In the lead-up to last year’s fall season, Fringe was one of the most hyped shows on the schedule. Having come from the mind of TV (and now movie, thanks to Star Trek) big-shot J.J. Abrams, the trippy sci-fi show was seen as an heir apparent to The X-Files and a possible successor to Lost. Going into its second season, not much has changed.
Fringe is enjoying another boost of hype, but this time it feels much more earned. While the ratings were never bad, they weren’t the out-of-this-world numbers many had expected, and buzz was minimal. Long breaks between episodes also hurt dramatic momentum as the show built toward its season-ending cliffhanger. But a loyal following gradually emerged, and it is with bated breath that fans await tonight’s Season 2 premiere, which shows what happens when Olivia returns from the parallel world.
Joshua Jackson, who plays brilliant ne’er-do well con man Peter Bishop, spoke to reporters this week about Fringe finding its groove, what to expect this season, and what it’s like now that the show has moved from shooting in New York to Vancouver.
Be warned, there is some spoiler-ish material for those who haven’t seen the first season.
On dealing with the outlandish situations the show devises: “Each week it’s a little bit of a science lesson for the class, it’s a little bit of a vocabulary lesson for the class, and it always presents you with some other kooky thing. As a fan, the things that I like most about our show, the genre that our show is in, is the bigger story rather than the individual creepy, gooey stuff. What we’ve done pretty well is to make each one of the creepy, gooey things add up into a much bigger story.That’s the thing that I peak out on that I think is so cool.”
On the tombstone in the finale indicating Peter Bishop died as a child: “They thankfully gave me a heads-up a couple months before that happened so that I didn’t read it and think that I had been fired. It sounds a little bit like a tag line, but it is the truth. The great thing about our show is that if we can dream it we can do it. I don’t think anybody really saw that twist coming. I was only told about it four or five months in advance, but I think that’s amazing. To put the last frame of the show in the World Trade Center is incredible. I love our show for that. It should keep on pushing boundaries and envelopes like that.”
On Peter’s arc this season: “What I love so much about that beyond the ain’t-it-cool factor is now the audience knows something about Peter that he doesn’t know about himself, something crucial about him that he doesn’t know about himself. We come to find out that this is a large part of the guilt that Walter carries around is that he baby-snatched Peter as a young boy.
Inevitably that information had to come out so while I don’t know the particulars much further than the episode that I’m shooting right now I do think eventually that has to come to a head and it will lead to a conflict between the two guys. The entire first season for Peter and Walter was about this father and son reconnecting through the craziness of their circumstances and actually becoming something of a family, a very dysfunctional family, but something of a family. And Season 2 has carried that forth.
In the beginning, Peter is really invested now in being part of this team and actually belonging to this Fringe family, but eventually he’s going to find out that this horrible thing happened to him as a child and that’s going to blow up his relationship with Walter and probably with Olivia I would imagine. To me, that’s the great thing hanging over Peter the entire season and it gives me something to move toward as they go forward.”
On whether Peter and Olivia will get romantic: “I feel like this is more of a family dynamic than a romantic dynamic. What’s unique and what’s great about our show is, as opposed to having just a leading man and a leading lady, you have this crazy father in the center of it. That would be a very, very awkward love triangle so I don’t think they’re going to go in that direction. I see Peter and Olivia as more brother and sister rather than lovers on this show. Where they’re going to take it, I have no idea, but for right now I run under the assumption that this is father, son, daughter rather than boyfriend, girlfriend, dad.”
On when he feels Fringe hit its stride: “There’s always a lag time for those of us who work on the show between making it and the reaction because, of course, it takes six weeks for it to get on the air. But I think internally, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this, the first big cliffhanger when Dunham gets kidnapped, I think it’s in Episode 11, sort of a two-part episode … I think that’s sort of creatively when the show really hit its stride in the first season. After that it was pretty clear; we introduced the bad guys for the season and there was a much clearer narrative drive through the rest of the season.”
On whether the ever-growing mythology might keep new viewers away: “I’d say we’re about 50/50 for episodes that are heavy into the big backstories and stories that are just sort of one-off investigations. The idea is also that regardless of whether it’s a mythology episode or part of the larger story or not, each one of these investigations in every episode will always have a beginning, middle and end. Even it is a heavy mythology episode, you can still tune in and get a satisfying story as opposed to tuning in to the story halfway through.
Everybody uses Lost as an example and let’s use it again because it’s J.J.’s show. Lost is a fantastic show, but each one of those episodes doesn’t really have a beginning, middle and end, it’s part of a continuing story. So if you don’t know the things that have come before it’s incredibly difficult to just drop in, which is just what Lost is. We should be so lucky to be as good as Lost on our show.
The difference being that the format of our show lends itself to simpler storytelling, which is that every week there’ll be something that this group of people has to investigate. Sometimes it’s going to lead them to learn something about the larger story that they’re investigating that if you don’t know anything about that, you probably won’t be engaged by that. But regardless it will still come to an end that episode.
That’s one of the conceits of Fringe that if you want to pay attention every week, and please do, … there’s a lot of story being told all the time, but if you just want to tune in, drop in for a fun hour away where you get to cringe at the bad stuff and root for the good guys and hiss at the bad guys, there’s that aspect, too.It doesn’t turn you away at the door.”
On the show moving to his hometown of Vancouver: “It feels pretty damn good; it’s a guilty pleasure to be able to come home after all these years.There’s really not a more beautiful place on earth than Vancouver in the summer. We’re just getting into the time of year where I think the city will add a lot. The gray rainy-ness of it all actually seemed to add to sort of the natural moodiness of a show like Fringe; I think that’s a positive. Then whereas last year we were in New York, which has all of the obvious things that New York and that backdrop add, it’s difficult to shoot there because there are the other 14 million people that you have to deal with. It makes our production life, I think, a lot easier being up here, just the things that you’re allowed and capable of doing on the streets of Vancouver.”
Photos: Mark Ben Holzberg/FOX; Michael Lavine/FOX