Craig Blankenhorn, Fox
Peter (Joshua Jackson) and Anna (Olivia Dunham) try to look interested during one of the interminable exposition scenes in tonight's episode of "Fringe," which airs at 8 p.m. on Fox/Ch. 13.

The second episode of Fox's "Fringe" is better than the first one, although that's mostly a matter of addition by subtraction.

At 90 minutes, last week's premiere was at least a half hour too long. At an hour, tonight's episode (8 p.m., Ch. 13) has one-third less time to become deadly dull. And, as a consequence, it's at least a third less boring.

But it's still not exactly the show it's trying to be. For example, at the end of tonight's before-the-opening credits sequence, a woman screams in terror ... and I laughed in amusement.

Instead of coming across as terrifying, it was, well, more silly than anything else. And that's definitely not what "Fringe" is going for.

In that opening sequence, a young woman who's just slept with a young man is suddenly stricken with horrible pains in her abdomen. And something is crawling around in there.

No, it's not an alien. It's the baby she was just impregnated with a couple of minutes earlier. And the unfortunate young woman gives birth to that baby a few minutes later. Just a few minutes before that baby dies of old age.

Not making this up, folks.

And, yes, it sounds a whole lot like a whole lot of TV shows (including the original "Star Trek") and movies that have gone before.

From there, we get to see Agent Anna Torv (Olivia Dunham) act tough, Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) act exasperated and Dr. Walter Bishop (James Noble) act crazy. Brilliantly crazy, of course, because he is a mad scientist.

Of course, except for the mad doctor, "Fringe" is just so completely copycatting "The X-Files."

I'm still not ready to give up on the show altogether. The whole conspiracy angle involving the huge corporation is intriguing. And Blair Brown's character, company operative Nina Sharp, is more intriguing still.

But the show's ratings weren't all that great last week. And, barring some sort of miracle — like if, maybe, every network except Fox loses its signal tonight — those ratings are going to be worse after last week's hard-to-sit-through debut.

SPEAKING OF FALLING ratings, The CW's "90210" lost about a third of its audience between Week 1 and Week 2.

Which proves that all that brilliant marketing — you know, like not letting critics see the pilot so as to build up expectations for the premiere — worked really, really well.

Of course, maybe it would have helped if as much effort had gone into creating characters and writing scripts. Then, perhaps, more of those people who tuned in to Episode 1 out of curiosity would have stuck around for Episode 2.

I know it's a novel idea — getting people to watch a show because it's good — but it's something The CW might want to think about.


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