Let's say, strictly hypothetically, that I was producing a television series about an FBI agent who was tasked with investigating weird scientific occurrences. Let's further state that my show was airing on a network which for nine seasons had a different series that featured an FBI investigating tasking with weird scientific occurrences. Now, if I wanted my show to be seen as different from the other show, if I didn't want to have my show seen as the poor step-child of the other series (which is widely recognized as one of the best Sci-Fi shows of all time), I don't know that I would have filmed the episode of Fringe that was on last night.
Back in 1993, in their third episode ever, The X-Files introduced a serial killer known as Eugene Victor Tooms (affectionately known to many as “The Liver Man”). In order to survive, Tooms (who was born in 1903) had to eat people's livers every 30 years or so. Hey, it's just who he was. It kept him alive (and is similar to an episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker where a killer needed blood to stay alive). It was a fantastic episode, truly a highlight of the series, and the character actually reappeared later in the season.
Flash forward to last night's Fringe, only the series' second episode and where a serial killer needs to take people's pituitary glands out and eat them in order to stay young. Sure, maybe the killer's origin was different on Fringe, and the length of time he could go without killing was certainly shorter, and they might have been thinking back to the Kolchak episode, but it still seems like a bad idea for their second episode.
If I wanted to differentiate myself from a different, hugely popular show, if I didn't want people to have to keep drawing parallels between my series and The X-Files I wouldn't mimic (whether intentional or not), one of the most famous episodes of The X-Files. There have to be people sitting in the writer's room at Fringe or working on the show for FOX that have a vague recollection of The X-Files and they should have made them do something different in their second episode.
Don't get me wrong, after being disappointed with the series premiere, I went into last night's episode of Fringe with severely diminished expectations and ended up really liking the episode, but it was impossible to watch and not think X-Files. I simply don't understand why Fringe would want to draw that allusion… again. It doesn't make Fringe feel like a revamped or reimagined or reenvisioned X-Files, it makes the show feel like a retread X-Files.
If an oldish guy shows up in the secret evil corporate entity meetings next week speaking in hushed tones and with a cigarette hanging from his mouth I'm only going to be more upset about the whole thing. It also won't help if we learn that Olivia has a long-lost sibling who mysteriously disappeared.
Fringe doesn't have to be like The X-Files. There is enough new there that it could, successfully, carve out a wholly different identity for itself. It could create a new mythology and a new dynamic amongst the characters. Tweaking old serial killers from The X-Files really isn't the way to go about it though. I half expected Mulder to show up last night and reference the Tooms case to point Olivia in the right direction.
That can't be what the producer of Fringe want. It just can't. Can it?