights... but that’s another article). The directing is always top notch, although do we ever really notice good or bad direction in a TV show? I digress. There are, as is the norm, filler episodes and ones that really stand out. ‘Bound’ and ‘Ability’ make for good thrillers, ‘Inner Child’ is creepy as hell at first but gains a lot of heart (an oddly stunning combo) and the last two episodes of the season, ‘The Road Not Taken’ and ‘There’s More Than One of Everything’ are equal parts entertaining, thought-provoking, heartwarming/breaking and f*cking cool. Not bad for 40 minutes of telly a piece.

There is one critique, being that each episode more often than not follows the same formula – but when the plot of each episode is so varied, the formula starts becoming unnoticeable.

But like I said – the real draw of the series is the hidden motive/drive of the series – this, you don’t find out until midway through the season. I can say nothing of it, as it would just ruin a lot of sh*t for you, and where’s the fun in that? If you have the time, give this series a proper chance. You might just love it...

VERDICT: 4.5 Pacey’s out of 5! A nice, entertaining way to spend a portion of your evening - curled up with a saucepan full of spag bol, a cigarette and 40 minutes of Fringe!

ALSO SEE: “Lost”, “The X-Files”, “Flashforward”

Dan Woburn

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