TV Review: Fringe 1.1

Control Freaks: TV Reviews with Attitude

Fringe (Fox) Airs Tuesdays 9/8c

Episode: “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Synopsis: In the series premiere of J. J. Abrams’ latest series, “Fringe,” we are introduced to the life of FBI Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv). We follow her as she is thrust into a case involving paranormal phenomena, deadly viruses, and ominous tech companies. When her boyfriend and fellow agent (Mark Valley) is horribly disfigured and left in a coma due to their investigation, Dunham is forced to enlist the help of mental patient Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) and his bad-boy genius son, Peter (Joshua Jackson). Using Walter’s knowledge of “fringe science,” they can use methods that no FBI operation has used thus far—even going so far as questioning the comatose. When it becomes clear that juggernaut pioneer-science corporation Massive Dynamic is somehow involved, Dunham quickly realizes she is in over her head.

Review: So, here we are! Our key has freshly ignited the new, intriguing vehicle that is J. J. Abrams’ Fringe! The series starts on a low-note: the frightening illustration of a doomed airplane experiencing some intense turbulence as it passes through a magnetic storm and all the passengers/ crew are infected with some sort of hyper-virus. Strange decision to kick things off with something so gruesome and cringe-inducing, but what other show can claim to show a man’s jaw melting off of his skull in the first five minutes? I’ll tell you right now: I was watching this show in a group of eight or so people, and there was not one among them who could hold back a gasp at the sight of those horrible disfigurements witnessed during the show’s opening moments. Truth be told, there are a lot of grotesqueries throughout the pilot and my weak stomach can only hope that this is not a template for the rest of the show.

The pilot suffers a bit from what I like to call “The Introductory Episode Blues”—the show is a bit tedious in its first installment, introducing us to the life of FBI Agent/ swimsuit model Olivia Dunham (who is introduced in bed with her lover and later appears in black lingerie). We are shown her traitorous love, Agent John Scott, and her tough-love-believing superior officer, Phillip Broyles (played by the inimitable Lance Reddick, who exudes authority and absorbs respect with ease). The relationship I am most interested in seeing develop is the one between Broyles and Dunham: there is a sort of bi-polar quality to it. In the beginning, he won’t touch her with a ten foot stick, but in the end, he’s practically begging her to go off in search of paranormal adventure with him.

Pretty soon the investigation into the downed airplane leaves her boyfriend in a comatose state of translucent skin, and Dunham pulls some files on the chemicals involved in the incident. The connection leads her to Walter Bishop and his damaged son, Peter. May I please just go off on a slight tangent about Joshua Jackson here? I never did watch “Dawson’s Creek” so I did not know what a quality actor he was and is. In fact, here we have a case where the actor is better than the material he is supplied with. His talent fills the 3rd dimension missing from his 2-dimensional character, and I am interested to see what he does given more substance. Back to the review—John Noble is equally compelling as the basket-case genius Walter Bishop, and much comedy is milked from his listless mental troubles (“Oh. I’ve just pissed myself.” “Great.” “Just a squirt.”).

Pretty soon Fringe science (the science of craziness) and Massive Dynamic (which needs to be capitalized, and I will fight anyone who says different) become involved, and we are shown some truly weird shit. Using electrical impulses from the brain and a hallucinogenic compound, Dunham is able to speak to her comatose lover in a truly cool/ trippy (dream?) sequence. Along with that we see a cybernetic hand and some pretty bitchin’ wallpaper over at Massive Dynamic headquarters. Once all this is introduced and John Scott reveals his true nature as a traitor (as another tangent, let me say here that I hate it when protagonists are in love with douche bags—perhaps this will lead to a “Lost”-like twist and we will find that he had Dunham’s best interests at heart when he tried to send her car off a bridge) and we are given a glimpse at the larger conflict of the show.

It appears that all of these paranormal happenstances across the globe over the last nine months are not exactly happenstances. They are connected, according to characters that obviously know a lot more than we do. It appears that J. J. Abrams is casting an even wider net of intrigue than in “Lost” and “Alias” here: he has set up the building blocks of something major and complex—and opportunities to say things about federal institutions/ employees and large, overbearing corporations.

Here’s to hoping we see the damn thing follow through.


-“…Responsible for some of the most terrifying terror known to man…” Laughter. I can only assume Reddick was ad-libbing there and that the intensity in his eyes was what saved that take in the editing room.

-What is up with the asylum Bishop attended? I remember him mentioning their “choice of therapy” and then his voice trailing off. Expect to see some more about this.

-Why is Peter Bishop so afraid of his father? Thus far, Dad seems like a harmless old eccentric.

-“In a place like that you lose a lot. You lose being trusted.”

-When does Fringe take place? I don’t seem to recall technology that is freely displayed at MASSIVE DYNAMIC ever being implemented, so it couldn’t be contemporary, could it? Perhaps it takes place in an alternate universe.

-I expect more betrayals from within the FBI. I really do expect this show to use its balls out science fiction to expose things about how the FBI is run and its intents/ purposes. If it’s not relevant to the world we live in today, the show is ultimately worthless.

-Time travel will be an element in the show. Duh.

-“How long has he been dead?” “Five hours.” “Question him.” I can’t decide whether I’m laughing at them or with them. The show has already proved that it isn’t beyond self-parody with a few well-placed lines, mostly from Joshua Jackson’s character.

-I’m not fully convinced of Torv’s acting ability. She’s Australian, right? Her husky voice attempts to cover up her accent, and it succeeds in that respect, but it also succeeds in calling attention to the whole affair. Oh, and she sucks at crying.

-In the interest of full disclosure, I have only seen one episode of the X-Files. Just how derivative is Fringe?

-Dying words: “Ask yourself why Broyles sent you…to the storage facility…”

For more coverage of your favorite shows, check out the Control Freaks Archive.

Did you watch Fringe this week? If so, feel free to discuss below.

Conrad is currently a student enrolled at Bard College at Simon's Rock. He is studying English and Studio Art. Born and raised in New York, Conrad's interests include, but are not limited to: drawing, writing, film, music, comics, philosophical rhetoric, field hockey, and kicking people when they are down. Conrad enjoys using the third person.

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