September 14, 2008

TV: Fringe (Fox, Tuesday 9 pm)

J.J. Abrams, creator of Alias and Lost, brings us one of the fall's most eagerly awaited shows, a sort of updated version of The X-Files.

When a plane lands at Boston's Logan Airport with everyone on board dead (and their bodies altered in inexplicable, disturbing ways), a multi-agency task force is quickly assembled to investigate. Representing the FBI is Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), who instantly butts heads with task force head Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick), of Homeland Security. When Dunham's partner John Scott (Mark Valley) is nearly killed during the investigation, and affected by whatever killed the passengers, Dunham is even more desperate to find a solution, because Scott is also her lover.

Her best hope may be the eccentric Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), who was studying this sort of thing before being institutionalized in the 90s; the only way to get Walter out, or even to see him, is to involve his son, Peter (Joshua Jackson), who is reluctant to get involved and wants nothing to do with his father.

Bishop's old lab partner is now the head of Massive Dynamic, the world's largest and most powerful scientific research firm; that piece of the investigation leads to MD exec Nina Sharp (Blair Brown), an ice-cold control freak who seems to know more about what's happening than anyone.

The first episode is a mixed bag. Noble is a delight as the mad scientist, and though Brown doesn't have much screen time, she makes a strong impact. But Jackson doesn't bring much subtlety to his brooding and pouting, and Reddick overplays the whispery menace.

(Yes, I know, with his quiet, breathy voice and Nosferatu features, Reddick is condemned to a career of playing shadowy figures whose allegiances and morals are always under question. God love him for carving out a steady career as a working actor despite those handicaps, but even by his standards, he's overdoing things here.)

Perhaps because the first episode is padded to 1:45, it moves awfully slowly; I hope that regular 60-minute episodes will be paced a bit more briskly. I'm not entirely convinced yet, but there's enough potential here to keep me watching for another week or two.

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