After a summer of buzz, on Tuesday September 9th the new TV series created by the Star Trek production team of JJ Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman finally hits the air…TrekMovie has an early review of the pilot for Fringe. Plus we have an exclusive video interview with co-creators Orci and Kurtzman.
Review – Fringe "Pilot"
The new FOX TV series Fringe TV series opens on a plane in trouble and viewers may immediately think that maybe JJ Abrams has recreated his hit ABC show Lost, but the comparison really ends there. At its heart Fringe is really a procedural drama that has far more in common with shows like CSI and Bones, with some genre touches like Torchwood, X-File, and even a bit of Brannon Braga’s Threshold thrown in.
The pilot itself follows the origin story structure as you see how the eventual team is put together. Leading the charge is FBI Agent Olivia Dunham played by Anna Torv, who is part of the team investigating the mysteries of the doomed flight. Dunham is having a clandestine relationship with fellow agent John Scott (Mark Valley) and after he is infected with what killed everyone on the plane, Dunham delves into the world of ‘fringe’ science to help save his life. This journey leads her to seek out Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), the (literally) mad scientist who will help save her bf, along with Bishop’s son Peter (Joshua Jackson) who is some sort of genius bad-boy mercenary/scientist…and thusly the team (and core cast of the show) is born.
Although the pilot centers on Olivia and her relationships with John Scott (who spends much of the episode looking like the see through man from biology class), and her (maybe possibly a love connection) relationship with Peter Bishop, the chemistry that ends up working the best is between the reluctant pairing of the estranged father and son Noble and Jackson. Olivia is strong role and seems well-drawn from the same pool as Alias’ Sydney Bristol and Lost’s Kate Austen, and there is a lot of potential here in Fringe, but it appears that Torv will have to grow into her role.
Noble and Jackson, father and son in "Fringe"
Complimenting the core cast is the captivatingly intense Lance Reddick (The Wire) as Homeland Security agent Phillip Broyles who will be overseeing this new team of investigators. Along for the ride is Blair Brown (Days and Nights Molly Dodd) who plays a mysterious executive at the ominously named Massive Dynamics Corporation.
The pilot follows what will likely be the recurring structure of the show, in which the team work to solve a mystery (in this case, what infected everyone on the plane and how can it be cured). Where the show diverges from other ‘sciencey’ procedurals like CSI, Numb3rs and Bones is that it delves into the ‘fringe’ sciences. For example, during the pilot we see Olivia enter the coma mind of John Scott using a combo of home-made LSD and a sensory deprivation tank (perhaps an homage to Altered States). This element of the show presents the science well for the most part and should be able to keep the interest of genre fans, but it doesn’t appear that the show will go down the alien rabbit hole like The X-Files.
Torv (center) trips out in "Fringe"
The Abrams team seems have also added an overall mythology layer, in this case there is something called ‘The Pattern’ which is at the heart of seemingly unconnected mysteries around the world. Somewhere linked to this is the Massive Dynamics Corporation, which appears destined to the DHARMA initiative of Fringe. The pilot just teases this mythology enough to let the viewers know it is there. However Abrams and the team have stated that they will try and balance the weekly episodes to not expect viewers to watch every episode and losing track of this over-arching story. It appears that they are applying lessons learned from their previous shows as well as other popular shows like Heroes, which tend to bleed viewers over time due to a growingly complicated mythology that requires religious viewing or you get lost.
Directed by Alex Graves (vet of 34 episodes of the West Wing) from a script by Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman, the tightly-packed, yet extended-length pilot feels more like feature film. The visuals are stunning, from the wide ranging locations, to the gruesome make-up effects, down to the floating typography that introduces each new setting. The show isn’t all bio-toxins, bionics, corporate conspiracies and talking to corpses — there is a good amount of humor injected into the script as well. So far it appears that Noble will be carrying much of the load, however his kooky scientist saying off the wall inappropriate things routine may get old pretty fast. The second funniest character in the pilot is a cow, really, so the Abrams/Orci/Kurtzman are willing to go a long way to get a laugh on Fringe.
The pilot also makes an attempt at some sex appeal with Torv stripping down to her undies to get into the flotation tank, however the scene was a bit hammy and didn’t really work. Also the dynamics between her and both Mark Valley and Joshua Jackson was not really giving you that spark that makes the Jack/Kate/Sawyer triangle work so well. However, it is just the pilot so there is time for that to grow.
Valley and Torv look for the clues in Fringe
It is these dynamics that are the key to this show’s potential success. Although shows like Lost and Heroes have intriguing plots and over-arching mythologies, it is the characters that make those shows work. For Fringe, some of these dynamics (like between Jackson and Noble) are already working, whereas others need to be developed. Although the premiere falls short the pilot for JJ Abrams’ Lost, with these kinds of strong characters combined with the off the wall science, the bits of humor, and the sprinkling of mythology, Fringe has the potential to be must see TV for both genre fans and a wider TV audience.
Video interview with Orci and Kurtzman
TrekMovie had a moment before the "Fringe" panel at Comic Con to talk to co-creators Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman about their new show.
Fringe premieres on Fox on September 9th at 8 PM. More info, including previews and interviews at fox.com/fringe.