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Weekend TV in Review: Fringe, Fades, Napoleon and More

Nobody said loving a show this candid about its Fringe status would be easy.

Matt Roush
Matt Roush

Nobody said loving a show this candid about its Fringe status would be easy. And Fox, probably to its credit, didn't give fans false hope when projecting about the show's shaky future during last weekend's TCA executive session. My advice: Enjoy it while it lasts, hang on for the ride, and hope for the future.
Fringe returns from hiatus with a strong and, as usual, emotionally charged episode (Friday, 9/8c) that was originally intended to be the midseason finale back in November — until World Series rescheduling messed up those plans. The upside is that we won't have quite so long a wait to digest the repercussions of the final scene, which involves another portentous pronouncement from one of those melancholy omniscient Observers. There's also some nifty cliffhanger action regarding Peter's trip to the Alt-World, where it's hardly a surprise when someone announces, "Not everything is as it seems." A line that pertains to the ongoing shape-shifter incursion, while also suggesting that the mysteries of the heart and soul are just as difficult to explain and reconcile.
There's a tangible Wizard of Oz element to the desperate quest of Peter (Joshua Jackson at his most compelling) to get back home, his Kansas being the timeline Walter's Doomsday Machine cast asunder. Peter even calls one of his cohorts "Scarecrow" in a throwaway gag as they traverse the worlds, with no handy cyclone to deliver them. Peter is a stranger in a strange land, with two sets of people in parallel universes who don't recognize him — although he does make an emotional connection with a significant character in his race to reach out to Walternate. By now, you may be asking: Is this a good Walternate or a bad Walternate? You'll have to tune in to find out, but it leads to another profoundly affecting scene between Jackson and John Noble, who excels whichever Walter he's playing in either world.
"No one knows more about the burden of difficult decisions than I," grumbles Walternate. If Fringe is about anything, it's difficult decisions — the consequences of which could affect the fate of at least two worlds. The decisions yet to made about the fate of Fringe aren't likely to be any easier, but who'd have thought we'd get four seasons of gripping entertainment out of this mind-teasing masterpiece of fantasy?
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"The things that scare us are the things that keep us human. Never be afraid of being scared." Words to live — or possibly die — by on BBC America's creepy new The Fades (Saturday, 9/8c), the story of a teenage misfit with the ability to see ghoulish spirits who learns he's on the front lines of a war for (what else) the survival of humanity. When it isn't being apocalyptically terrifying, The Fades is funky and funny, reflecting creator Jack Thorne's previous credits on shows including the original Skins and Shameless.
This is a find for anyone who likes their thrills and chills laced with ribald irreverence — the young hero's nightmares tend to result in soiled sheets, and you should see what happens when he indulges in a little self-pleasure. Let's just say an alternate title could be Touched By An "Angelic," that being the term for those precious few mortals who can see "fades" (ghosts trapped on earth) walking among us. Young Paul, played by the very likable Iain De Caestecker, is none too thrilled to learn he has this gift, although his best mate Mac (the hilarious Daniel Kaluuya), a relentlessly upbeat pop-culture junkie, thinks it's pretty cool. Mac's "previously on" recaps at the start of each episode are a hoot, much as the coming-of-age undercurrent of pungent adolescent comedy adds depth to the end-of-the-world horrors Paul confronts.
"Will any of this ever make sense?" he wonders. "Probably not," he's told. Ah, sweet mystery of life. And death.
DY-NO-MESS: Whatever cult following the movie Napoleon Dynamite may have generated back in 2004 has likely moved on to fresher and funnier things — and Fox's tepid animated do-over (Sunday, 8:30/7:30, with a second episode at 9:30/8:30) isn't likely to win many of them back. Lifeless and virtually laughless, this is hopefully the last word in resurrecting no-longer-relevant titles (i.e., NBC's DOA The Firm). The new yet same-old Dynamite reunites the movie's cast, led by Jon Heder as the slack-jawed Idaho dweeb, for cartoonishly heightened shenanigans — this being animation, after all — including in the premiere, a toxic zit cream that gives Napoleon super-powers, leading to his recruitment into a secret rural Pioneer Punch Club. (Never grow tired of those Fight Club references, or do we?) With a look recalling the glories of King of the Hill, but no discernible point of view or comic fuse of its own, Dynamite is a dud.
WHEELS UP: AMC has renewed its Western melodrama Hell on Wheels for a second season, but Sunday's listless season finale (10/9c) gives me little incentive to want to get back in the saddle next year. A poor man's Deadwood, this violent but dramatically stagnant revenge fable is set in the years after the Civil War with the promising backdrop of the building of the transcontinental railroad, where the foreman Cullen Bohannon (a taciturn, one-note Anson Mount) simmers and stews on a murderous mission to take down the Yankees who murdered his wife and son. That storyline got derailed for a while by a number of equally trite subplots lacking in originality or authenticity, but is rekindled in the finale when Bohannon's cadaverous nemesis The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl) returns to the squalid Hell on Wheels base camp toting a Union officer who could help put the former Confederate in prison.
As the railroad company, led by Colm Meaney's tiresomely pompous "Doc" Durant, prepares a gala celebration for (slowly) reaching a 40-mile milestone, Bohannon prowls the grounds seeking his prey, who insists he was nowhere near the site of the family massacre. What ensues is a struggle for our hero's soul. "Maiden of the West" Lily Bell (Dominique McElligott) begs him not to succumb to rage: "Please don't let it kill the man [your family] loved," she whimpers. When Bohannon turns for guidance to the Mad Preacher played by Tom Doonan, he's told to "choose hate." Is apathy an option?
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