The unexpected on Fringe


Fans of shape-shifting, parallel universes and time travel must be thrilled the second season of Fringe (TV2, Tuesdays, 9.30pm) has finally arrived in New Zealand, not to mention that a third season will soon start screening in the United States. 

Following on from such a stunning debut here last year, the madcap sci-fi has a tough act to follow but made a promising start a fortnight ago and seems to be retaining the invention and creativity that made the first season’s stories so zany. 

New to Fringe? Think X-Files meets Men In Black, with a dollop of Sliders and the Terminator thrown in for good measure. It’s a pacy and spacy show, filled with the astonishing and the disturbing; the normal and the paranormal. 

It is 60 minutes of the unexpected. 

Fringe is also a reminder that the best sci-fi plots usually mix the everyday with the extraordinary to help pack a bigger punch. The contrast between the real life and something completely else again, an essence of the old Twilight Zone series, only accentuates the shock value. 

I was thinking this while changing my trousers shortly after a scene in the opening episode when FBI special agent Olivia Dunham, lying brain dead on a hospital bed and being mourned by her offsider Peter Bishop, suddenly sat bolt upright and, wide-eyed, babbled a short message in Greek. 

The potted story of Fringe involves this pair, along with Bishop’s mad-scientist father, investigating incidents of “fringe science”; anything from the case of the baby that aged 80 years in minutes before dying with its umbilical cord still attached, to the folk who died without faces, and the woman who spontaneously combusted. 

Throughout the show there is a sub-plot of a parallel or alternate universe, regular comings and goings of characters from both sides of the divide, a good against bad struggle between each of the factions and the advent of the terrifying shape-shifters – alternative universe agents who can take on the shape and appearance of anyone they kill in the present. 

Created by, amongst others, JJ Abrams, the writer of Lost, the Fringe could be darker than it is, but is kept on the quirky and curious side by some good casting, not least the decision to use Australian John Noble as the potty but brilliant Walter Bishop. 

The Australian theme continues with Anna Torv playing Olivia, while North American Joshua Jackson, best-known for his role as Pacey Witter in Dawson’s Creek, plays the part of Peter, a genius with an IQ of 190. 

Fringe hasn’t been everyone’s cup of tea. In the US, the Parents Television Council slammed the first season pilot for its excessive violence and gore, and Television Without Pity, a website that dines out on ridiculing others, described it as one of the biggest disappointments of the year. 

For all that, one person’s trash is another’s treasure and the results are starting to speak for themselves. Fringe now has a massive cult following and when you watch it, it’s not hard to see why.