Review: ‘Fringe’ hits everyday anxieties through sci-fi depictions

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    Television networks have always seemed to have a strange love affair with science fiction. They love adding new sci-fi shows every year, then cancelling them unless they don’t immediately draw “Heroes”-size audiences, blaming it on the writers for not hooking viewers fast enough.

    NBC’s decision to cancel the under-promoted “Journeyman” last season and yet keep “Lipstick Jungle” is an example of such a decision that still makes me want to scream and throw things in the general direction of my screen.

    This season we have “Fringe.” The show has an edge already in this year’s crowded crop in it is the latest product from the fertile mind of J.J. Abrams, of “Lost” and “Alias” fame.

    “Fringe” has many of the same idiosyncrasies of those previous works (I find it a bit humorous that you can tell the especially creepy moments are coming when you hear composer Michael Giacchino’s screeching violins of doom.) However, the pilot was missing what made the previous shows so enjoyable while they were keeping us gripping the couch cushions.

    Like the best sci-fi shows, “Fringe” may be depicting non-ordinary events, but it clearly hits on our very real anxieties. This is evident in the pilot when in the opening minutes, a chemical agent turns the skins of passengers on an international flight into translucent goo. The rest of the pilot doesn’t offer too many more bright spots.

    Unlike “The X-Files,” which was able to offset its grim proceedings with the unmistakable chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, the stars of “Fringe” don’t seem too enthusiastic about their jobs yet.

    Australian newcomer Anna Torv is a blander version of Jennifer Garner in “Alias” with none of the spunk that makes us fall in love with Torv’s character, FBI agent Olivia Dunham, like we did with Sydney Bristow.

    Jonathan “Pacey” Jackson comes off a little better but still doesn’t convince as supposed bad-boy Peter Bishop. Only John Noble (“Lord of the Rings”) shows any kind of spark as mad scientist Walter Bishop, and it’s probably no coincidence that he gets all the best one-liners.

    The second episode I saw, which was the show’s third, seems to do a better job. Unlike the gory pilot, the plot about a bus full of frozen passengers and a possible psychic was a little more, um, “crowd-pleasing.”

    The attempts at levity hit a little better (one of Walter’s lines made me crack up for the first time with this show), and the actors, especially Torv, seemed a little more relaxed.

    Still, like “Lost” as of late, “Fringe” confuses mystery with deliberately withholding any explanations. And please, J.J., lose the cheesy 3D lettering that introduces each location. I can just see the “Madtv” parody now where someone whacks their head on one of those monstrosities.

    Despite this, “Fringe” has a promising concept, and by the end of the season, should turn out to be a pretty darn good show if it keeps improving at the current rate.

    Let’s just hope there is a full season; with network TV’s fickleness toward sci-fi, that’s not always a guarantee.

    What do you think?

    Which new show can absolutely not be missed? Did our favorites like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The Office” come back strong? E-mail your thoughts to features@dailyskiff.com, and it may be used in a future story. Please include your classification and major in your message.

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