In the case of "Fringe," being allowed to operate under-the-radar, as it were, has been to its creative benefit, altering and manipulating its own DNA, experimenting to a point of near-reinvention. While the funky sci-fi series still bears the same cast, its focus has flip-flopped from freshmen year. Whereas it originally followed the "X-Files" model of investigating phenomena, it now mostly investigates itself, as female lead Anna Torv has an evil double while she's stuck in an alternate world.
The episodes — from shape shifters with mercury for blood to tuning in, turning on and dropping out — juggle at a near one-for-one rate between our world and the alternate one, which is an interesting method of having your cake and eating it, too, for viewers who may tire of one approach. For me, it's not an issue of that as much as it is mythology vs. stand-alone shows, and this season leans so far toward the former that newcomers will be baffled royally ... and rightfully! Start with the first year and work your way up; with Blu-ray and DVD, digesting whole seasons back-to-back is the best way to watch these things.
Delving deep into mythology also makes season six of "Supernatural" a little less fizzy than years previous. For one thing, creator Eric Kripke said the adventures of the Winchester brothers, Sam and Dean (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, respectively), would last no more than five seasons. What happened to that promise?
Luckily, the mythology of "Supernatural" isn't anywhere near the complexity of "Fringe," but again, I feel as if it excels when an hour can stand on its own and be shown to a friend without having to explain a load of backstory beforehand, not to mention as it plays. To that end, highlights include creepy mannequins (shades of "Tourist Trap"), a foray into the Old West, a Titanic trip into "Final Destination" territory and — a series specialty, as "Ghostfacers" fans can attest — poking fun at itself, here in a meta show-within-the-show.
Like the "Fringe" set, "Supernatural" also has a shape-shifter episode. With as many weird-investigation series on the air currently ("Warehouse 13," "Haven" and "Sanctuary" among them), expect more.
"Nikita" is too new to have mythology, but it does boast pedigree, being based on Luc Besson's excellent 1990 French actioner, the weak American remake (1993's "Point of No Return") and a successful cable series with a cult following. The new show isn't likely to enjoy that love, but for a prime-time serial, it's slick as snot. And about as nutritious, too.
This version at least adds another layer, with rogue agent Nikita training and grooming her would-be successor (Lyndsy Fonesca, "Kick-Ass") on dismantling the shadowy agency from within. However, the concept is bound to get old by the end of year two, and some of the characters already have (I'm looking at you, Shane West and your perma-scowl), but if it goes down, it's likely to go down kicking and looking great while doing so. —Rod Lott