Coming in from the outskirts on “Fringe”

Few titles could be more apropos than Fringe when it comes to describing how I first felt about a series. I was on the edge of liking it; I was on the edge of hating it. In short, I was on the fringe. But now, after three episodes, I’m on the fringe no more. I’m just hooked. I simply have to know whether Blair Brown and her creepy robotic arm are good or bad.

As one of the most hyped shows of the new season, the new J.J. Abrams series premiered with a 90-minute pilot that set up its X-Files-meets-Dr. Frankenstein sprinkled with the Bourne franchise (minus the amnesia thing) premise. Each week, FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv, who could be Cate Blanchett‘s younger sister); the formerly mad scientist, Dr. Walter Bishop (John Nobel); and his genius grifter son Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) track down a series of what can only be described as attacks of weird science that are part of a global conspiracy of weird science called The Pattern.

Are you still with me? Do you need a sip of water? Shall we proceed?

The Pattern is the show’s biggest selling point. As much as I like seeing Anna in her FBI pantsuits each week, it’s the conspiracy that gets former X-Philes like myself really excited. Who is behind all these bizarre acts? Why are they doing it? And how does Massive Dynamic and Blair’s robotic arm fit into everything? These are the kind of questions that can propel a series for seasons.

Still, Fringe isn’t perfect. While the show wants us to focus on the pseudo-science it’s the simple science that trips it up sometimes. In the pilot, Dr. Bishop is sprung from the mental institution where he has been committed for the past 17 years to help Olivia. Bishop worked at Harvard before his permanent vacation to the funny farm and we’re suppressed to believe his basement laboratory was left intact all those years. What, the Ivy Leagues don’t need storage space?

And then, after nearly two decades, they need only pull the drop cloths off of his equipment and everything still works. Hell, I can’t even get a pair of headphones to last for longer than 12 months. What’s his secret?

Also, in the pilot a key plot point turns on a recorded conversation. Yet, what does the scientist researching cutting-edge chemical weapons technology uses to tape the talk? A micro-cassette recorder. And then later Olivia just happens to have a micro-cassette player in her glove box. Seriously, micro-cassettes? Do they even still make those?

It’s small, maddening inaccuracies like those that had me on the edge of tuning out. I’m more than happy to suspend disbelief on the things I have to suspend disbelief on (like, you know, clone babies and psychic communication and human reanimation); but having to suspend disbelief on actual stuff is just lazy.

Yet, the larger questions that drive Fringe are strong enough to overshadow the petty disbelief problems, irritating as they are. Newcomer Anna is a welcome addition to the strong female character club on TV. And while I still don’t quite buy Pacey Joshua as some 190-IQ brainiac con-man, I enjoy watching his interaction with Noble enough not to start humming “I Don’t Want to Wait” each time he comes on screen.

So, does Fringe have you on the edge of your seat? Is the science too weird for you? And, seriously, what’s up with that robotic arm?

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