Comic-Con International: San Diego started early this year. For the first time ever, Wednesday's “Preview Night”, a night typically reserved for the opening of the convention floor, held true to its name with a screening of J.J. Abrams new Fox series Fringe at the first panel of the convention. Fringe is the story of FBI Agent Olivia Dunham, played by Anna Torv, and her reluctant partnership with an institutionalized scientist and his estranged son to deal with a series of strange events that appear to be interconnected referred to as “the pattern”. Fringe science is all based around loose concepts that haven’t been scientifically proven: teleportation, mind control, telekinesis, etc.
Be warned — spoilers ahead.
Fringe holds to its name in a number of ways; it seems to be just off of the green but it is using the wrong club for the distance to hole. The stylish way scenes are introduced is a bit ridiculous with LARGE looming 3-D text that appears to be hovering in the sky or stacked on houses. The score tends to lead the viewer’s emotions like an overbearing cliché. The acting, which is rather good, is underscored by an obnoxious “alpha male” voice that appears in the scripting of not one but three of the male characters. Finally, the sci-fi/ horror aspect of the show comes of as a means to add “shock value” – i.e. a plane full of melting people at the beginning of the program, a man becoming “crystallized” throughout the episode, and the primary villain of the episode is a 50-something year old lady with a robot arm…yes, a CGI robot arm.
And the humor — is just an odd fit for a dramatic suspense show like this. It’s like X-Files but kitschy as it smirks at you and elbows you in the ribs just a little too hard.
Dunham’s story starts out on a bit of a sordid note — she’s sleeping with her partner, played by Mark Valley, but keeping it a secret to protect their professional demeanor. They’re investigating a strange occurrence on a plane full of “melted” people — that appears to be an act of chemical terrorism. The prime suspect is quickly located and a chase ensues — leading to the injury of Agent Scott (Valley). More investigating — and some terseness between Dunham and her superior, Agent Broyles (Lance Reddick), leads Dunham to Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) — but there is a seemingly difficult amount of red-tape involved in actually speaking to the man…even for an FBI agent with the Patriot Act in her corner.
Enter Joshua Jackson’s character, Peter Bishop, the estranged son of the doctor — who Dunham essentially blackmails into helping her gain access to his father. They release Dr. Bishop, who has a Hannibal Lecter-like presence, but again — with the humor element — he comes off as more of a hokey mad scientist type who is willing to try anything…like injecting someone with a near fatal amount of LSD — to help their brain communicate with the brain of another. More chase montages occur — as the clock ticks down for Agent Scott. As the mystery unfolds it appears that one of the FBI agents is feeding info to the suspect — and after a quick reveal and another chase, it’s revealed to be…Agent Scott — who then flees and dies.
So — yes — this is an 80 minute show which is spent trying to save a guy on his deathbed with elaborate regalia and chasing…only to have him die 5 minutes before the credits roll in a chase scene.
Fringe may have an audience initially because of J.J. Abrams huge fan base — but its going to take a lot more to get this clumsily linear show to get it’s footing in it’s Tuesday night 9PM timeslot. It’s very hard to not think about X-Files when you’re watching this show — putting the former sci-fi drama out of your mind will probably be the only way to give this show a chance of working its semi-charms on you.