As if taking a cue from the Australian homeland of two of its stars, "Fringe" is a platypus of a TV series. This Fox drama borrows ideas from a sprawl of program genres. It's an unlikely mash-up for sure. And it's working like a charm.
"Fringe" started strong last September and has only gotten stronger creatively. It won a robust audience, too, even before "American Idol" became its lead-in (it airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET).
By now, the series seems totally cool with its ambitious mix of action, intrigue, souped-up science, simmering evil, plus all the right doses of humor, romance and blood-and-guts.
Befitting a series that counts J.J. Abrams ("Lost") among the creators, "Fringe" glories in its freewheeling style and its giddy universe of characters who, at any given moment, may or may not be who they seem. But even with its teeming uncertainties, "Fringe" keeps one thing constant for the viewer: its trio of ill-assorted heroes, busy battling a sinister force that threatens the world with "fringe" science (way-out stuff such as mind control, teleportation, astral projection and genetic engineering).
The trusty threesome: Dr. Walter Bishop, a pleasantly mad genius; his cocky caretaker son, Peter; and FBI Special Agent Olivia Dunham, who initially enlisted them to help find the truth about her slain FBI partner and lover (whose loyalties have kept viewers guessing while they wonder just how dead he really is).
As Peter, Joshua Jackson ("Dawson's Creek") strikes the right sardonic tone. John Noble ("The Lord of the Rings") is brilliantly addled as Dr. Bishop. And Noble's fellow Aussie, Anna Torv, shines as Olivia.
Olivia is the soul of the show — two-fisted and defiant, yet vulnerable. Torv knows how to convey authenticity, even in the midst of an outrageous scene. And sporting sensible pantsuits and just a hint of makeup, she makes Olivia a plausibly gorgeous pro, not a crime-busting tootsie.
"We didn't want the coifed hair and the red lipstick," says Torv with a laugh. "And I LIKE the pantsuits. It feels like you're putting a uniform on."
The 29-year-old actress is a native of Melbourne who snagged her role on "Fringe" armed with training at Australia's prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Arts, where she was accepted at age 17.
Then, after graduation, "I sort of jobbed about," she says. "I did plays, film and voiceovers," as well as two popular Australian TV series, "The Secret Life of Us" and "Young Lions."
"I wasn't a star, anyone you'd recognize on the street," she says, "but I managed to earn a living."
Then she moved to London, where she landed the part of sexy animated warrior Nariko in the video game "Heavenly Sword." She performed the game's epic story with her fellow actors in a New Zealand studio where they were dotted with tiny sensors to digitally capture their movements.
"No bothering with costumes, no waiting for lighting setups!" Torv recalls. "We had such a ball!"
‘Anything’ in an American accentIt's a different story with "Fringe." Shot in New York (which subs for the show's Boston setting), "Fringe" often places its actors in bleak, out-of-the-way corners of the city (vacant lots, warehouses, subterranean tunnels), during all kinds of weather.
"We don't shoot in any fancy locations," says Torv, who is nursing a cold. "We're not shooting 'Lipstick Jungle.'"
Adding to her challenge, of course, is that little thing about Olivia's American accent.
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"Some words I still can't get," Torv confesses. "'Anything': Whenever I have 'anything' in a script, I see if I can change it to 'something' or 'a lot of things.'
"But no one on the show is doing a Boston accent," she muses, "which I would have thought would be fun."
A recent episode of "Fringe" found Olivia abducted — why and by whom she had no idea. But thanks to remarkable shrewdness and fisticuffs, she overpowered two guards and gained her escape.
She also had a knockdown, drag-out fight with the wife of a double agent who was trying to kill her.
"We had so much fun!" says Torv, referring to the actress with whom she shared the brawl. "That's probably my favorite sequence in the show thus far."
Not quite so much fun: sharing a scene in Dr. Bishop's lab with an all-too-realistic-looking body part or gooey mutant organism. "Fringe" knows fringe science should have an ick factor.
"It really can be quite revolting. But people get a thrill out of it, you know," says Torv. She pauses for a throaty chuckle. "I was always more into 'Anne of Green Gables.'"