"Fringe" returns for a second season with a greater sense of purpose.

Toeing the line between creature-of-the-week procedural and an overarching storyline that foretells apocalyptic nastiness, “Fringe” returns for a second season with a greater sense of purpose. If only the bosses at the FBI would stop interfering with the gang’s mission, the faster everyone at the Harvard lab can figure out how to squash these paranormal threats.

Despite an absorbing 22 episodes that was mostly on target, one problem with the first season seen again in the opener is that the feds back in Washington can’t quite get a handle on what the Fringe division is up to. Because there’s no such thing as concrete evidence in these outlandish cases, bureacrats decide to shut the operation down — before naturally reversing course.

Writers J.J. Abrams and Akiva Goldsman pick up from where the season finale left off. Olivia (Anna Torv) had ventured to a parallel universe and met with the mysterious William Bell (cameo by Leonard Nimoy, who will return sporadically in upcoming episodes) in one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

Now she’s been in a terrible car accident and can’t figure out what happened. She’s pronounced dead early on, but as anyone who’s watched 10 minutes of TV drama over the past 50 years can tell you, that diagnosis isn’t going to stick.

Adding a new ingredient, wide-eyed FBI agent Amy Jessup (Meghan Markle) is investigating the case and is briefed by Peter Bishop (underrated Joshua Jackson) on the unit’s mission.

Jackson’s character was never entirely comfortable with his role as a junior G-man in the first season and had a mysterious backstory that never quite played out. His past leaves plenty of good story to fill, and it looks like he’ll play a larger role in solving cases moving forward.

Show’s breakout star, Oz vet John Noble as the formally institutionalized Dr. Walter Bishop, continues to wonderfully balance his character’s quirkiness with scientific know-how that will undoubtedly help determine who’s behind the metaphysical manifestations.

New Thursday timeslot is a risky move by Fox, but execs say they’re OK with lower ratings against tougher competish — especially if the show can tap into weekend movie dollars. After starting slow in the Nielsen race early on last year and then finding its footing, “Fringe” should settle in nicely.

Fringe

Fox, Thur. Sept. 17, 9 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Vancouver by Bad Robot in association with Warner Bros. Television. Exec producers, Bryan Burk, J.J. Abrams, Jeff Pinkner, J.H. Wyman; producers, Zack Stentz, Ashley Edward Miller, Kathy Lingg, Robert M. Williams Jr.; director, Akiva Goldsman; writers, Abrams, Goldsman;

Crew

Camera, Thomas Yatsko; production designer, Ian Thomas; editors, Tanya Swerling, Luyen Vu. RUNNING TIME: 60 MIN.

Cast

Olivia Dunham - Anna Torv Peter Bishop - Joshua Jackson John Noble - Dr. Walter Bishop Phillip Broyles - Lance Reddick Charlie Francis - Kirk Acevedo Astrid Farnsworth - Jasika Nicole
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