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Fringe (2008) Review By Roger Armstrong

Created By:JJ Abbrams, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci

Starring:Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, Lance Reddick, Blair Brown,


I’ve just realised I’m a big fan of JJ Abrams quirky, popularist “cult” TV and movies. I love Lost, I liked (really liked) Cloverfield, MI-3 was the best of the series and Star Trek was ok to a point but Fringe passed me by. Well not passed me by as I don’t subscribe to TV and it was only shown on Sky One in the UK. That meant an intellectual rights infringing download so I didn’t bother. I mean I was interested but I was already infringing the rights of the Sci-Fi channel for Battlestar Galactica and ABC for season five of Lost. But I was interested, but put it off because it seemed like a rehash of my second favourite cop show the X-Files but twenty years too early.

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So a couple of months ago after a run of particularly good films (Pontypool, Grotesque, District 9) I was at a loss for something to watch. So with the marketing for Fringe Season 1 on DVD coinciding with a rerun on Sky coinciding with cat sitting at my girlfriend’s who coincidentally has cable I thought I’d watch the pilot and see if it was any good. Well it was either that or Danny Dyers Deadliest Men 2 which happened to be on Bravo at the same time and coincidentally Bravo +1, so I thought fuck it.

Fringe concerns the investigations of Fringe Division (part of the FBI or Homeland Security or something) into “The Pattern” where weird things relating to fringe science (bullshit stuff like telepathy, telepathy with the

dead, and teleportation and viruses and heads exploding or something). Led by tomboyish FBI Agent Olivia Dunham, (literally) mad genius professor Walter Bishop always has an inside track on the gory and sometimes very amusing weekly mysteries. Bishop’s streetwise son Peter (also a genius) tags along as his babysitter cracking wise and using his street connections but mostly just providing pointless plot exposition. The solution to each case ends in a revelation about someone’s past and is connected to the world’s biggest corporation Massive Dynamic (doing some dodgy experiment or something). As usual for this sort of show various characters appear out of the woodwork to help or obfuscate, usually the latter.

I was hooked from the (literally) jaw dropping opening sequence of the first episode, cinematic in it’s scale and ambition, reminiscent of HBO productions but not quite reaching the same level of quality. I guess this was due to the hectic production schedule required to pump out a twenty show season which is too many for the material that forms the main story arc. Twelve or thirteen episodes would have been better and unfortunately this results in unnecessary filler material (sickly sweet family shit) which is slightly annoying.

Fringe demonstrates Abrams’ uncanny knack of perfect casting for his shows. Despite taking half the series to relax into character freaky, gawky strangely sexy Anna Torv is engaging as Dunham. Whisky drinking, hard edged and ruthless but relatively unclichéd, refreshing for lead a female character in a US TV show.

The real star however is John Noble. Simply sublime as fragile genius Walter Bishop, fully formed from the first episode Bishop is equal parts vulnerable and frightening, naïve yet all seeing, helpless yet fearless. It’s Noble’s consistently excellent and engaging performance that gives Fringe such a solid foundation and is the main reason to keep watching.


Pacey from Dawson’s Creek rounds off the main characters as Peter Bishop, the obligatory Abrams production embittered laconic loner/drifter (Sawyer in Lost/Kirk in Star Trek). Basically Pacey plays Pacey from Dawson’s Creek but ten years on and with an “in debt to the mob” backstory. He is engaging enough and has great chemistry with Noble but his character is underwritten, being the obligatory Abrams production character (Hugo in Lost/Spock in Star Trek) that explains the plot to the stupid people or anyone who has never seen an episode of the X-Files. However it’s handled quite well in Fringe often being funny and self effacing unlike in Star Trek where it fucks up the whole film (incidentally, why did Spock have so much of that red shit that blows up stars?).

Despite it’s horror and sci-fi pretentions, Fringe is a cop show and all the usual clichés are there – mismatched buddy relationships, unsolved cases from the past, case breaking informers and the hard ass boss who everyone thinks is a cunt but ultimately has his team’s best interests at heart. I’m going to lay it on the line here, the reason I like Fringe so much is not because of its overwhelming similarities to my second favourite cop show The X-Files but because it has more in common with my favourite cop show, Miami Vice, apart from the music, which is crap.