Oh, dear, I've discovered Fringe. I'm beginning to think that a misspent youth dallying with Sayers, Allingham and Marsh has actually imprinted me heavily on the investigative genre: give me detectives, private eyes, FBI agents, I'm happy. (Memo to self, break out Castle). From quite another angle, also give me grandiose paranormal paranoid conspiracy theories and I'm ecstatic. This means that I intersect with J J Abrams far more than is probably healthy, insofar as I have a completely unrepentant addiction to Alias, although mercifully I never bought into Lost. So far Fringe isn't throwing aliens around, but otherwise it's an unashamed X-Files rip-off; my happy triumvirate of pseudo-scientific paranormal investigation is now (a) X-Files, (b) Fringe, and (c) Shadow Unit. (Supernatural, Buffy/Angel and The Middleman, of course, fill the equal and opposite mystical paranormal investigation slots).
Fringe isn't brilliant, and it certainly isn't original, but it's kinda cute. Points in its favour: Joshua Jackson (endearing), Denethor (John Noble does a good mad), nice line in mystic mumbo-jumbo ("the Pattern"). Points not in its favour: predictable, done, occasionally icky (I'm not big on exploding heads) and six episodes in the bad guys seem prone to repetition. I'm also not madly taking to the slightly brittle female lead, although I'm willing to concede she has pretty hair. Bonus points: cow in the basement lab, tendency to one-liners, occasional outbreaks of piano-playing. Also, the bogus science is entertainingly bogus, but actually pays slightly more lip-service to rational logic than poor old Spooky ever did.
I'm finding myself wondering, though. These paranoid-conspiracy-pandering TV shows seem to generate enough of an audience to engender new variations every few years. Do you think this is because people actually want to believe this stuff? Because, eeeuw. As a Sturdy Rationalist I classify both detective fiction and paranormal-conspiracy firmly under "fantasy", the former because of its narrative structure, the latter because of its content. I like fantasy. I like it because it's fantastic. The world doesn't work like that, but it's fun to imagine what it would be like if it did. I'm hoping the audience for these shows enjoys them as hokum in the same way that I do, rather than leaping up to shout "I knew it!" every ten minutes. However, I look at the human tendency to latch onto the pure hokum disseminated by the religious right, tabloid reporting, advertising, corporate spin doctors and random passers-by, and I'm not sanguine.
Further fascinating thought for the day: do you think that if we strapped J J Abrams and Russell Davies down in a basement lab somewhere and scientifically crossed each of them individually with stolen DNA from Stephen Moffat, we'd get interesting stories that actually held together instead of falling apart at the moment of narrative crux? I can't help thinking it might be worth a try.