Monday, October 6, 2008

Season 1 Episode 1
Written by J.J. Abrams & Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci
Directed by Alex Graves

When Fringe was first announced by the trades, I had a number of reservations:
One: though J.J. Abrams’ name was attached, I can’t say I love everything he’s worked on.
If you’ve visited the Iguana before, you may know that I’m a big Lost fan, and I was also a fan of Felicity. And Cloverfield was brilliant.
But I never got into Alias, and I wasn’t that thrilled with Mission: Impossible III either.
Two: the other writer/producers announced were Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, whose scripts for M:i:III and Transformers didn’t inspire much confidence.
Three: the supreme hurdle for the show, as far as I was concerned—the premise sounded terribly X-Files-ish.

So how could the show get out from under that daunting shadow? And could the Pilot, at the very least, win this X-phile over?
I think I’d have to say the answer is a qualified “Yes.”

First off, the Pilot has a very effective pace, keeping the narrative engine going at a fast clip, while allowing time for involving character bits.
We have FBI Special Agent Olivia Dunham (Australian actress Anna Torv), whose very personal stake in the preliminary case is telegraphed well, her desperation and anxiety palpable without being overpowering.
Then there are the father and son issues between underachieving genius (IQ 190) Peter Bishop (Dawson’s Creek’s Joshua Jackson) and his mentally unstable father Walter (played most excellently by mad King Denethor himself, John Noble, incidentally also Australian).
Oh, and the case—which will require the expertise of the elder Bishop, institutionalized nearly two decades ago, and the younger Bishop, who must serve as his father’s guardian—involves the very messy deaths of all the passengers and crew on an international flight which lands at Boston’s Logan Airport on auto pilot. (I was hoping it would be an Oceanic flight, but alas, no such luck…)

Is there, perhaps, a smidgen of convenience in the speed at which matters are expedited on the Pilot? Maybe.
But I’ll let it slide, as it is, quite literally, a life-or-death situation, and the fact remains that the Pilot never drags, and it’s a great opener that’s got the thrills, the laughs, and the requisite Abrams air of mystery to make it eminently watchable.

Clearly, this is the first Orci-Kurtzman script that’s kept me attentive and absorbed, and all involved lucked out with their casting of Noble as the certified (and certifiable) genius.
Noble delivers a portrait of tragic intelligence, laced with an unnerving air of potential lunacy, the kind of brilliance fueled by an unfettered mind. And what is more freeing, after all, than insanity?
Plus, Walter gets the best lines, and Noble delivers them with a grand, understated flourish. (The LSD bit is priceless.)

If there’s anyone in the cast who still hasn’t completely won me over by the Pilot’s end, it’s Jackson, who, unlike Noble, doesn’t quite emanate “genius” (unstable or otherwise) from his acting pores. Sorry, but at the moment, Peter just doesn’t seem to scream “190 IQ.”
We’ll see though. Still early in the game…

Getting back to the pluses, the mystery throughline for the show—“the Pattern”—is introduced effectively in the Pilot, a hook which is central to Fringe’s viral marketing, complete with the show’s catchphrase: Find the Pattern.
There’s also a megacorporation—Massive Dynamic (“Your World Is Our World.”)—that figures into the narrative goings-on, has a connection to the elder Bishop’s past, and whose motivations are, to say the least, shadowy.
Oh, and their equivalent of the on-screen text to establish setting (ala X-Files) is a neat visual which takes a page from Heroes’ chapter titles. (I particularly love the bit in Iraq.)

Now, all indications seem to point to the show being more episodic, as opposed to the heavily serialized nature of Lost.
Given though that there is “the Pattern” to contend with, I imagine Fringe may follow the lead of—and yet again, the comparison arises—The X-Files, which was largely episodic in nature, with the mythology episodes popping up over the course of its run.
Or, perhaps the template here will be more akin to Alias, as I can’t imagine Fringe will have out-and-out comedic episodes as The X-Files did.

Regardless, the show owes much to Chris Carter’s pioneering work, as well as all the test driving the post-X-Files shows of this stripe managed over the intervening years.
While it understandably took stretches of The X-Files’ freshman season for all involved to work the kinks out of the show (after all, there wasn’t really any precedent as far as the kind of series it was aiming to be), the Fringe Pilot is pretty much a fully-formed, ably constructed entity.
Not as audaciously slap-in-the-face as, say, the Lost Pilot, or, going back further, Twin Peaks’ opening salvo, mind, but effective and involving nonetheless.

So consider me hopeful and strapped in for the ride, though I will admit to still having some reservations about the upcoming experience.
Colour me cautiously optimistic over this one.

(Images courtesy of [Fringe OS, design by FOX IN],,,, and

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