If fresh ideas in Hollywood are hard to come by these, here in TV land they’re positively akin to rocking horse shit. If it’s not a gimmick-based reality show, it’s a retread of formula with an ever-so-slight twist – and so we come to Fringe. Like an amalgamation of every successful television genre, it’s part sci-fi fantasy, part police procedural, and a dash of medical thrown in to boot. Given all that, it’s a wonder they didn’t go the whole hog, write a few jokes in, add a canned laughter track, and have Paula Abdul tell the cast how beautiful they look at the end of each new episode.

As familiar as it is formulaic, Fringe is another brainchild of J.J. Abrams, who it has to be said, is typically a little better suited to ideas than execution. The series stars Anna Torv, as Special Agent Olivia Dunham tasked by higher-up Philip Broyles (Lance Reddick of The Wire) to investigate a series of bizarre incidents collectively know as “the pattern.” As vanilla an actress as you’re ever likely to find, Torv is a beautiful, purpose-driven woman operating in what’s predominantly a man’s field (sound familiar?). On her team is the smart-alecky ne’er-do-well Peter (Joshua Jackson), a rebellious genius with a past. Their primary resource in investigating these perplexing mysteries is Peter’s estranged father and former government scientist Walter, who spent a couple of decades in a mental institute for his trouble. Looming is the background of all of this is the sprawling global tech conglomerate Massive Dynamic, whose intentions remain guarded but whose link to the pattern is undeniable.

Presumably in an attempt to differentiate itself from the ten-a-penny supernatural shows (not the least of which being the infinitely superior Supernatural) floating around, Fringe’s pendulum has swung the other way and set itself up around science, specifically “fringe science” – unorthodox theories, pseudoscience, experimental technology and the like. If it all sounds a little X-Files lite that’s giving Fringe too much credit really. What X-Files managed to do so well was to hook you in with intriguing and involving stories about things that had no rational explanation where your imagination was left to fill in the blanks. By contrast the founding concept of fringe science requires that absolutely everything be carefully explained away with ideas that are at best out there and at worst just downright preposterous. Rather than fueling the large mystery Fringe clumsily dilutes it with garbled tech-speak.

The cast doesn’t help, though they’re not exactly well drawn out which doesn’t give them much to work with. Reddick plays it stiff, Olivia pouts, Peter quips, and Walter, the literal mad scientist, is just ccrraazzyy every week as the scripts seemingly recycle themselves. Fringe also suffers from an indecisive tone stemming from a misguided attempt to be all things to all people. Unable to decide if it’s meant to be a serious drama or a sci-fi geek fest, it veers wildly from gloomy espousing on the fate of the world at the hands of this week’s MacGuffin, then transitions to the next scene with gigantic comic-book style titles that completely suck you out of the story world. There are even nods to the great David Lynch and Twin Peaks with Walters pathological obsession with various different foods as something of a running gag.

Now on hiatus until some time in April (did we learn nothing from Jericho?), we’ll have to wait and see if this show is indeed going somewhere, or given how trigger happy the guys at Fox are if it even comes back at all.

Starring: Anna torv, John Noble, Joshua Jackson, Mark Valley, Lance Reddick
Created By: J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci
Network: Fox

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