September 9, 2008

Fringe: A TV Show That Might Not Suck!

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I’ll be the first to admit — I had given up on Señor J.J. Abrams a while back. I loved Alias until about the third season, when Jennifer Garner’s character lost her memory and Lauren came and everything got wayyyyy too angsty. Then apparently Vaughn died and Sydney got pregnant with Rimbauldi’s baby or something crazy and it all just got to be too much for me and I quit. I gave up on Lost much earlier — around midway through season two, because the TV in Dickson 4-5 was annexed by these kids who only played video games, and I was too lazy to walk over to Donlon and watch. In fact, the only Abrams show I’ve made it through entirely is Felicity, which to this day remains my favorite of all of them (and is the least Abrams-esque).
So I didn’t think I was going to like Fringe. The previews involved an airplane and people with goopy faces, there was talk of aliens and the only thing that really seemed positive to me was Joshua Jackson. (Umm, Joshua Jackson — who I’ve been in love with since Mighty Ducks; who I sat through six annoying seasons of Dawson’s for; and for whom I’d sell my soul to see weekly on my television again.) But even a grown-up cosmopolitan Pacey couldn’t make another Lost-cum-Alias-cum-X-Files show stomach-able.
Dirty lie, actually. Yes, Fringe feels like every other J.J. show rolled into one — the F.B.I. female agent with the requisite daddy and intimacy issues, the red-herring boyfriend, the confusing plot twists, the crazy-and-perhaps-evil older scientist dudes, the super-secret-black-ops-science-fiction-plot-to-take-over-the-universe with the enigmatic name (once the Covenant and the Dharma Initiative, and now the ominous “Pattern”). The pilot even opens with a freaking airplane crash.
But, without getting into specifics that are half the fun, the difference is that Fringe starts where Abrams wanted to take Alias and Lost. There is no question that the man has a thing for some deeper, apocalyptic science fictional plot. Both Alias and Lost moved towards that storyline as the seasons progressed — Rimbauldi’s prophesies became a main focus for the former, and the Dharma Initiative took on a huge, paranormal “Dun-Dun-Dunnnn” focus in the latter. (In fact, both shows may have reached that culmination; I wouldn’t know because I had given up on both by then.) The great thing about Fringe is that it starts there. There is no two-season jaunt through spy territory or trying to figure out the Island before the supernatural techno-terrorist apocalypse becomes the main focus. It starts that way.
To be fair-and-balanced, a lot of the episode is cheesy to the point of ridiculousness. There are the obvious humorous-for-affect moments (a cow is herded through Harvard), the obvious attempts at sexiness (the character Olivia — for no reason other than the producers’ calculated decision to show her off in a bikini — has to be “naked” when she climbs into a water tank) and a psychic dream Olivaia goes through is complete with slow pans, weird, Dali-esque landscapes, and cheesy conversations. Abrams is almost unapologetic in his consistently predictable dialogue. But none of this was enough to turn me away because — and you’ll have to excuse me for a moment, because I’m about to get all nerdy and academic here — Fringe, like the rest of Abrams’ shows, delves compellingly into a lot of contemporary issues.
Alias voiced the American subconscious fears about terrorism, and Lost voices our continue paranoid backlash against globalism and the Other. (As a side note: a great, life-long J.J. drinking game would be to take a shot every time literary criticism or Anthro 101 terminology make their way into his shows). Similarly, Fringe is a vocalization of our very real, ongoing fear that technology will at some point overtake us; that the uncanny is closer to us than we might expect.
But I know most of you won’t care about that, which is why, you know … Joshua Jackson. The actor has finally lost all of his Dawson’s weight and looks so ridiculously hot that my friends and I quite literally paused the episode when he came on screen. (That is more about me than you probably ever wanted to know.) And Anna Torv (who plays Olivia) isn’t so bad looking herself — in that somewhat nondescript way that Abrams favors.
Fox has hyped this show like crazy, but I still worry because they have a habit of tanking their science fiction shows fairly quickly (even with big names like Abrams). Even though I think that this is basically the combined redo of Abrams’ last two tries, I still worry about his writing staff’s ability to sustain the show for more than a few seasons.
Hopefully my concerns will be proven unfounded.