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Why Aren’t You Watching “Fringe?”

21 September 2010 One Million Watts 4,054 views No CommentPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

“Crazy” is what science terms the things it doesn’t understand, but “genius” is what it does — in this writer’s opinion, anyway. At the junction of metaphysics and science, described fairly well in Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol,” lies “fringe” science — telekinesis, spontaneous combustion, exploring the fourth dimension. Crazy and genius are deftly mixed in “Fringe,” a lucid dreamscape created by the genius J.J. Abrams with “Lost” writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci.

I was a big fan of Abrams’ “Alias,” and I devoured the first five seasons of “Lost” in eight days. Watching that much television is a rarity for me, but what can I say? I have a fondness for brilliance, and I read neuroscience texts for fun. I was a little proud of myself when, weeks before the outcome (and without reading any “Lost” fan pages) I out-guessed my Physics genius acquaintance about who would rule the island at the end. (No spoilers here, readers! It’s only an out of character self-congratulatory moment.)

I’m finally watching “Fringe,” and I was hooked as soon as I saw the pilot, which reminded me more of a movie than an introduction to a weekly television show. Of course, that’s part of the amazing Weltanschauung of J.J. Abrams. During the post-“Lost” telecast on Jimmy Kimmel, actor Michael Emerson, who played Ben Linus, said that working on “Lost” was like working on one big movie shot over the course of six years. “Fringe” achieves that same high-quality standard, episode after episode.

What I especially like about “Fringe,” beyond its general brilliance, is that the female characters have agency — their own strength and intelligence. Agent Olivia Dunham, the show’s lead female character, is deftly played by Anna Torv. Working on a medical team attached to the FBI, it is Dunham’s job to supervise an older scientist, the brilliant Walter Bishop (John Noble), who has just gained his freedom after 17 years in a mental institution.

Agent Dunham knows her stuff. In a time when women have been reinforced by the basic sentiments of “Eat, Pray, Love” (I must admit that I haven’t seen the movie, but enjoyed parts of the book), having a leading woman uses phrases like “simple mono-alphabetic cipher” and “neuromedicinal biology” is heartening. (Also, I appreciate that the audience is spared pandering, overlong explanations of the concepts.)

Dunham’s powerful boss Phillip Broyles, played by Lance Reddick (whom you might recognize from “The Wire”) tries to diss her, even threatens her — and she keeps going. In one episode, Broyles sneers, “If I can’t trust you to control your passion…”

“You’ll have my report…within the hour,” responds Dunham, cool and collected. Power to the lady, yes!

Inclusiveness by race, age, and ability, a rarity in Hollywood to this day, are available in spades on “Fringe,” as it was on “Lost.” It’s a laudable quality. A black woman works in the lab alongside Bishop, and characters of many races, ages, and sizes are in evidence. I hope Hollywood will take his cue and continue this trend; all people deserve strong role models.

Every actor in the show holds his own, including Joshua Jackson, who plays Bishop’s son Peter — a role that’s wholly distinct from Pacey on “Dawson’s Creek,” a show you will not be thinking about for a second while watching “Fringe.” (“It must be a terrible thing not to trust your own mind,” winks Peter at one point, seemingly aware of our state.) Even an ancillary female character, Nina Sharp (Blair Brown), has a snap in her dialogue: “You’re not the one who’s done their homework.” Sick burn! “I have all kinds of information…and some of it does me no good.” She wants quid pro quo, and she’ll go to any lengths to meet her goals.

Sharp is the head of Massive Dynamics, a company of over 300,000 whose domain “includes the cutting edge of science,” as well as much more sinister developments. She’s cunning and ruthless, and her chutzpah is remarkable. While her behavior doesn’t match my moral compass, I still admire her drive and determination—she’s a tough cookie, but not easily identifiable as pure evil. The ambiguity is fantastic.

The third season of “Fringe” begins September 23rd on Fox. You should watch it with me. Haven’t seen the first two seasons? Re-runs are currently airing on Fox on Thursdays, and DVDs of both seasons are available at a locally-owned video store near you (or at a giant corporate operation like the show’s Massive Dynamics).

In the episode “Bad Dreams,” one of the characters states, “If you can dream a better world, you can make a better world.” I’ll meet you there.

Betsy Lee

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