J.J. Abrams‘ new television series Fringe had an official press screening at Comic Con.
The pilot for the new show, which a Horizon Media report recently said would be the highest rated new series alongside CBS’ SF procedural Eleventh Hour, has all the trademark J.J. Abrams ingredients: a whole lotta teaser questions to kick off the story, a reasonable number of more or less compelling paranormal mysteries, a plot that asks for several kind hand waves, and a conspiracy that has the potential to spread like a virus for many a long season.
The story begins with a plane that lands at a Boston airport with all the crew and passengers dead. FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) is part of the team called in to investigate. She is additionally motivated by the fact that her boyfriend, agent John Scott (Mark Valley), has been exposed to the same toxin that killed the passengers. Desperate to find a cure in time, she turns to Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), a mad scientist who had dabbled in the paranormal (“fringe” science) in his day, right before he was institutionalized. To get to him, however, she needs the help of his son Peter (Joshua Jackson).
In spite of sharing a number of elements with Lost – mainly a blizzard of WTFs that will most likely exhaust and desensitize most viewers by mid-season – Fringe also parts ways with the Oceanic 815 crew on several major fronts.
On the positive side, it lets humour invade the heart of the story by introducing John Noble‘s crazy genius as one of the three central characters. It also makes some strained attempts to introduce a witty back-and-forth dynamic between Torv and Jackson‘s characters, which may or may not improve in the long run.
The humour, however, doesn’t mean that the show doesn’t take itself too seriously. If there is a single lasting impression that the pilot leaves, it’s that it’s trying to be too many things at once: a serious investigation show (and really, who relegates Lance Reddick and Kirk Acevedo to supporting roles), a light-hearted comedy (with John Noble carrying the biggest chunk of the show’s appeal), an action thriller to a degree, and a high-level conspiracy story that can’t seem to make up its mind whether it wants to land on the Lost side or the Alias side.
The central flaw, however, is not so much that all these things wouldn’t necessarily work in a single show. It’s that, having to tackle all these subgenres at once, Anna Torv doesn’t really sell any of them, leaving Fringe without a real protagonist audiences would want to follow and empathize with. The ever so eager attempts to introduce a compelling, smartass type of chemistry between her character and her boss Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick) feel a little void on the one hand and, on the other, she is almost invisible in the scenes with Noble.
While the pilot is interesting and likeable enough to pull in the numbers and while it’s obvious that Abrams tried to raise the bar on his previous shows by using all the things that originally worked so well for Alias and Lost, in the end it’s hard not to wonder if Fringe wouldn’t benefit from being a little more focused and a little less ambitious. Either way, this is just the pilot so it is too early to tell.
The series will premier on Tuesday, September 9 on Fox.
A final note to Lost fans who find the wait too long: for an entertaining, fresh, compelling, and not too self-important blend of several subgenres, check out Javier Grillo-Marxuach‘s The Middleman. It’s probably the most likeable new little show on television these days and could definitely use more viewers to secure a second season so, before you check out J.J., make sure you check out Dub Dub.