Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fringe, "The Same Old Story": Lather, rinse, repeat

Spoilers for episode two of "Fringe" coming up just as soon as I get some cocaine...

Pardon me while I pull on my water wings to avoid drowning in the sea of exposition -- much of it designed for the benefit of people who missed the pilot -- that was the first 10 or so minutes of "The Same Old Story."

There's a school of thought in the TV business that says you more or less repeat your pilot with the next five or six episodes. That way, if someone puts on a new show for the first time a month into the season, they won't be lost and get to see the things that in theory made the pilot so strong. But "The Same Old Story" took that concept to the extreme. Between the mediocre Comic-Con reception and critical buzz, plus Fox's curious decision to premiere the show without an established lead-in, someone at the network obviously realized that this episode (airing after "House") would have a much bigger audience than the pilot, and that they had better be ready to hold the new audience's hands for a while.

But good lord was all the re-exposition clunky. First we got the scene with Broyles recapping the events of the pilot for the benefit of Blair Brown and company, which was so awkward that it couldn't even be saved by the revelation that Olivia's team isn't the first one that's tried to investigate The Pattern. Then came Walter reminding us all that he spent 17 years in a mental hospital -- and the writers using Walter's faulty memory to explain again about the Harvard basement lab -- and finally the low point, when Peter offered to go to the crime scene because, "My limited stint at MIT did teach me something."


Once we got past the Television Without Pity portion of the hour, the episode was... well, roughly on par in quality with the pilot. Which is to say, it was occasionally creepy, but not creepy enough, and featured some amusing banter and non-sequiturs between Walter and Peter ("Do you have any cocaine?") that won't be enough by itself to keep me around longer. JJ Abrams has said that the way he wants to distinguish "Fringe" from "Alias" is by giving the audience a complete experience with each episode, such that if you don't watch every week or don't care about The Pattern, you're still getting an entertaining stand-alone story. And so far, the stand-alones haven't been that entertaining.

Maybe the secret of Peter's medical history (is he a clone?) or Broyles' reason for sending Olivia to the storage facility or Blair Brown's true motives will be interesting down the road, but if the weekly procedural stories don't get better in a hurry, I won't be watching long enough to find out.

What did everybody else think?


Unknown said...

Man, I started watching this episode in the hopes of seeing Crazy Killer Babies. Clone armies of pituitary vampires? Yawn.

I got real excited when I saw Darin Morgan's name crop up in the credits as a consulting producer, though. I know he's been doing time on some substandard stuff lately, but hopefully this show will stick around just so the world will have another Darin Morgan episode of something.

Also, I hope someone lets me know when that airs, because yawn.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I still feel like this show has some potential -- that in theory, the pieces are there for it to be fun and entertaining -- but it sure isn't there yet.

A few things in particular were bothering me tonight:

-If you're going to cast an actor as awesome as Lance Reddick, you should give him something to do. As written, his character could be played by just about anyone.

-I'm still finding Olivia pretty uncharismatic, which, if it doesn't change, is going to be a huge problem. Even if they fix everything else, this show is going to be a pretty tough sell if I don't care about the main character. I'm not sure if it's the writing or the actress.

-Massive Whatsitcalled: I wish that either the company's evilness was somewhat ambiguous and intriguing, or that it actually felt scary and dangerous. As far as I can tell so far the biggest threat it poses is snow blindness via decor, and Blair Brown in this role reminds me of Maude Lebowski but isn't nearly as entertaining.

joy said...

You're right, the cases are pretty weak. In fact, it feels like whomever wrote tonight's eppy watched the Doctor's Daughter DW episode and Fringe'd it.

Aside from the gorgeous supers/graphics (or whatever they're called), I think the father/son relationship continues to sell me. I won't lie, I love that Joshua Jackson's back on my TV. But Anna Torv is still the weakest part of the puzzle.

Oh! And, unless I'm mistaken, *excellent* use of Frank Gehry's IAC headquarters (the largest hi-rez vid wall in the world, supposedly), and then in the conference rooms with Blair Brown. Fabulous.

Mrglass said...

I just don't get this show. The premise is fine although cliche, but the basic plot doesn't make any sense. There are just too many glaring inconsistencies for my inner geek:

1. If Walter was such a threat to the system that he had to be locked up under extreme isolation for 17 years, why was it so easy to get him out of the hospital?

