Every once in a while, a sci-fi show comes along that just....gets it right. Pretty much all the time. Like Firefly, or Battlestar Galactica. Now, all three of these shows have their flaws (particularly the final season of Galactica), but they are the kind that as a sci-fi fan I am more than willing to forgive due to the overwhelmingly well-written stories and characters.
To me, sci-fi/fantasy crosses like Fringe, or Firefly, or Balactica, aren't about the setting - I mean, yeah, space battles and sentient machines and a secret ninja-girl that the Alliance Government would really like back are all awesome too; but they're window-dressing. Sci-fi, to me, is all about the people. The characters, and how they interact with each other. Their individual stories and struggles.
This is where Fringe really shines. It would be tempting to put Olivia, the central character, centre-stage, and make the rest of her team - Peter, Walter, Astrid, Col. Broyles and Nina Sharp - no more than 2-dimensional cardboard cut-outs whose machinations only serve to advance the plot. In Fringe, each character is unique, and has their own motivations for doing what they do, the way that they do it. It's wonderful.
So, Olivia Dunham is an FBI agent whose life is turned upside-down and inside-out when she learns that there are events going on around her that just aren't normal. She gets involved with a department that investigates these weird happenings in Season 1 - a department known simply as Fringe Division.
To help her, she recruits Walter - a scientific genius who's been locked up in a mental asylum for almost 20 years, and Walter's son Peter - the archetypal charming rogue, rakish and charismatic, but essentially a criminal. And boy, can you just smell the daddy issues!
Season 1 is a bit tropey - most episode plots involve making excuses to pump Olivia full of mind-altering drugs and then put her in an isolation tank so she can trip her brains out in the pursuit of her dead lover - and in the pursuit of answers to questions she never thought she'd ask. Sounds barmy, but the strong characterisation and some sterling script-writing make it somehow believable enough to watch.
Anna Torv is incredible as Olivia - it's a fine line to walk between being a woman, FBI agent, and a sexual being and not become a complete stereotype. But she manages it, and admirably. She's human, she's flawed, and she's incredibly watchable.
But my favourite character personally is Walter Bishop, played by the incredible John Noble. He steals every scene he's in, and his, often unsuccessful, attempts to bond with his angry, distant sun, make for some of Season 1's most touching moments. He sees the world very differently, and Walter is one of the best portrayals of living with a mental illness in at least the last decade - it's up there with the Sopranos.
Joshua Jackson is also very good as Peter Bishop, and I can't leave out Jasika Nicole, who plays Astrid Farnsworth, or Blair Brown, who plays the altruistic Nina Sharp.
All in all, Fringe is something along the lines of the X-Files meets the Twilight Zone, with Bones or CSI-style gore, some sharp scriptwriting and a cast of talented actors playing compellingly watchable people.