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'Fringe': Three times the story

January 21, 2009 |  7:39 am

111_bound_059 20 minutes.

That's how long my TiVo said "Fringe's" return episode, titled "Bound," had been playing before the opening credit sequence. Now, granted, TiVo did pick up a couple minutes of "American Idol" (my TiVo wanted to check out the new judge), but that could have only been two or three minutes, which means the pre-credit opener was at least 17 minutes long.

"Fringe" is an experiment in what to do with an 10 extra minutes per episode due to fewer commercials, but it feels less like an expanded hourlong show and more like a two-hour episode is being crammed into half the time. In those 17 to 20 opening minutes, we had a caterpillar being fed LSD, a creepy science experiment, an escape action sequence, a creepy blast from the past, a pleasant blast from the past, a recap of the first 10 episodes, and a whole new weird science of the week.

"Bound" had four listed writers, but watching the episode, you know they were all busy. Even if J.J. Abrams just wrote all the kicking, that would have been quite a task. Basically, you have three shows going on at the same time. "The Mystery of the Gut Slug" is where Olivia investigates the murder of a college professor. In one scene, she figures out he was having an affair with his teaching aide and pushes her for more information. That would have taken the "Law & Order" detectives three times as long, especially without Lennie Briscoe.

Then you have "The Hard Life of an FBI Agent." Olivia has to deal with a man she tried to investigate for sexual harassment coming back to audit the Fringe Division and her single-mother sister showing up to stay with her. Olivia's sister is played by Ari Graynor, whom you might recognize as the lost, drunken friend from "Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist."

Finally, there's "The Conspiracy." Olivia's abduction, Mr. Jones' prison break, Double Agent Loeb. Just when you think you have all the parts of the Conspiracy, you find out that was just a smaller Conspiracy meant to fight the CONSPIRACY.

I realized tonight that Olivia Dunham is "Fringe's" Jack Shepard. She and the "Lost" doctor have much in common: the intense self-sacrificing leadership, the inability to turn off professional life when dealing with social circumstances, and they both tend to sigh and look away when people are telling them things they don't want to hear. The difference is that Jack Shepard doesn't have to carry every episode of "Lost." I think I would have been happy to see Agent Dunham kidnapped away for a couple more episodes so the other characters could get a chance to shine.

I really enjoyed seeing Peter Bishop and Agent Charlie Francis interact (Note: Have you seen Kirk Acevedo's imdb entry? Along with the "Fringe" press stills, there's one of his wife sitting on his lap at a poker table and another that looks like he's sitting shirtless in someone's backyard. Someone needs to show Kirk how to use Flickr.) Oh, and what about Astrid? Did she just get sent for cheesesteaks and then disappear?

But how bad can it be when my biggest complaint about a show is that I want more? And now that the cold winter of reruns has passed, we should be getting just that. 

Spot the Observer -- The Observer is strolling down the sidewalk in an exterior shot of Harvard University that comes a quarter of the way through the episode. He's so small, he looks about the size of an unlit match. Why make him so small?  J.J. Abrams must be getting payola from the high-def television industry.

And finally, I came across this. I guess answering the questions of the Pattern are just as important as answering, "Are you ready for some football?"

--Andrew Hanson

Photo: Fox