Shiny Shelf


By Stephen Lavington on 01 June 2009

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

Fringe castAn FBI agent heads a top-secret team dedicated to investigating the strange and the paranormal. Pretty good idea for a TV show – Chris Carter certainly thought so and it worked out for him. ‘Star Trek’ saviours J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman aren’t going to argue with that and so have brought us ‘Fringe’, where an attractive female agent and sceptic teams up with a man who not only has an intense belief in the supernatural subjects of their investigations but has personal experience of their ill-effects.

It would be possible to fill this review with ‘X-Files’ snarkiness but that would be doing an injustice to ‘Fringe’. Yes, there are VERY close similarities, but once that has been accepted there is much to find enjoyable in a show which, while not the global attention grabber that was ‘Lost’ and while massively over-budgeted in its first season, remains a decent, entertaining show, shot through with the quirky talent that made ‘Star Trek’ (and the similarly sired ‘Mission Impossible 3′) enjoyable.

Playing Scully, in this instance, is Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) a blandly beautiful female lead with a particularly insipid and vacant expression. While she remains a charisma black-hole at the centre of the cast the other characters go some way to make up for this. Mulder, for a start, is not actually an FBI agent, is not even one character, split as he is between Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) a wise-cracking wide-boy with a shady past and the wonderfully nutty Dr Walter Bishop (highlight of the show John Noble), a mad scientist in the Frankenstein mold. Dr Bishop was a specialist in ‘fringe science’ a nicely vague term that covers everything not recognized by traditional scientific bodies, for instance telepathy, teleportation, time travel and, in one memorable episode, mutant bat-wasp-alligator-eagle-bear hybrids.

There’s not much more to say about ‘Fringe’ aside from know the concept and you pretty much know the show. It does the job it sets out to do with perfect competence. There are none of the brain-screwing double-double-cross plotlines of ‘Alias’ and the format follows the ‘X-Files’ pattern of splitting episodes into monster-of-the-week, spooky telepathic children and longer story arc advancement. Towards the end of the season this latter trend takes over and Fringe actually ends on something of a high (or at least polarising) note – no spoilers, but the closing shot of the last episode will either strike you as something approaching TV genius or as tacky and tasteless beyond measure. Either way Abrams and his collaborators work their usual trick of endowing a TV show with more-ish compulsion: the difference between ‘Fringe’ and ‘Lost’ is that the latter created a tangled mystery that raised expectations to the extent that pretty much any eventual explanation will be anticlimactic while the appeal of the former is in seeing precisely how far the writers are prepared to go and exactly how bat-shit mental things will get as a result.

This is the most note-worthy, and praise-worthy, aspect of ‘Fringe’. There is no sense of viewers being tricked or strung along by empty promise of eventual enlightenment but rather an unashamed revelling in the utterly absurd. “If you think THAT was ridiculous,” the writers seem to say, ‘just wait until you see what we have in store next week.”

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By Stephen Lavington

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