2. Olivia sometimes seems to be at the bottom of the FBI hierarchy; then she has nearly unlimited powers (she can order a private university to give her an old lab room, somehow unoccupied for years)

3. What's the point/motivation of Peter in all of this? How many new talents and abilities will the writers come up with to justify his presence in the team?

X-Files this is definitely not, and with its pseudo-realistic tone I don't see Fringe having any absurdly funny stand-alone episode that other Fox show had. Two episodes and I'm out, let me know if it gets any better. But can we have House back at 9pm already?

Anonymous said...

I thought The Bionic Woman was canceled. But its spirit lives on in this ghostly, ghastly form. Someone call Mulder and Scully to investigate this paranormal phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

Torv is weeeaaak. I like Noble quite a bit, as well as those graphic doohickeys (especially the one reflected in the puddle), though I don't know that either is enough to keep me coming back. And once I start loading up the DVR on Monday nights, I may be skipping Fringe altogether so I can catch up on my Monday shows.

Bruce Reid said...

My big complaint dramatically is that this is twice now the central mystery was solved by dragging in a whole other incredibly convenient load of pseudoscience. It kind of cuts the suspense if halfway through the episode with no leads the mad scientist can just say "let's use telepathy/photograph her brain's final image/what's-next-travel-in-time?" you know?

Bruce Reid said...

Oh, and I have to second j on hoping we get at least another great hour of Darin Morgan out of this meh soup before it's over.

Bobman said...

My big complaint dramatically is that this is twice now the central mystery was solved by dragging in a whole other incredibly convenient load of pseudoscience. It kind of cuts the suspense if halfway through the episode with no leads the mad scientist can just say "let's use telepathy/photograph her brain's final image/what's-next-travel-in-time?" you know?

I agree with this, it's extremely lazy. There's no build-up, the doctor just has some zany idea, which is painlessly and immediately brought to fruition. "What if we could see this woman's last image.... let's go get the machine."

I really want this show to be good, because I like the premise and some of the banter, but it's gotta improve a bit. Even with such a weak freshman class this year I don't think I can stick around much longer.

memphish said...

The overall story, what's up with Peter, Massive Dynamic etc. is intriguing to me, but Fringe is committing the ultimate sin of boring me with the procedural. I started flipping through catalogs at the 35 minute mark because it was dull waiting to see them ever so conveniently have everything fall into place to solve this week's crime. The fact that this group of people can get everything they need and totally ignore normal police/FBI/anything realistic procedure is getting on my nerves too.

Anonymous said...

Agreed this show has lots of potential but so far, its potential is all it has to recommend it. it feels extremely disjointed and uneven, and I don't have a clue as to what they are intending to be - serial, procedural, X-Files clone? The cast is great but largely wasted, the writing is clunky in terms of plot though some of the dialogue btw Walter and Peter is very sharp.

Olivia is dead boring.I don't give a hoot about her and so if (gee I wonder?) this is moving towards some kind of romance between her and Peter, YAWN.

I'll watch one more episode but if it doesn't grab me, I'm out.

Anonymous said...

I thought the pilot was decent, and there was a real pace to it, but that was just bland.

The gruesome stuff like the eyeball and the baby just felt very tacked on to give, what is in essence a quite bland, but wacky, procedural some cult credibility. When you have a very bland central character the half-hearted mish-mash of procedural and serial doesn't work.

I actually think the show could be very good, but they need to adapt it fast. Increase Reddick and Acevedo's screen time. Ramp up the continuity and serial aspects. Finally, and most importantly, bite the bullet and get rid of Torv, they got it seriously wrong in her casting (I think the accent is very good, just she has no screen presence and already seems like a tired and weak character). Doing that would also display that the show has serious balls, pairing Pacey up with a new liason after he had grown attached to Torv (mybe shared a kiss in the episode before her death).

oh and the Maude Lebowski thing is spot on. It is effectively a bad impression.

Anonymous said...

I realised I said bland an awful lot in the above post, and although that is poor writing (and fairly ironic) it really does say so much about what is supposed to be a cool and edgy show.

JMC said...

I liked it better than the pilot. Can't say it bugged me that they recapped a bunch of stuff, so what? The improvised defibrillator was neat (did McGyver ever build such a beast?) and Noble's line delivery is a treat. Oh, and it wasn't Torv's character that got the lab back up and running, it was Reddick's, which we already know has quite a bit of muscle.

