There's no denying it, really: Fringe treads precisely the same ground as The X Files
. Except, where X-Files was almost uniformly supernatural or alien-y, Fringe approaches it all with science. Or, rather, "fringe science". So while it deals with the same topics, (such as telekinesis, telepathy, ghosts, "alien" parasites, spontaneous combustion and even vampires) each is given an entirely earthly scientific explanation. The explanations are, of course, as fanciful as any explanation given in the X-Files, and that's a part of its charm.
It has 3 leads, really: Anna Torv as Olivia Dunn, an FBI agent, Joshua Jackson as Peter Bishop and John Noble (the unmitigated gem and joy of the entire series) as mad scientific genius, Walter Bishop. Walter is Peter's estranged father, and watching their relationship gradually develop is really very lovely.
Fringe is a complex and wildy twisty series, so describing any one part of it is immensely tricky as it's a little like a knotted ball of string, so everything is connected to everything else.
Each episode is stand alone in terms of topic, ie, telepathy, but arcing throughout the series are multiple threads and you need to watch every episode to keep a handle on them. There's the mysterious, unseen William Bell, Walter Bishop's former lab partner; there's a shadowy, seemingly emotionless, hairless man who seems to be everywhere you look; Nina Sharp, the secretive face of "Massive Dynamic", a huge science and technology conglomerate started by William Bell; Olivia Dunn's past: the tests she went through as a child, and Bell and Bishop's involvement; the big mystery about Peter's childhood and "death"... on and on it goes, everything inextricably linked with everything else, and everything revolving around Walter.
Some of the episodes are phenomenally good and some are terribly lacklustre, making the series so far quite hit and miss. Without John Noble as Walter Bishop, Fringe would be mediocre - he is absolutely its heart and soul - so everything combined, so far so watchable.
However. The final episode is breath-taking. Actually, that needs to be condensed even further: the final scene is breath-taking. I can't possibly overstate how powerful it is. The entire episode is hugely intriguing, and asks as many questions as it hints the answers to. Plus there's a lovely cameo from a sci-fi legend, so it was already rubbing the elbow of greatness. Then the final scene came, and I watched it blithely and contentedly, thinking nothing of it. The camera pulled back slowlyslowly for the big reveal and when realisation sunk in, my skin literally prickled. It was eerie, and it made my head fuzzy for about an hour.
I find myself thinking of it, and wondering, "What if?" The entire series is almost worth watching for that one scene alone. Luckily, the entire series is, overall, really very good, so it won't be a big ole waste of your time. Yes, Fringe is most certainly an homage to X-Files. But it's done well, so no harm done. I Can't Believe It's Not Butter is an homage to butter... but it's still lovely on toast.