Sunday, September 14, 2008

Review: Fringe, Episode 1

The next biweek at the Diner, it's a free-for-all! Stick with us and see what crazy stuff we come up with.

I'm starting off with a television review. Fringe, the latest "genre" show from JJ Abrams (Lost, Alias, Felicity), begins with what has become a pretty standard horror scene, unfortunately--people on an airplane. There's a storm a brewin', and there's a sick, nervous dude who injects himself with something that promptly makes his and everyone else's faces melt off with a degree of grotesque specificity that I personally think has no place on CST 7 pm television programming. Sure, there was a handy announcement that suggested parental guidance, but we're talking PG-13 or R level gore here. It just made me a little frustrated that we had to arrange for a sitter just to watch television shows from the 7 pm "family" slot.

Anyway, enough about my parental quibbles. We're all adults here, right? On with the review.

Soon thereafter, the scene changes to a man and a woman at a seedy hotel, engaged in an affair that we know is illicit because their employer (FBI) frowns on interdepartmental dating. Grey area! Breaking departmental policy! Does it matter if it's true love? Because the man tells the woman he loves her. However, their lovemaking is interrupted when she's called to the airport to investigate an incident. It's the airplane from the first scene that happily landed itself using autopilot. Clever, huh? Convenient, too. The man is called in shortly thereafter himself, since they're coworkers and all. Actually she's some kind of liasion who has a history, not of the romantic variety but of the "ruined the military career of his best friend" variety, with the intimidating special agent in charge. He sends her and her boyfriend on a make-work mission to investigate a storage unit, where you will be shocked to discover they find a secret lab and a man who's a dead ringer for the man we saw die on the plane, who promptly blows up the boyfriend.

I guess if you watch any television or movies, you won't be shocked. Any time there's a happy couple in the beginning, especially in a show like this, somebody's going to die, turn evil, disappear, be kidnapped and beaten, get burned in a ceiling fire caused by a yellow eyed demon, cheat and leave, or something similar.

The boyfriend doesn't die straight away. He appears to be affected by the same chemicals that dissolved the unfortunates on the plane, so the heroine goes to the mean boss and asks him to get her access to this scientist who's been in a mental institution for 17 years since he researched flesh dissolving chemicals in the 70's. The SAC is uncooperative, of course, so the heroine has to find a route to the crazy scientist herself. This involves tracking down his wayward son (aka Pacey), a hyper-intelligent conman, which we're told instead of shown, and bullying him to get his Dad out or else she'll sic the Mafia on him or some such.

Okay, the premiere lasted about 90 minutes, minus commercials. I've described what would amount to the first third of the program, which is where I'd stop if I were reviewing a book. We've introduced the main characters -- the heroine whose only flaw is love, the boyfriend who said I love you and sealed his fate, the mean boss who just isn't fair, the crazy scientist who is totally misunderstood, and his belligerant son who is second billed so he's obviously going to play a bigger part than the boyfriend, if you know what I mean. We've been introduced to the main conflict -- the heroine has to save her boyfriend, yes, but the larger problem is that she can't make things happen as an FBI agent until she hooks up with the scientist who used to work on "fringe" projects.

I think I've seen this advertised as X-files meets CSI, and that's about right. If you like both of those shows, you'll probably like Fringe, as long as you can overlook some stiff acting, particularly by Pacey, I mean, Joshua Jackson. The heroine played by Anna Torv ain't so hot, either, although her attempts to voice an American accent instead of her natural Australian one might make her sound stiffer than she has to be. I always wondered why foreign actors can't just have whatever accent they have, but I guess the producers/directors/etc. thought American viewers would feel more comfortable when the FBI heroine out there trying to save the world from terrorists had an American accent. She is althetic and tough and does her part to chase down bad guys and threaten good guys but the show definitely makes sure it also shows her softer side as well, by displaying her no less than two times in a state of undress. That's for the boys, you know.

I'd give it a 6 out of 10, although it was such a hassle to find time to watch it, what with the kids and all, I might save my tiny bits of free time for Heroes and Sarah Connor instead. Next week is something creepy about a pregnant lady whose baby eats it way out or something; I think maybe Abrams has been reading too much Stephenie Meyer.

Oh, one last criteria. Back when I used to edit a newsletter called Science Fiction Romance, I did short movie reviews where I rated them based on worldbuilding content and romantic content. Since we're fans of paranormal romance here at the Diner (and pie), here's how the first episode of Fringe would stack up in that respect:

Romance building: 2. There's a doomed romance in the beginning (boo for doomed romances!) and a potential romance with the heroine and the belligerant son, soon to be the hero, but you can tell that'll be a slow burn with lots of bickering. Which isn't a bad thing for a tv program, but I'm not rating it on what might happen but what was actually on screen.

World building: 3. There is definitely world building, but it's more convenient science helmed by a scientist who remembers everything instantly and whose lab in the basement of Harvard still works after 17 years eating the happy candy. I don't think so.

Pie eating: 2. There's a scene where the scientist dad, one of the FBI agents, and the cow (don't ask) are eating Chinese food and watching Sponge Bob.

Anybody else catch Fringe? How about any other genre programs? Where would you rate them in the 3 most important Diner criteria?

Jody W.
So much cyberspace, so little time! /


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  2. I caught the repeated pilot of "Fringe" on Sunday, but missed a little when DH called from California. I didn't get who the crazy doctor was or anything about the son being a con man, but luckily the show got me mostly up to speed with sufficient backstory retread : )

    As soon as the BF said he loved the heroine I was like "Oh, he's dead." The fact he survived a direct explosion irked me, but there had to be some kind of why is she doing this/time limiting plot device, I guess. I'd give it a 7 overall, but low marks on romance (to be re-rated when she and the son hook up later. Oh come on. You know they will.) and world building as well. Though the weirdness factor might edge up as the series progresses. Hopefully in a good way. I do like the mad scientist dad, however, and the cow ; )

    As for foreign actors playing Americans, yeah, there seems to be a lot of that. Especially females. This show, the gal on "Chuck", the "Bionic Woman", and Lena Headly on the new "Terminator" series just to name a few.

    I'll give "Fringe" another go tonight. "Terminator" and "Heroes" are at the top of my paranormal list. Oh, and "Pushing Daisies". That one has captial Q Quirkiness and has a high romance factor.