K J Gillenwater said...

M. Chavez, I'm with you. I enjoyed it. I hope that every beginning starts out with some horrifically shocking. I liked that they repeated what they did the in pilot with the opening scene.

What I *did* miss was showing us anything about John and possible reanimation or what. They left that hanging from last week and then didn't give us even a crumb of info to follow.

Oh, and did no one else like the fact that the 'pattern' case was connected to Torv's past? I liked that.

Anonymous said...

Increase Reddick and Acevedo's screen time.

ITA. When Acevedo popped up, I thought, "That's right--he's on this show!" I mean, I'd almost forgotten about him completely. They definitely need to do more with his character.

Bobman said...

One other thing - I really wish they'd give a better reason for Pacey sticking around. She had to trick him to get him to help in the pilot, and he hates his dad; now with some gentle coaxing he's a full-time helper and his dad is living with him. It wouldn't be hard to establish some emotional reason for him to stay involved.

There's just a lot of clumsy lazy stuff going on in this show, isn't there?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Can't say it bugged me that they recapped a bunch of stuff, so what?

It's not the recapping so much as the way they recapped it that was the problem. You can repeat info for new viewers, but don't devote an entire scene to two characters (Broyles and Maude Lebowski) doing nothing but repeating that info.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I hope that every beginning starts out with some horrifically shocking. I liked that they repeated what they did the in pilot with the opening scene.

That was actually very good and unsettling to a point, but then I kept waiting for them to show us what was so horrific about the newborn's appearance -- wolf-baby? "V" alien? -- that would have caused vomiting and other panic from trained doctors and nurses. At worst, it would have looked slightly older than a newborn immediately after coming out of the womb, right? That would be surprising but not puke-or-flight response.

Anonymous said...

Can someone explain what the final scene was supposed to be? I didn't get that.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Not surprisingly, ratings were way up with "House" as a lead-in. From 9 million viewers to more than 13 million, and retained 92 percent of the "House" audience.

Some of that retention is fake -- as people complained about, "House" ran a couple of minutes past 9, which artificially inflates the average of that first half-hour, but retention from 9 to 9:30 was still at about 90 percent. Even if you assume that all of the 9-9:30 number is a result of "House" running long, and that the 9:30-10 number is the true audience, "Fringe" still retained 83 percent of the people who were watching "House."

Anonymous said...

--Can someone explain what the final scene was supposed to be? I didn't get that.--

It looked to me that those were 3 more versions of the Clone/Experiment/Killer.

Mo Ryan said...

Yeah, that's true, why throw up if it's essentially a normal (if maybe older than normal) baby?

Just one of many, many inconsistencies and irritating things about this ep. I'd list them here but so far Fringe doesn't deserve even that amount of mental energy.

But here's my central complaint (well, one of them): Was Peter involved in every case they'll investigate? Everything from back in the day will be related to what they look into now? Bo-ring. Where's the suspense in that?

Then the formula is: Weird thing happens. Olivia investigates. Cue wacky scientist, who spews mumbo jumbo about what he knows about it. Pacey quips. Cue pseudo-whatever "science." Blah blah blah Pattern. Fade to black.

Also, the cool thing about X-Files was that it showed how normal life could have these weird occurrences. Yes, they did have the *big* episodes and two-parters and such. But sometimes the best eps were set in small towns and nondescript homes where small, subtle signs started to show you that something was awry.

Fringe jackhammers you EVERY MINUTE with the idea that SOMETHING BIG is happening or ABOUT TO HAPPEN. Then what happens is ... meh.

I love me some Michael Giacchino, but they need to cut WAY back on that score. It's obtrusive and annoying and it amps up stuff to the point that it seems like laughable melodrama.

One more and out. I don't even know why I'll give it one more hour given how irritating and sloppy I found last night's ep.

Anonymous said...

I really don't like this show.

And I am a huge fan of "Alias" and "Lost", but this doesn't measure up to either of those nor "The X Files", the show it so badly wants to rip off.

The biggest problem, aside from the shoddy writing, mediocre plots, boring mystery, is the two lead actors. Maybe JJ's gotten me spoiled with Evangeline Lilly and Jennifer Garner, two of the most beautiful women walking the planet - who also kick butt and have emotional range - but Anna Torv isn't any of those things on her best days.

