Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Blinded with Science: Fringe Reviewed
I couldn't help but think of that block quote from Kill Bill while watching the pilot episode of J.J. Abrams' Fringe. Mr. Abrams has become the master of the jaunty, seasons long narrative strain. From Felicity to Alias to LOST, each of his shows are these labyrinthine puzzles that require close viewing over many years. This is a great trick to getting a solid viewer base, but it doesn't really lend itself to massive CSI-level viewership. You get a certain amount of the audience hooked, meaning they watch every week, no matter how bad things get (see: Alias), but you miss out on the casual viewer.
Fringe is Abrams' Clark Kent costume; the show that he thinks casual viewers who watch CSI and all those Law & Order's would want to see. And it very well might be. The pilot episode was just generic enough and featured just enough of a foundation that FBI Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv, bland), mad scientist Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble, not crazy enough) and his son Peter (Joshua Jackson, perfectly snarky) could be solving the mysteries of "The Pattern" for seasons to come.
If you've put on a television in the last few months, you've seen the commercials ad infinitum, so you know the drill. The pilot begins when a plane from Hamburg gets attacked by a flesh eating virus stemming from one nefarious passenger. Everyone dies in a gruesome way, leaving nothing but skeletons, hair and lots of gooey melted flesh. It's a great opening, harkening back to both the original pilot episodes of 24 and LOST.
But, after that opening, things felt rushed and somewhat forced. The circumstances that bring our three protagonists together were particularly contrived. It felt like even Mr. Abrams and his co-creators and writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (the brains behind Transformers) couldn't be bothered with the hackneyed set-up: "Yeah, yeah, just throw them all together already! Let's get on with it!"
I know what you're asking: Is the show any good? Well, despite some treacly set-ups, bizarrely insane and unbelievable science and pretty terrible special effects, I found Fringe wholly entertaining. It's X-Files but with a sense of humor; LOST, without any of the pathos. It's the show that J.J. Abrams thinks you and I want to watch when we realize we don't have room for another show to add to our DVR. I'm all but certain that if you missed three episodes of Fringe, you could pop back in and catch up simply by watching the "previously on" at the beginning of the show.
The casting is pretty sweet as well. While Ms. Torv and Mr. Noble are definitely listed as questionable after their week one performances, I loved the stuff that Joshua Jackson was doing. Sure, he's Pacey. Always has been. Always will be. But in addition to having the best lines, he was the viewers inner voice. Yes, injecting Agent Dunham with LSD and having her communicate with her comatose lover via brain waves is COMPLETELY INSANE! Thanks for voicing what we've all been thinking Pacey! I had thought Mr. Jackson would rival Matthew Fox for self-loathing and maniacal glee, but I was wrong. Instead he plays the part more like LOST's Hurley combined with Ken Leung's Miles. Snarky, sharp, questioning, prickly and ultimately a big softy. It should be the breakout role Mr. Jackson has been waiting for since Dawson's closed up shop.
As for Fringe, I look forward to seeing what J.J. Abrams does while donning his Clark Kent costume.