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2 out of 5 stars
When a flight from Germany to Boston goes through an electrical storm and passengers’ faces begin to melt, the scene could certainly be the beginning of an epic television success. Unfortunately, while J.J. Abrams’s latest project tries to bring classic science fiction to a major network audience, a noble goal, it fails to match its competitors in its genre.
“Fringe” comes off as a derivative science fiction thriller without the nuance or acting prowess expected from an anticipated network premiere. In trying to harness the increasing popularity of the supernatural, “Fringe” falls victim to the flaws that doom so many shows to reruns on the Sci-Fi Channel. That said, many aspects of the show appeal to the inner nerd in everyone.
“Fringe” is named after fringe science, which encompasses such fields as teleportation, astral projection, telepathy and reanimation, and follows FBI agent Olivia Dunham, played coldly by Anna Torv (“Mistresses”). The story begins with a face-melting scientific cataclysm, which attracts federal attention as a possible act of bioterrorism. The pilot episode follows the search for the perpetrator, who also endangers the life of Dunham’s colleague and lover, agent John Scott (Mark Valley, “Boston Legal”). On the hunt, Dunham assembles the dysfunctional team of cops and scientists that will handle the mutations and mysteries “Fringe” promises in its first season.
The show features a cast that will excite nerds and non-nerds alike. Nerds may flock to Lance Reddick (a.k.a. Matthew Abaddon from “Lost”), who plays the sarcastically apathetic CIA agent Phillip Broyles. Swooning teens may be drawn the eyes of Joshua Jackson (a.k.a. Pacey, “Dawson’s Creek”), who plays the equally jaded genius-son-of-a-genius Peter Bishop. The homogenous cast of principal characters is sadly accompanied by more derivative roles, such as the overly blunt police chief, the assistant who’s just happy to be there and the clinically insane scientist. John Noble (“The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King”), the Australian actor who plays mad scientist Walter Bishop, succeeds in both his dramatic and comedic scenes, though, despite the stale writing.
The show’s dialogue is mostly predictable, with jokes being the most striking and memorable lines of the show. Dramatic scenes, particularly those between Dunham and CIA stoic Broyles, are often so stilted that they’re clearly just spouting their memorized lines. Luckily, the reluctant father and son team of Walter and Bishop provide some actual acting, not to mention most of the show’s comic relief.
The greatest disappointment of the show (except for the first scene) is that all the science is extremely cheesy, full of glowing lights, bubbling tubes, shiny machines and random scientific jargon strung together into complete nonsense. While this is enough to please many sci-fi addicts, Abrams could’ve made a greater effort to revitalize the sci-fi genre with a sense of realism, making it more accessible to a network audience.