She's bad with emotion, she's not attractive at all, and she's hardly sympathetic.

Then, let's compare the male, romantic leads. On "Lost", you get Matthew Fox and Josh Holloway, two greators, two studs, two conflicted and romantic heros. They couldn't have possibly done a better job on casting. On "Alias", you get Michael Vartan who's chemistry with Garner was sizzling.

"Fringe"? Pacey from "Dawson's Creek". Joshua Jackson is a below average actor, he still looks like a child, and has no chemistry whatsoever with Torv. It's awful. It's like watching a car with its exhaust pipes hanging out, sputtering up the street. You just know at some point the car has to die, but it moves along the road, blissfully unaware how painful it is to the rest of us.

Shame on JJ Abrams for being so arrogant that he thought his name could pass off this drivel as entertainment.

The only 2 actors remotely worth while are Lance Reddick (who must cringe at the writing he has to memorize here vs. the level of writing he dealt with on "The Wire") and John Noble, who's interesting but I couldn't believe less that he and Pacey are related.

I hate this show. I didn't like it last night and then I thought about it afterwards and it's pure hatred.

And JJ's starting to M. Night himself. After giving the world "Alias" then "Lost" (and even "Mission Impossible III" was the best of the 3 MI films) he's now given us "Cloverfield" and "Fringe" and he's become a celebrity, and no longer a talent.

("Cloverfield", if you haven't seen it, is one of the worst movies ever made - period - it's painful to look at).

Sorry for such a negative rant, but I can't hide my absolute digust and disappointment at the man who blew me off my couch with the pilots for "Alias" and "Lost".

Oh well...I guess I'll have to wait for Joss in January to show JJ again who the real king of good writing in science fiction Television is.

Nicole said...

I was annoyed that a nurse would just start screaming about the baby and then they don't show it to us. They are trained professionals and have seen a lot so a rapidly aging baby probably wouldn't cause that reaction.

I thought this episode was okay, but I think a bit more of the Pattern storyline needs to be inserted because the procedural was only so-so. I liked Alias, and this show needs to be more like that one. There are enough procedurals on television already.

I am not normally a Josh Jackson defender, but I've seen him in other movies where he does actually act, so it's probably the mediocre writing that is doing him in, along with Anna Torv. Reddick and Noble are just that talented to rise about the writing.

Mo Ryan said...

Thought this LA Times recap of Fringe nailed the weaker stuff about the ep as well (uh, that would be all the stuff, I guess):


Unknown said...

Anna Torv is trying wayyyyyyyy too hard here.

She's killing the show.

Anonymous said...

I assumed that the nurses and doctors could SEE the newborn grow as they were holding it. If it grows at the same rate its whole life, then it would be much more obvious and gross when it was a baby, because each extra lb. would increase its body weight by 1/8 or so. I could imagine that being puke-worthy and not something any doctor or nurse would have been prepared for.

And I think that's why it is good that they didn't show it. You're supposed to imagine what could be so horrific, and it will be better than anything they could have showed. Also, it was worth it just to see that nurse's reaction; it reminded me of the cover of some 50's B horror flick.

Anonymous said...

I can't watch this series, for one and only one reason:

The Harvard Corporation is much more fear-generating that that Massive group.

And the Corporation would never, ever, ever, EVER allow a convicted crazy person to go back to his lab ON CAMPUS.

Risk Management? Would throw a hissy.

Can't deal with sadistic pituitary vampires (if you can drug a bitch, why not drug her into a coma *then* extract the gland? Unnecessary roughness) if my disbelief refuses to be suspended. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

It just doesn't hold my interest -- I deleted from Tivo after this 2nd episode. (Bad sign for the show -- I was a devoted fan of X-Files.)

Stef said...

I liked this ep better than the pilot, I thought the pacing was better overall and Torv wasn't as distractingly horrible. But, as a die-hard X-Files, Alias, and Lost fan (with entire DVD sets of each), I have to say this show has a long way to go before it even can be called a good imitator. I will probably still watch it after House some weeks, but it's not going to be appointment television.

And when Peter started pulling random objects together to shock the girl's heart, I said to myself "Oh, now I finally see what his role is! Pacey's the McGyver of this show!"