Saturday, February 14, 2009

TV: Review- Fringe

I can't think of any actor on Fringe I don't think is doing a good job. The show's a JJ Abrams production that runs longer than average for episodic TV shows today. And we can ALL use a break from commercials to some extent. I'm a SF fan, so the program hits the sweet spot in the interest spectrum.

And yet it doesn't quite work. It's actually less than the sum of its parts.

Basic premise of the show marries an updating of the X-Files with Without a Trace, both decent parents. You have the investigation of the weird and usually not-so-wonderful by a backed-up (mostly) FBI team led by Anna Torv, playing agent Olivia Dunham, the suit-wearing lead. Torv looks like Cate Blanchett's younger sister (both are Australians) but she's ... handsome ... in this role. It could have been written for a man for all I know, except for the love affair with fellow agent (and partner) John Scott, played by Mark Valley. Must have worked for Torv and Valley. They got married recently.

Torv fits MY idea of what an FBI agent looks like and talks like. Bit of a rod up the spine, if you know what I mean. Yet Dunham's interesting enough, what with her seeing Scott's ghost everywhere. Scott got killed while on the run FROM Dunham after she discovered he was a rogue. Torv's actions in that case got her noticed and she ended up on a weirdo projects squad with the rest of the misfit society, bad boy Peter Bishop and his wacko father, Dr. Walter Bishop, the resident mad scientist.

Canadian Joshua Jackson plays Peter and exhibits almost all of the interesting traits that drew viewers to Dawson Creek. He makes intelligence work on screen. And John Noble gives Walter a trace of whimsy overlaying a backstory that could have been stolen from Dr. Joseph Mengele. That's a tough combo to pull off, and Noble does it. He seems at least partially responsible for most of the badness the team comes across, yet a 20-year stay in a mental institution has him almost child-like.

Even the background players, Jasika Nicole, Kirk Acevedo and Lance Reddick are good. Blair Brown drops by to add some occasional smiley-face time as a probably bad lady.

So how come the darn thing doesn't gel into a really good show?

Some feelings. The puzzles are rarely engaging. Almost all of them require Walter to come up with some faux-science explanation. None of those explanations REALLY feel real. And that's despite knowing that Whedon and the writers START with something similar that's really real, when developing each script. It just FEELS too much like fantasy and bad fantasy at that. Torv's almost mannish presence doesn't help, although it's perfectly understandable. Still, it wouldn't hurt to get her into a skirt and have her smile. The Scott's ghost story-line absolutely doesn't work. And the hints of a global conspiracy behind the wackiness just doesn't work. The observer guy in the third or fourth episode was interesting. But we haven't seen him since.

This series REALLY needs it's own 'THRUSH' or somesuch organization (the Republican Party?) to act as the identifiable enemy in this show. That would give the seemingly random events some coalescence that's missing right now. Until then, this is just X-Files without the catchphrase and WITH FBI acceptance.

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