Fall TV 2009: 'Fringe'

John Noble is already preparing for the inevitable day when he'll play opposite himself: Another season-finale surprise was the revelation that the morally ambiguous egghead went to the alternate reality to kidnap his double's young Peter after his own Peter died in 1985. The popular fan theory — shared by the cast — is that the Walter from ''over there'' is now hell-bent on getting his boy back. ''He must be severely pissed off,'' says Australian native Noble (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King). In the meantime, Walter will spend more time outside the lab, enjoying his freedom after years of loony-bin living. He'll even get a love interest, an old subject played by Theresa Russell (Black Widow). Walter is known for his hilarious eccentricities — fixations with lower bodily functions, sugary baked goods, and SpongeBob SquarePants — and while Noble finds them entertaining, he wants the show to continue fleshing out Walter's complexity and quest for redemption. ''It's important that he not become purely defined by those mannerisms,'' says the actor. ''I don't think he's like all the other mad doctors on TV. I think he's an original.''

But the season's most crucial story line belongs to Peter. ''Eventually, he's going to learn where he really comes from, and everything is going to blow up,'' says Jackson. He adds that his character will be getting a heroic makeover in season 2; it's a project that the writers couldn't address in season 1 because of the other kinks they were working out. ''Season 1 never figured out the question, What's Peter's function as a member of this team?'' says Jackson. Season 2 will tackle that immediately. Though Peter may finally face complicated issues, both Jackson and Torv hope none of them will involve a relationship with Olivia. The premiere hints at romantic potential, and Kurtzman promises that it will bloom ''only if it's organic,'' but Jackson is opposed to the idea. ''I see Peter and Olivia more as a brother and sister with a truly bizarre father figure — three broken people, coming together as a dysfunctional family.'' Adds Torv, a 30-year-old Australian newcomer, ''I hope they don't put us together. That would be so conventional. What's interesting about this show is that in many ways, Olivia has the masculine role, and the two guys are the women. She carries the gun, they sit around and talk. I think that's pretty cool.''

Of course, a little romantic chemistry did wonders for Mulder and Scully. (By the way, the Fringe team embraces any X-Files comparison, and in this season's premiere episode, there's a visual homage to the iconic series.) But even if Olivia and Peter never hook up, everyone at Fringe understands that likable personalities are the key to an audience's heart. Season 2 works hard to imbue its fractured family of heroes with an affectionate camaraderie that wasn't there last year. If it works, the drama may have found a formula that will allow it to outlast other high-profile Fox sci-fi shows (e.g., Firefly, The Sarah Connor Chronicles). And in the midst of its creative surge, Fringe strives to be considered a hit. Not a niche hit, not a cult hit...just a hit. ''There is an agreement here that we are seeking excellence,'' says Noble. ''When things are 'just okay,' we don't feel like we got away with something — we take it personally.... If we can hold our own on Thursdays, it'll say that we're not some misplaced Friday-night science-fiction show — we're mainstream entertainment.''

Originally posted Sep 11, 2009 Published in issue #1065-1066 Sep 18, 2009 Order article reprints