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TV Detail: Fringe review. Episode 2—The Same Old Story

September 17, 2008  |  9:51am
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Maybe it was that the most enigmatic elements of Lost were doled out slowly after characters were more fully developed, and after much more familiar, but still extraordinary, crises were faced—a plane crash, kidnappings, even the unseen creature. The most unbelievable aspects and plot twists were doled out over several seasons after I was already hooked.

But already in Fringe, it’s less the events making up the Pattern that seem implausible—it's a sci-fi show, so I’m will to suspend disbelief that the bad guys could have developed a toxin that turns the flesh translucent or a growth accelerator that causes a fetus to develop into an old man in a matter of hours. It's the near-instantly developed methods our heroes use to solve the crimes. "What if we linked your brains so that you could communicate with the victim in the coma to find out who blew him up?" "What if we attached a monitor to the victim’s retina to capture the last images she saw before she died? You know, like Jules Verne posited." Rather than amazing scientific breakthroughs that will be used to further the progress of man, they’re presented as impressive one-offs. The main character in Fringe isn't FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), the mad professor Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) or his genius son Peter (Joshua Jackson). It's the dues ex machina who's neatly solved the puzzles of the first two episodes.

Creator J.J. Abrams seems just as careless with other plot contrivances. The serial murderer in "The Same Old Story" is killing prostitutes daily for the pituitary glands he needs to stop from aging. But when one of his extractions is interrupted for a mere five minutes, he immediately grows old and dies. I guess he was planning on removing the girl's pituitary glands and adapting it for his own purposes really fast. It’s these shortcuts that so far has kept an otherwise absorbing set-up with intriguing characters from becoming an Abrams-worthy hit. In a show that stretches the limits of science, I don’t want to have to turn off my brain.

So why will I watch again next week? Because I’d rather have a show err on the side of unbelievable than unremarkable, and I’m interested to see if Abrams has any more tricks up his sleeve. But right now it’s feeling less Lost-meets-The X-Files and more Eureka without the winking humor.

Related Links:
Fringe episode 1.4 "The Arrival" review
Fringe episode 1.3 "The Ghost Network" review
Fringe episode 1.1 Searies pilot review

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