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153 of 178 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Starts slowly but builds up to a brilliant second half with enormous potential, May 12, 2009
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This review is from: Fringe: Season 1 (DVD)
I have dual suggestions for anyone thinking of trying FRINGE. First, definitely watch it. Second, be very, very patient. The show eventually gets very, very good, but it takes a very long time to get there. I have a theory as to why that is. FOX has a tendency to micro manage many of its shows. DOLLHOUSE is an example. After Joss Whedon brought them his initial pilot, they nixed it and asked for a new one, and then dictated that the first several episodes be standalone episodes. And guess what. In the sixth episode DOLLHOUSE became one of the best shows on TV, with multiple delicious plot twists. The weakest part of the series? The first five stand alone episodes. I have not heard similar things about FRINGE, but given that the first half of the season tends to be almost all stand alone episodes and that they are far and away the weakest part of the show, I suspect more FOX interference. FRINGE has been compared to THE X-FILES in many ways, but one way that they are dissimilar is that THE X-FILES standalone episodes were far superior to FRINGE's standalone episodes. So the viewer has to be patient for the payoff for watching the show to come to fruition. But the payoff does finally come. About halfway through the series a "mythology" arc emerges in a most satisfying way, resulting in a string of deeply satisfying and exciting episodes in the second half of the season. At the end of the first year, it hasn't yet quite become a great show, but it shows all the potential of becoming one. But perhaps only if FOX will get out of the way and let them get on with the story.

The show also suffered from internal problems, the main one being casting. I came to like Anna Torv in the lead role of Agent Olivia Dunham, but she remained in many ways the show's weak link. Many fans noted that her American accent (Torv is Australian) often faded and especially early in the show her Aussie accent would briefly creep in. She isn't a bad actress, but neither is she - comparing the show once again to THE X-FILES - Gillian Anderson, who was by any accounting a brilliant actress. When I watch FRINGE, I often wonder just what the show would be like with a stronger actress in the lead role. I also have not yet become sold on Joshua Jackson as Peter Bishop, but this may be far more of a problem with the writers fully integrating him into the show. (Though the season ends with a great, great twist involving Peter that explains a lot of the background on Walter's story.) Other than being Walter's son, his role in the greater scheme of things hasn't really become clear, though perhaps the writers envision a more crucial role in Season Two. Lance Reddick is a powerful physical presence, but is another actor who has perhaps been under utilized at this point.

Which leaves John Noble as Walter Bishop. Is there a more delightful supporting character on TV? He steals just about every scene he is in as the delightfully idiosyncratic and marvelously insane genius Walter Bishop. Walter is both a wonderfully written character and brilliantly portrayed by Noble. Sci-fi series do not as a rule get much recognition by the Emmys, but I would love to see Noble get a nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama. Many of the great moments of the show's first season revolve around Walter. And there are so many fine Walter moments that some go unnoticed. Among my favorites was in the show's penultimate episode where the crew is assembled in Walter's Harvard lab and someone says they need to turn the lights out. Walter gleefully tells them all to hold on and he claps his hands, demonstrating that he has "the Clapper" installed in the lab. But what makes the scene so funny is a very subtle bit of business. Walter has been passing out cookies and has one of his own. To be able to clap, he has set his own cookie down on the derrière of the corpse he has been examining and that is laying immediately in front of him. So while Walter is clapping his cookie is on this dead guy's rear end. Typical Walter. Not least because of Walter's penchant for blending the investigation of the most grotesque phenomena with food. Icky disfigured corpse? Nothing like that to get Walter to think about food!

The best thing about FRINGE is that it got better as it went along. This is a great sign for Season Two. I blame FOX for the slow first half of the season. Maybe I'm wrong in doing that, but we know for a fact that FOX messed up the first half of DOLLHOUSE, and they've been known to interfere with the development of other shows. The fact is this: executive producers and their writers know more about how to do a great show than network executives do. Maybe they feel that they need to earn their salaries by "crafting" the new series, but generally what they do is mess things up. You hire someone like J. J. Abrams or Joss Whedon to do a series, just get out of the way and let them do what they inevitably do better than you do.

