Review: J.J. Abrams’ ‘Fringe’ – a sloppy man’s ‘LOST’

I have a confession to make.

My name is Paul, and I’m a LOST addict.  It’s been nearly four months since my last dose of LOST and I don’t know if I can make it to next January.

With a show as complex, psychologically, philosophically, dramatically and emotionally, it’s difficult not to idolize and admire the show’s magnificent creator J.J. Abrams.  From the Rousseauian symbolism of life in the state of nature as supremely good; to symbolism of the social contract (Lockean and Hobbesian) and the task of building a society; to the Nietzschean symbolism of ‘God is Dead’, there is virtually no end to the intricate layers of LOST.

That’s why I was supremely excited to watch the first episode of J.J. Abrams’ new television series ‘Fringe‘.  In LOST‘s epic pilot episode, it was difficult not to be gripped right from the beginning.  What is more, word that the first episode of Fringe was to supercede the first episode of LOST as being the most expensive pilot ever shot certainly added to the excitement of the anticipation.

However, much to my dismay, Fringe does not live up to the reputation Abrams has for creating intricate, intelligent, well-constructed plots that grip the viewer and don’t let go.

My primary complaint about Fringe isn’t that it’s like stepping back 15 years in time and watching an old episode of Chris Carter’s The X-Files. The X-Files was a good enough television series.  I watched it for several seasons when it first began and I have to admit that most of the time, I was genuinely entertained.  Being a virtual clone of The X-Files isn’t therefore an inherently a bad thing per se, in fact, it could end up even being a good thing.  But it’s just not entirely clear that would be a J.J. Abrams good thing.

In LOST, there are the amazing plot twists with references back to something seemingly inconsequential that happened in the show 20 minutes, 2 episodes or even 2 seasons ago and this is perhaps the only element of LOST that Abrams has attempted to carry over to Fringe.  The other elements that make LOST great are completely missing.  For instance:  The ridiculously complex symbolism which exists both in very specific instances (such as the revelation, never explained on screen, that character Charlie Pace‘s middle name could be a reference to the works of obscure 15th Century painter Hieronymus Bosch) as well as existing at the level of the overall series in the symbolism of the development of society and how society treats that which it does not understand (from the mythological to ‘otherness‘) are completely missing.

Simply put, the writing of Fringe is both sloppy and addle.  At one point, an elaborate plot device using technobabble is in equal parts about ‘communicating’ with an unconscious person by synchronizing their brainwaves, as it is about finding an excuse to get the attractive female lead character to strip down to her underwear and get into a tank of brine water.

Furthermore — and this point is simply unforgivable — the writers of the show are so sloppy that at one point in the episode, after tortuously emphasizing how one of the main characters is a genius with an IQ of 190 (which would place him in the 99.9999999th percentile of human intelligence), the writers unknowingly make that character misuse a relatively simple word because they thought it’d make him sound intelligent.  Specifically, the mistake happens in a scene where the attractive female FBI agent (Olivia Dunham, pictured) is shown becoming emotional and stressed at the prospect of her lover dying, the genius character (Peter Bishop) says to the attractive female FBI agent “you’re clearly under duress.”

What the writers meant to say, but didn’t, because they couldn’t be bothered to use their dictionaries, is “you’re clearly under great strain or stress.”  Duress is not a synonym for stress just because it sounds the same and the sloppiness here is only exacerbated by the fact of which character the writers chose to deliver this line.

Another instance of sloppy writing is when they bring out a genius mad scientist (the father of Peter Bishop, Dr. Walter Bishop) who presumably is an expert in his field, and have him say that the brain wave-syncing procedure can theoretically be done on any person (provided there is no brain damage) up to six hours after their death.   I have no (or little) problem with the whole, ‘after death’ portion of that sentence.  A good writer ought to be able to make the viewer suspend disbelief by using their craft properly.  Rather, what I do object to is how sloppy the writers were in having the supposed medical expert give an exact solid time-frame for the limits of how this procedure can be stretched out past death.  So at 5 hours and 59 minutes, the procedure’s good to go, but at 6 hours and 1 minute it’s a no-go?  No medical expert in any field — even postmortem telepathy — would give an exact maximum limit of their procedure.  All they might say is “it might be able to be done, theoretically, several hours postmortem, but I’ve never done it personally beyond 3 hours and I’ve never read of any peer-reviewed accounts of such a procedure being successfully completed beyond 5 hours.”

These are just many of the reasons why Fringe is a sloppy-man’s LOSTFringe is to LOST as Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code is to Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum.

I just sincerely hope that Fringe does not distract from Abrams’ other truly inspired creation and I hope that Fringe dies a quick death so that Abrams can once again devote his entire energies back to LOST.


6 Responses to “Review: J.J. Abrams’ ‘Fringe’ – a sloppy man’s ‘LOST’”

  1. 1 leftdog 21 September, 2008 at 10:46 am

    Paul …. I admit … that like yourself ….. I am similarly afflicted! …. January is a long way off … (sigh).

  2. 2 paulitics 21 September, 2008 at 10:52 am

    Leftdog, maybe we can start a 12 step program :)

  3. 3 Beijing York 21 September, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    Thanks for the review. This line is perfect: Fringe is to LOST as Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code is to Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum.

    I will probably continue to watch for the short term — maybe to count the number of plot holes and continuity issues.

  4. 4 joe 22 September, 2008 at 11:19 am

    I have yet to catch an episode of Fringe, so I appreciate the review. I love hearing about new ways to trash the english language. I have to watch the pilot to judge for myself!

  5. 5 Justin 12 October, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Very insightful review. Mr. Abrams himself said he wanted to make a show that people could understand if they only saw one episode, without having to follow linearly. In other words, Fringe is a show for the casual viewer, much unlike Lost. Therefore I think it needs to be judged accordingly and time will tell if it’s a deserving successor to the X-Files legacy.

  6. 6 Introspective 8 August, 2009 at 8:27 am

    Overall. Fringe is good TV series. It reminds me a little bit to Torchwood and X Files. I hope that it will not be spoiled over time.

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