Because of the stiff competition on Tuesday nights this fall, Fox and the CW premiered their 9:00 PM Tuesday shows in early September hoping to capture the particular audiences these shows would appeal to. On Fox, it”s the new J.J. Abrams (Lost) sci-fi series, Fringe; while over at the CW, it”s the dramedy Privileged, which has the good fortune of being created by Rina Mimoun, one of the guiding forces behind the beloved Everwood. Of the two, Privileged has turned out to be a great surprise and Fringe a bit of a letdown.
Fringe, which was also created by Abrams Alias buddies, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, follows the exploits of a special government task force investigating aspects of “fringe science” (i.e. telepathy, levitation, reanimation, etc.). All around the world, a series of fringe incidents, referred to as “the pattern,” are occurring and this special group is in charge of finding out why. The principle person in this group is FBI Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), who enlists the help of literal mad scientist, Walter Bishop (John Noble from The Return of the King). Bishop has been locked up in a mental institution for 17 years and the only person who is able to keep a handle on him is his son, Peter (Joshua Jackson of that Dawson“s show). Peter has issues with his dad and is responsible for keeping him locked up. Once he realizes that Walter may not be as evil as he thought, Peter”s guilt leads him to become his father”s care taker and a member of the fringe team.
Overseeing this group is the great Lance Reddick (late of The Wire) as Phillip Broyles, a Homeland Security agent in charge of following the pattern and how it relates to possible terrorist attacks.
Trying to sum up everything that is going on in Fringe is a little pointless because, this being an Abrams vehicle, there are major conspiracies at work here that may not be revealed for years to come, if ever. Fringe seems to be trying to replicate is the mystery and quirkiness of The X-Files. Unlike that once great show, Fringe goes out of its way to take out the mystery of each episode”s mysteries. With every fantastic thing that happens, Walter goes off on some long diatribe about some experiment he performed years ago how that experiment is being manipulated for evil. At these points in the show, Noble seems to be channeling Russell Crowe from A Beautiful Mind, trying too hard to nail the “brilliant/troubled scientist” role. After any of these explanations, Jackson usually throws in some snarky one liner to balance the hooey of Walter”s explanation. Sometimes it works, but most of the time everything feels a little too forced. Watching Reddick recite some of his sci-fi dialogue makes me wonder if he”s not thinking “How the hell did I go from The Wire to this?”
Technically speaking, Fringe is right up there with any of Abrams and company’s other fine work. The music is excellent, the camera work always exciting, and the special fx freaky enough to please every fanboy watching. I have a soft spot in my heart for well crafted science fiction; otherwise I wouldn”t be a huge fan of Lost. Unfortunately, Fringe doesn”t have nearly enough in the department of character development that Lost does.There characters are slick and detached, making it really hard for me to care about them.
While Joshua Jackson and the fringe group are saving the world, over on the CW is a show 180 degrees different. Privileged is a well written, funny, bittersweet dramedy that has the potential of becoming the next Gilmore Girls, if the CW sticks with it.
In Privileged, recent Yale graduate Megan Smith (the perky JoAnna Garcia), who has a relentlessly positive attitude and a plan to conquer the world of journalism, moves home to Palm Beach and is hired by cosmetics mogul Laurel Limoges (the icy Anne Archer) and becomes the live-in tutor for Laurel’s twin teen granddaughters, Rose (Lucy Kate Hale) and Sage (Ashley Newbrough), whose parents died when they were children. Both girls are gorgeous and popular and are more concerned with their social standing than their GPAs. Lauren wants the two girls to get into Duke on their own merits (not greased palms) and believes that Megan has the right attitude to not only keep them on top of their studies, but to help them become better women. For Megan, it”s a dream job. She has the days to herself to write a book or cruise around Palm Beach in her free car. Moreover, once the girls get into Duke, Laurel promises to pay off Megan”s student loans. However, Sage, who”s already smart enough to get into Duke, hates Megan and will do whatever she can to get rid of her, for fear that Megan might come between her and Rose. Rose is much more friendly and open to Megan”s help. She actually wants to get into Duke (even though her grades suck) because she feels it”s what her dead mother would want. In addition to the drama of life in the world of the teenage girls, Megan also has to deal with her feelings for the gorgeous rich neighbor, Will (Brian Hallisay) and the deep rift between her and her estranged sister, Lily (Kristina Apgar).
I know, I know, you”ve heard this plot before in a hundred young adult novels and almost every show the CW (or UPN or the WB) has produced. Yet, there is something so genuine about the emotions these actors are playing onscreen that I can”t help but watch it with a huge smile on my face. It starts with Garcia, who brings an authentic down to earth quality to Megan and makes her one of the most likable characters on television, despite her many flaws. If Garcia didn”t make this role work, the show would fail miserably. She has a spark in her that brings Megan to life and makes you want to root for her. Lucy Kate Hale and Ashley Newbrough are also quite good as the sisters. Newbrough”s Sage is manipulative and down right nasty. She has her sister believing that she can”t survive without her. However, it may really be that Sage would be lost without Rose, as a recent episode showed. Newbrough delivers each venomous line with zeal, but uses her eyes to show a young woman concealing a lot of pain. Hale is a true find. What could have easily been a stock ditsy character is enhanced by Hales comic timing. She also brings heart and warmth to the role.
Still, everything comes back to Mimoun and her magic touch. She brings to Privileged the snappy banter and wit found in Gilmore Girls and the naturalism and emotional range that she contributed to Everwood. And like Everwood, Mimoun seems intent on taking her time developing the overall story arcs that will take place over the course of this season and, let”s hope, seasons to come.