So definitely watch this show. Be patient. It starts off OK, but about halfway through the season it will really start to kick tail. I think there is some core weakness in the cast, but not to the degree that it cripples the show. Best of all, this show really feels like it is going somewhere special. Make sure you are along for the ride.
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Showing 1-10 of 29 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 22, 2009 8:20:00 PM PDT
JF says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on May 24, 2009 5:24:09 AM PDT
Robert Moore says:
I don't think you understand the role that networks play in TV production. Networks have massive input into the structure, content, and direction of television series. I mentioned the role that FOX played in dictating the standalone episodes on DOLLHOUSE. This is typical of the kind of input networks have on series. There has never been, to my knowledge, a series where the network that ordered a show to production didn't play a significant role in planning a series. This holds true even of a Warner Brothers production airing on FOX. For instance, NBC has ordered numerous changes on CHUCK, even though CHUCK is a Warner Brothers production. Production companies do not offer shows to networks "just as they are." Their development, even after production has begun, is a constant give and take, with networks mandating a host of changes of one sort or another. Sometimes real battles can ensue. An example: in casting the Lionsgate production MAD MEN creator Mathew Weiner became convinced that unknown actor Jon Hamm was perfect in the lead role of Don Draper. AMC would not approve Hamm, insisting that he be replaced by a better known actor, perhaps well-known stage actor John Slattery, who Weiner wanted to cast as Sherman-Cooper head Roger Sterling. Weiner held to his guns and said that without Hamm in the lead role, he simply wouldn't do the series. AMC capitulated and Weiner was proven correct when Hamm was universally acclaimed one of the best actors on TV for his portrayal of Don Draper. My point is that everyone expected that the network was within its rights in demanding that change. As I said, I know of no show where networks don't strive to play a major role in developing a show.

My specific point about FRINGE is speculative, based on what I know about how networks and TV productions typically operate. It has been widely reported that FOX (which is the network and is a completely separate entity from 20th Century Fox, though they share the same parent company) dictated that the first several episodes of DOLLHOUSE be stand alone episodes. I haven't heard that they did the same with FRINGE, but it seems quite probable, given how static and uninteresting many of those early FRINGE episodes were. It being a Warner Brothers Production is really quite irrelevant to that.

Posted on May 29, 2009 10:11:39 PM PDT
Good review, even if I don't agree completely. :) I think Joshua Jackson does an excellent job. In fact, he's become one of my favorite underused actors. Peter's interactions with Walter are just darned funny television. It's a nice, complex father-son relationship that's off-kilter. Noble should definitely get some kind of reward for his acting on this show. It's just superb. You don't mention the assistant, Astrid (played by Nicole), who also does an admirable job as Walter's assistant. She doesn't get much screen time, but when she's there, she's memorable.

I actually liked more of the first episodes than the latter, but I'm more of a monster-of-the-week sort of person. I am looking forward, though, to how they develop the character of Peter and am wondering if they're going to develop a deeper relationship between Olivia and Peter. I keep thinking there will be some sort of connection there.

{Honestly, I can't see how you made it through more than one episode of Dollhouse. Dushku's acting has never been good. She was okay in Buffy and tolerable in Tru Calling , but here it's abysmal. Blech! (On another Joss Whedon side note, how cool is it that Nathon Fillion is back on TV!!)}

In reply to an earlier post on May 30, 2009 10:38:28 PM PDT
Robert Moore says:
I agree with you on Joshua Jackson about being underused. His give and take with Walter was good, but when he wasn't with Walter, his character just disappeared. But with the big reveal in the finale, I think his role will become much better.

I loved DOLLHOUSE, but found CASTLE to be unwatchable. Procedurals are pretty much my least favorite genre of TV. I tried to like it, but I just couldn't handle the format. I don't know how much of DOLLHOUSE you watched, but I think it ended up far better than FRINGE, though it did really start off slowly. Actually, an executive at FOX got fired over the handling of DOLLHOUSE. Joss Whedon's idea was to more or less begin the series where it ended in the finale. The former exec put the pressure on to stretch things out. But virtually all major TV critics went insane for the last half of the season of DOLLHOUSE (if you didn't make it that far you wouldn't know why people liked it so much). The thinking at FOX was that Whedon knew what he was doing, but was hamstrung by the exec. And I loved Eliza Dushku. I know she has her critics, but I don't even know what people are talking about when they say she isn't a good actress. I never get the feeling from watching her that I get when watching Anna Torv.

