Preview: Fringe

Far out


In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, Fox. Starts 9th Sept
In the UK: Not yet acquired, because the UK ain’t buying not nothing right now

There are things in the world that can’t be explained, like the popularity of jazz or mysterious phenomena such as UFOs. Then there are other things that are far more easily explained, such as ‘déjà vu’ – the feeling that you’ve seen something before. That’s usually because you have. In the case of Fringe, it’s because you probably saw an episode of The X-Files once and buried it in the back of your mind.

Fringe, despite the initial presence of government agents investigating weird and spooky things, is fortunately more than just a simple retread of past Fox successes. It’s a disturbing glimpse into a parallel world in which weird fringe science of the 70s actually turned up results, results that are affecting – and sometimes destroying – life as we know it in the present.

From J.J. Abrams ("Lost"), Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the team behind "Star Trek," "Mission: mpossible III" and "Alias," comes a new drama that will thrill, terrify and explore the blurring line between science fiction and reality.

When an international flight lands at Boston’s Logan Airport and the passengers and crew have all died grisly deaths, FBI Special Agent OLIVIA DUNHAM (newcomer Anna Torv) is called in to investigate. After her partner, Special Agent JOHN SCOTT (Mark Valley, "Boston Legal"), is nearly killed during the investigation, a desperate Olivia searches frantically for someone to help, leading her to DR. WALTER BISHOP (John Noble, "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King"), our generation’s Einstein. There’s only one catch: he’s been institutionalized for the last 20 years, and the only way to question him requires pulling his estranged son PETER (Joshua Jackson, "Dawson’s Creek") in to help.

When Olivia’s investigation leads her to manipulative corporate executive NINA SHARP (Blair Brown, "Altered States"), our unlikely trio along with fellow FBI Agents PHILLIP BROYLES (Lance Reddick, "The Wire"), CHARLIE FRANCIS (Kirk Acevedo, "Oz") and ASTRID FARNSWORTH (Jasika Nicole, "Law & Order: Criminal Intent") will discover that what happened on Flight 627 is only a small piece of a larger, more shocking truth.

FRINGE is directed by Emmy Award-winning Alex Graves ("The West Wing") and produced by Warner Bros. Television and Bad Robot Productions.

Is it any good?
For a good, long portion of the show, I was getting that X-Files déjà vu, loud and clear. The opening is almost a complete retread, with FBI agent and Mira Sorvino-alike Anna Torv being summoned out of her bed to investigate the mysterious deaths of all the passengers on a flight from Germany. It’s a little more horrific than The X-Files during this initial phase, but it’s pretty much the same.

But it soon becomes clear that aliens are not going to be the centre of Fringe – we’re so over them. No, it’s evil corporations packed with mad scientists who are the problem. Fortunately, there’s a solution – the not so much mad as completely barking scientist Walter Bishop (John Noble) and his con man son Peter (Joshua Jackson from Dawson’s Creek). 

Bishop is the kind of man who’ll loudly proclaim "I’ve pissed myself. Just a small shot", before demanding a cow before he gets to work on mixing up some LSD so that Torv can read the mind of a coma patient. The thing is, it’s still worth listening to his madness, because things that sound laugh out loud mad turn out to be a lot scarier when they turn up later for real. Because in the world of fringe science, what sounds ludicrous one moment, can be very real given 30 years of secret research.

By the end of it, of course, it’s clear that this is just the beginning and the scary arsed results of dangerous science are being exploited by even scarier corporations for their own ends, whether it’s to cause tsunami and earthquakes or preserve children for decades without ageing. Torv, Jackson and Torv’s compuisory "angry black boss", the ever wonderful Lance Reddick, have to unite to fight the terrible menace.

I actually found it scarier than The X-Files. The idea that this is a world much like our own but with the benefits of "cancer scanners", prosthetic limbs of astonishing delicacy and all sorts of bioweaponry is really very disturbing. Although I’m not sure how long it’ll last, the snowy wastes of Boston (probably Canada) and the shooting style gave it a very, cold feel that put me in mind of Scanners (and other Cronenberg films) and Se7en at times. Indeed, thinking about it, the entire show feels like it’s channelling early Cronenberg for its themes of body horror, inscrutable scary organisations and weird science.

The obvious Mulder-Scully equivalent here is Torv and Jackson and JJ Abrams and the show’s other creators are not shy of nosing the story in a possible romantic direction. By making Jackson something other than FBI, it also allows them to avoid all the restrictive requirements and legalities of law enforcement while keeping all the benefits Torv’s FBI participation brings. 

Torv’s enjoyable enough, although a bit wooden but really why copy instead of simply hiring Mira Sorvino? Jackson’s surprisingly good after his Dawson years. Although you don’t really buy him as a con man, mainly because he spends so much time being nice, he’s far better as an action hero. Noble’s madness is quite terrifying and you really have no idea what he’s going to do next – can he be trusted with that scalpel? Would you really want him to inject you with who knows what drugs?

I’m not convinced that this is going to be as big as either The X-Files or Abrams’ own Lost though. It’s just a little too geeky, a little too lacking in mainstream appeal. But if you don’t mind having your skin crawling all the time, it’s a good show with promise and one that’s surprisingly funny as well.

Here’s a YouTube trailer or two for your enjoyment.



  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.