Starring Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble. Created by J.J. Abrams.
The best way to understand “Fringe” is to take it as “Lost” creator/”Star Trek” helmer J. J. Abrams doing his version of “The X-Files.” Since he seems to have a firmer grasp on storytelling than Chris Carter, it’s off to a good start with the promise of even better times ahead. “X-Files” had many great episodes but fell apart as it kept teasing its “mythology” (its internal and unfolding mystery) without ever getting to a real payoff. Abrams seems to have learned from Carter’s mistake.
In the pilot, we meet FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), a young, beautiful and no-nonsense professional who finds herself involved investigating weird and possibly supernatural occurrences. The first case we see has to do with a plane flying into Boston where all the passengers and crew have died from their bodies melting. Quickly, three story lines emerge for the series. First is the arc story about who or what is responsible for many of the weird things encountered week-by-week. This is not fully resolved at season’s end, but we do know it is related to a mysterious corporation where executive Nina Sharp (Blair Brown) promises cooperation but is obviously being less than forthcoming. In the season-ending cliffhanger, we find this company may be more powerful than can be possibly be imagined when Olivia demands a showdown with Nina’s boss William Bell (Leonard Nimoy). The final image – not to be spoiled here – raises more questions than it answers.
Another story is more or less resolved. Olivia has been having an affair with fellow agent John Scott (Mark Valley) who is killed, but keeps reappearing to Olivia, with hints that his agenda went beyond his role of FBI agent. This is played out over much of the first season but eventually Olivia discovers why John is haunting her and the story seems to come to a conclusion.
The third story is essentially the running plotline of the series. As Olivia encounters weird science week after week, it’s clear that she’s in over her head. Her boss (Lance Reddick) tries to protect her from outside interference but sometimes has to restrict her pursuit of the truth. He seems to be a good guy but one operating under constraints. Fellow agent Charlie Francis (Kirk Acevedo) starts out as a minor supporting character but develops over the course of the first season. We see he’s committed to doing what’s right and supporting Olivia, even if he doesn’t completely have access to the bigger picture.
Instead she is forced to rely on Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), a scientist who – conveniently – knows some of the players and worked on some of the experiments that Olivia is now encountering, but who went mad as a hatter and ended up institutionalized. He’s out now, but still not fully connected to reality. He’ll be visiting a gruesome crime scene and start musing on a favorite dessert. Walter, though, has the knowledge and scientific insights Olivia needs, so she also needs the help of Walter’s estranged son Peter (Joshua Jackson) who helps her keep Walter focused and on track.
The first season showed a great deal of imagination with John Noble a standout as the wacky Walter. Abrams and company resist the urge to make this a show centering on him, so that when he does show up he’s a welcome presence.
Anna Torv will be an acquired taste for some and she may seem a bit young for the responsibilities handed her character, but over the course of the season Olivia’s character is developed and Torv seems to be more comfortable playing her as a conflicted agent rather than a pretty, young heroine. Joshua Jackson may have it easiest, getting to play the outsider commenting on the action, with only hints at a possible romantic entanglement with Olivia or, perhaps, someone close to her.
“Fringe” had a good first season, setting up its premises, and having some truly eerie episodes like “Inner Child,” about a weird hairless boy found living by himself, or “Ability” where victims find their facial orifices sealing up leaving them faceless corpses. The trick for Abrams and company now will be to tell us a story that’s going somewhere, instead of simply being another series spinning its wheels.•••
DVD Special Features Include:
* Evolution: The Genesis of “Fringe” featurette – The creators of the show discuss how the series unfolded and the qualities that make it so unique
* Behind the Real Science of “Fringe” featurette – From teleportation to re-animation, Fringe incorporates recent discoveries in science. Consulting experts and scientists who are the authorities in their field address the areas of science which are the inspiration for the show.
* A Massive Undertaking: The Making of “Fringe” (on select episodes) – An in-depth exploration of how select episodes came to be made: from the frozen far reaches of shooting the pilot in Toronto, to the weekly challenges of bringing episodes to air
* The Casting of “Fringe” – The story, as told by producers and cast, of how Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble and others came to be cast in the series.
* “Fringe” Visual Effects featurette – Goes deep into the creation of the shared dream state with some of the biggest VFX shots of the show.
* Dissected Files: Unaired Scenes
* Unusual Side Effects: Gag Reel
* Deciphering the Scene
* Roberto Orci Production Diary
* Gene the Cow montage
* Three Full-Length Commentaries from writers/producers, including J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtman, J.R. Orci, David Goodman, Bryan Burk, Akiva Goldsman and Jeff Pinkner
Additional Blu-Ray Bonus Features:
* “Fringe” Pattern Analysis – Take a closer look at 6 select scenes from Season 1 with experts who dissect each scene with notes, photos, and diagrams.
* BD-Live enabled features include Media Center, My Commentary, and commentary on Season 1 finale episode.
Season Two of “Fringe” premieres on FOX Thursday, Sept. 17.
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.