But speaking of things Whedon, it is looking good for Summer Glau to begin playing some role on DOLLHOUSE. It and FRINGE are easily my two favorite shows on FOX.

Posted on Jul 2, 2009 4:44:14 PM PDT
C. H. Moody says:
I fail to see the reason for so much disrespect to Anna Torv, who IMO proved herself an EXCEPTIONAL actress during the pilot. The very first scene she's in, she's brilliant. I find her portrayal of Dunham to be far more honest, far more believable, and far more nuanced than what Anderson did with Scully (admittedly, I was not a watcher of TXF, but I *liked* Anderson as Scully).

After one season, it's fair to assume that Abrams & Co. have only set the stage for what's coming; we really don't know what's coming next. I suspect next season to be terrific.

Posted on Jul 22, 2009 10:42:39 PM PDT
Bubu says:
Hold your horses, I watch the show because of Anna Torv, dont care if she's aussie, and secondly, its a great show, JJ Abrahams for a change

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 17, 2009 10:10:47 PM PDT
Summer says:
I'm a huge fan of the X-Files but no matter how many similarities it may have to Fringe, I still think Fringe is a show in itself. I hate when people compare it to the X-Files. I think Anna Torv was great ever since the show began. She really brings her character to life. As for Joshua Jackson, I like him too. I think when people see him, they still think of him from Dawson's Creek and don't give him the chance to develop his character. Even though, imo, I think he did great acting on D.C.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 25, 2009 1:17:50 AM PDT
Dave says:
Fringe is a great show and it's unfair to compare to the X-Files. People are comparing it to the totality of the X-Files and Fringe is only one season old. X-Files Season 1 had plenty of clunkers. Anderson And Duchovny grew into their roles as well and in season 1 you could say their acting wasn't all that flash either-particularly Duchovny. As we know X-Files became brilliant.
As a start up season, I'd say it's stronger than X-Files season one, but we shall see only in the long run how the two compare.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 3, 2009 8:09:32 PM PDT
Robert Moore says:
I'm not into comparing it or contrasting it with THE X-FILES, but it is relevant to the show because many people within FOX promoted it along the lines of the show. They've been nostalgic for another scripted show as popular as THE X-FILES for a decade. FIREFLY actually got decent ratings in its Friday night timeslot, but they were looking for the new X-FILES. I did contrast Anna Torv specificallly with Gillian Anderson, who is on a completely different level as an actress (I suspect that Anderson might be one of her generation's greatest actresses, but may have been hurt by her close identification with a hit TV show). But I'm not sure what people think they are seeing when they think Torv a good actress. She almost never takes scenes to a deeper level and she struggles to keep a consistent accent (though she seems to have gotten very slightly better during the course of the season). But a huge number of people cite her as a weak link on the show, including a large number of TV critics, who have a very good sensitivity for such things. At this point someone might want to argue with the widespread perception that she isn't a good actress, but it is hard to pretend that she is widely perceived to be a good one.

Pretty anxious for the season to start. I've been watching all the old series that I managed to miss before during the summer, but I'm reading for the current series to return.

Posted on Sep 4, 2009 7:40:34 PM PDT
J. R. SOUTH says:
Does this series really get any better? I watched the first 6 or 7 episodes. The premiere was a knockout and I fully expected to be thrilled on an ongoing basis. But it only gradually slid downward from there. I disagree that Anna Torv as Olivia is the show's weakest link. If anything, Torv brings dramatic weight and intelligence to her role, despite her nebulous accent. There was originally some great tension between her character and Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), but that evaporated quickly. Now Peter has the all the personality of drying paint. As for Walter Bishop (John Noble), he also started out with potential, but now comes across as comic relief where none is needed. He's dangerously close to being as annoying as Dr. Smith, who turned "Lost in Space" into a farce. None of the characters have any life outside of their endless string of bizarre adventures. And as for the whole topic of fringe "science", this show is about as scientifically-based as baking chocolate chip cookies. At least I'm glad I wised-up before I spent a lotta $$$ on the boxed set.
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Robert Moore

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