By Ken Tucker
Updated November 11, 2009 at 05:00 AM EST
Liane Hentscher/FOX
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This week, more than one Observer invades Fringe. If that means nothing to you, you have some catching up to do with one of the fastest, smartest, wittiest shows on television now. If that means a lot to you, rest assured, I’m not going the spoiler route here. My lips are sealed, and my fingers are frozen, regarding this Nov. 19 episode titled ”August.”

Fringe — a series about weird (but fact-based) Phenomena — successfully mixes the crime genre with sci-fi, and cold conspiracies with heartfelt emotion. It has also perfected the triangular workplace-family structure. Specifically: Anna Torv’s Olivia (the big sister with a gun), Joshua Jackson’s Peter (the wise-guy little brother who’ll knock your teeth down your throat if you mess with Sis), and John Noble’s Walter (the wacky dad, if Dad were a genius scientist whose brain was scrambled by LSD, too much sugar, and a glimpse at the Other Side — an alternate-world version of present-day Earth).

Together, they are preparing for what Walter’s former partner (Leonard Nimoy’s wizened William Bell) has called ”the last great storm,” an ”interdimensional war.” But the trio must also grapple with more mundane things that give Fringe its rooted-in-reality grittiness: interference by the government (cover-up, or incompetence?) and by a monolithic, for-profit corporation (Massive Dynamic — friend of fringe science, or greedy, power-mad foe?). Plus, there’s the personal stuff, such as Olivia’s partner, Charlie (Kirk Acevedo), being one among many humans whose souls have been sucked out and replaced by Other Side evil.

Unlike The X-Files, Fringe has a sense of humor that cuts through its gloom. Credit Jackson for his raised-eyebrow dubiousness whenever things threaten to turn absurdly weird, and Noble for making his brilliant acid casualty a poignant, eager-to-please man, constantly sifting through his prodigious brain to locate the truth from fragmented memories.

And as opposed to the early days of Lost, Fringe hasn’t been coy or withholding about the mysteries of the Pattern, that matrix of unexplained phenomena that ties together everything from a man-beast in an airplane bathroom to the more recent Shadow Man, who turned bodies into gray ash. Nearly every hour gives us another chunk of info to add to our big pile of clues and theories. Indeed, one element that receives too little praise is Fringe‘s visual style, which pushes characters such as the Observer, or reaction shots from Noble, to the outer rim of the screen frame. There’s rarely a dead, static shot.

Crammed into the 9 p.m. time period, where it must compete with top-rated Grey’s Anatomy and CSI, plus a possible fan conflict with Supernatural, Fringe has been not-so-quietly exceeding all expectations in terms of quality in its second season. As Walter said recently, ”This is not a job for the purple blotter”: Your senses must be alert when Fringe-ing. A?

Episode Recaps


Joshua Jackson, Anna Torv, and John Noble star in J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi drama
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