Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Review: Fringe and Life on Mars

Some of you have written recently asking about my thoughts on Fringe (Fox) and Life on Mars (ABC) two new shows in the same sci-fi vein as Lost. To be frank, I'm not a fan of either, though I'll admit some of my reasons are unreasonably subjective.

Let's begin with Life on Mars, which is actually a remake of a popular British show by the same name. I've never seen the original and have nothing in principle against remakes. Some of my best, favorite flicks and shows are remakes. I'm a big fan of both the U.K. and U.S. versions of the Office. I adore the new Battlestar Galactica. I even prefer Soderbergh's remake of Solaris to the Tarkovsky original, which is among the most sacred of movie cows.

What annoys me about Life on Mars is the casting. You'd think they can't go wrong with the likes of Harvey Keitel, Michael Imperioli, and the uber-sexy Gretchen Mol in major roles. But all that star power just distracts from the story. I keep thinking how goofy Imperioli looks with a Ringo Starr mustache, and that Mol is just too preposterously hot to be a policewoman. The show reached a new low recently with Whoopie Goldberg's cameo as a gender-bending radio DJ.

Here's where things become unreasonably subjective. The episode with Whoopie featured several actors from the Wire (HBO) which is one of my all-time favorite shows. My initial excitement, however, turned to annoyance as the Wire guys were relegated to bit parts that made them look ridiculous. Chris Bauer's wig was laughably bad and Chad Coleman's Black Panther "uniform" looked like something recycled from an old Bond film -- one of the campy ones.

I was particularly troubled by the treatment of Clarke Peters. He had no lines of significance -- they cast him as a corpse. I'm not sure what troubled me more, the waste of talent or the disturbing image itself. To paraphrase the great Clay Davis: Lester a coffin? Sheeeit! Still, I'm fascinated enough by the premise of Life on Mars that I'll probably check out the ballyhooed British series. At the very least, I won't be distracted by the same casting issues I have with the U.S. version.

Related concerns drive my distaste for Fringe, which isn't technically a remake but might as well be. Everything about it seems calculated to evoke the X-Files -- from the opening credits, which reference a series of paranormal subjects, to the actual stories, one of which involved accelerated aging. I happen to love the X-Files, and the writers of Fringe have, in fairness, been quite forthright about their creative debt. The show simply suffers by comparison to a classic.

One change Fringe makes to the formula is to have a team of three paranormal investigators, instead of a pair like Mulder and Scully. Unfortunately, the addition just confirms the adage that three is a crowd. Anna Torv is appealing enough (I've got a thing for Home-Pride haircuts) and Walter Bishop is probably the best thing going for the show. But the latter's son, played by Joshua Jackson, rubs me all the wrong ways. I just can't get past my distaste for Pacey...feh!

Then there's the problem of Lance Reddick. He was brilliant as Lt. Cedric Daniels on the Wire and has been perfect as Matthew Abbadon on Lost. But Reddick strikes me as horribly miscast as Agent Broyles on Fringe. It seems to me they want him to strike a hostile note that's totally at odds with his cool persona. I can still hear his shrill refrain of "Li-a-son" from the Pilot ringing awkwardly in my ears. It really irks me to see such a supremely talented actor misused.

Here again, however, you see my unreasonable subjectivity in full effect, so take my reviews with a grain of salt.


Wayne Allen Sallee said...

Hey, Big. I guess we can eventually expect the mispelled comment about you being a (sic) douchbag, ha ha. I think the BBC version of LIFE ON MARS was better, but I must tell you that its not uncommon to see a Gretchen Mol-type cop, though maybe not in the 70s. My dad was a Chicago cop for 31 years--hence my Chicago fiction--and there were several women that I couldn't believe chose to be cops. I'm not being sexist, its just like with firefighters, though. Its a family thing. A great blog is I will be catching up on THE FRINGE over the holidays.

Anonymous said...

Hi BM!
I must say im also not massively taken with Fringe, although i hav enothing against Pacey - he was by far the best actor on Dawson's creek and Ms Lotus was a fan of that show so i got to see it quite a bit!
What gets me is the way so much is glossed over - its like JJ wants us to transfer our suspension of disbelief generated by his other work straight to a new show, and that is asking a lot. There are some cool touches and at least there is some humour in there, but it is a mere fissure eruption in comparison to the volcano that is LOST
best, BlackLotus

Bigmouth said...

Wayne: Oh, I've seen some hot cops, esp. here in LA, though none that look like '50s pinups the way Mohl does. As you note, however, Life on Mars takes place in the 1970s. While there certainly were female cops, I expect bombshells like Mohl would have been mercilessly harassed. They allude to this on the show, but it's definitely toned down.

BTW, as the son of a police, please tell me you've checked out the Wire...

BL: I seem to recall reading an interview where JJ Abrams mentioned he was aiming for something simpler and more straightforward than Lost with Fringe. Unfortunately, I think perhaps they've taken that principle a little too much to heart. I've stopped watching for now, but I hear things have gotten a bit more interesting and mysterious. Maybe I'll give it another shot over the summer...

BTW, I didn't mean to disparage Dawson's Creek -- I just can't stand Pacey specifically.

Capcom said...

Good points here. I lost interest in Life On Mars, mostly by accident, and I've forgotten to watch it. Probably just because I hated the 70s and watching them again is painful. I was also trying to watch the other show on at the same time that I can't remember the name of....a kind of Fringe-like show but less flashy.

I'm trying very hard to hang in there with Fringe. It's got its moments and I love Walter, but I am not connecting at all with Torv/Dunham. Guess I'm a Scully-girl forever. It is improving with time, last week's cliffhanger ep before the hiatus dealt with some Philadelphia Experiment type action. :-)

Juanita's Journal said...

"The message of the show is to embrace your destiny. Fighting the future inevitably fails and backfires, causing needless suffering for those affected."

Pardon me for sounding rude, but that strikes me as a dumb ass message. I don't believe in "embracing" one's destiny. Nor do I believe in fighting it. I believe that each person should live his or her life, one day at a time. And if by chance that person meets his/her destiny, then so be it.

Bigmouth said...

Juanita: I've taken the liberty of reposting your comment on my Anti-Christmas Carol post. I'll respond to it over there...

Anonymous said...

Fringe is a very good show -- definitely worth watching.

Never watched Dawson's Creek, so I have no preconceived notions about Joshua Jackson. His character on Fringe is both necessary and starting to develop as they flesh out his past.

Agree that it is X-Files-ish, but with since X-Files is long gone, it's not copycat, it's homage. ;-)

And Anna Torv (and her Flobee haircut) is the hottest brainy woman on television.