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Friday, July 8, 2011

On the FRINGE!

I am frequently drawn to crazy and if you are a Facebook friend of mine, it should come as no surprise to you that I am slavishly devoted to FRINGE, a science fiction television series created by J.J.Abrams (creator of LOST), Alex Kurtzman (co-writer of the most recent and wonderful STAR TREK and upcoming COWBOYS AND ALIENS) and Robert Orci (writer and producer of television standouts, Alias and Xena:Warrior Princess).
                                                                                                                With these three extraordinary talents combining forces behind the scenes to create FRINGE, the results are an intelligent, clever, engaging, original show with strong female characters in a genre usually dominated by male heroes.  It has been described as a combination X Files, Twilight Zone and Altered States but what FRINGE possesses that those three did not, is a campy awareness of itself and a broad sense of humor. As earnest and sincere as these scientists and investigators of the "Fringe Division" are; charged with the task of saving our world, the writers relieve the tension with juvenile jokes and character self-parody.

Consider this exchange between mad scientist Dr. Walter Bishop and his son Peter:

Peter Bishop: You brought your own sweetener?
Dr. Walter Bishop: Don't be ridiculous. My medication.
Peter Bishop: You're not on any medication, Walter.
Dr. Walter Bishop: Of course I am. I've been making it myself in the lab.
Peter Bishop: Oh, I wish you were joking.

Dr. Walter Bishop, brilliant madness
Or this with a young child:

Dr. Bishop: When the Victoria, the last surviving ship, return to its harbor of departure after the first circumnavigation of the earth, only 18 of the original 237 men were on board.
Small Child: What happened to them?
Dr. Bishop: They all died, young lady. Horrible and most likely painful deaths. You see, when you open new doors, there is a price to pay. Now imagine... tonight, you look under your bed, and, lo and behold, you find a monster! And you're immediately eaten. Now, if you hadn't looked for the monster, you wouldn't have found it and you'd still be happy in your beds, instead of being slowly digested in the stomach sack of the creature. But, with any luck, your sister or your brothers might have heard your screams, and your endeavor will serve as a valuable lesson to them.

Noble Actor
The characters and their counterparts in the other world that coexists with ours are wonderfully complex and nuanced -- none more so than Australian actor John Noble.  You may recall John from The Lord of the Rings trilogy as King Denethor. Perhaps you were a fan of 24, when he portrayed Russian Consul Anatoly Markov. In FRINGE, John gets the juiciest, wackiest roles (Each actor has a doppelganger in an alternate world.)  on television, that of Harvard educated mad-scientist Dr. Walter Bishop and his other world counterpart who is the Secretary of Defense and billionaire owner of Massive Dynamic. Dr. Bishop is a brilliant mad scientist who with his partner, William Bell (portrayed by Leonard Nimoy!) did a bit of ethically questionable experiments for the U.S. Government.  This included testing a drug called Cortexiphan on a group of children; including the fair Olivia, the beautiful blonde leader of this Fringe battalion.

The Fair and Strong Olivia 
When Walter’s son Peter was a little boy, he died of a terminal illness, leading the fine doctor to travel to this parallel universe to steal Peter's double. Each actor portrays himself in our world and the alternative world where the Statue of Liberty is made of Brass and the Twin Towers still stand, except for singular Peter.

Walter Bishop spent 17 years in Saint Claire's, a mental institution, following a lab accident that resulted in manslaughter charges while his partner (Leonard Nimoy!) in this world betrayed him and built Massive Dynamic. Dr. Bishop was released into the custody of his son Peter to solve a series of unexplained phenomena, called Patterns, which were taking place around the world. His memory is sketchy because his brain is missing parts that he supposedly asked William Bell to remove and he has a pet cow in his lab.

William Bell, as portrayed by wry Nimoy, is as muted and understated as he should be. The bromance between the two, in spite of his betrayal, makes for great silliness.

William Bell - Spock
As I consider these two having much too much fun together I have to consider how well prepared they both were for these parts. In the case of John Noble, he already went off the deep end in Rings and devolved from a stern tyrant to madman much like the duality of his characters in Fringe.

With Leonard Nimoy as William Bell, I have to ask myself if his portrayal of Spock has added some gravitas to his scripted brilliance in FRINGE.

The big questions is does an actor benefit from his previous roles and the perception they created with his viewers? Is there a legacy in an actor’s series of fictionalized characters that provides a certain gravitas to his subsequent performances in ?

If you want to sample Fringe, I might suggest you try the episode:
Lysergic Acid Diethylamide
(It’s available online at "" for your viewing pleasure.)
It will delight and surprise you.

I will close with one of my favorite Walterisms:
“We're all mutants. What's more remarkable is how many of us appear to be normal.”  

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