One of the most anticipated new shows this coming fall season is the latest from J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot production company, Fringe, which will debut with a two-hour premiere on Tuesday, September 9 at 8 PM ET. The folks at Comic-Con know how much the fans love J.J. Abrams' work and they kicked off this year's festivities with a special Preview Night extravaganza, with two screenings of the Fringe. I was busy waiting in the monstrosity of a line for my press badge so I was unable to make the first showing, but I did catch the second one! So, without further ado, here's my review of the Fringe pilot.
Fringe Pilot Review
It's getting to the point these days where film and televeision icon J.J. Abrams' best marketing gimmick is simply his name. Put a big fat "From J.J. Abrams" or "From the creator of Lost" in front of something and the fans go bonkers. Exhibit A: Cloverfield, which he executive produced. Exhibit B: Star Trek, Abrams next directorial effort, which got so much buzz behind it they moved the film from a December bow to an early-May tentpole release. Exhibit C: Fringe, which has garnered so much buzz from practically nothing but his name alone. However, with Fringe, it is well-warranted.
The pilot starts out with an international flight landing in Boston's Logan Airport, only every passenger and crew member aboard is dead, which calls for an FBI investigation to be led by Special Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), although under the close supervision of Special Agent Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick), with whom Dunham has some bad blood through her previous job. When she investigates a lead with Special Agent John Scott (Mark Valley), with whom she's developing romantic feeling for, things go awry when a suspect gets away, nearly killing Scott with an explosive blast that spews forth all sorts of nasty chemicals and radiation, which leaves him with nearly-transparent skin. With little time left before the bizarre infection will consume Scott, Dunham's mad dash for help leads her to Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble). Naturally, there's a catch: Bishop has been institutionalized for nearly a decade and the only way to be cleared to talk with him is to bring in his son, Peter (Joshua Jackson), who hasn't spoken to him for years. When this odd trio get together, and start pulling back the layers of this mystery, it only uncovers more mysteries to be solved.
This was an extraordinary pilot from Abrams and his two trusty screenwriters Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who previously cut their screenwriting teeth under Abrams in his series Alias as well Mission: Impossible III and their upcoming collaboration on Star Trek. While at times it feels this could easily be a stand-alone feature, there is plenty of fodder just in this pilot alone to warrant multiple seasons of this series. The characters are drawn-out superbly with some great dialogue and just the right dash of humor to break up the action. Sure, it does feel like there are some subtle nods to Heroes and other shows here, I'm sure Abrams is fully equipped to set this new series apart from the pack.
While I'm not 100% sold on Anna Torv quite yet, she does a fine job as Olivia Dunham in the pilot, although at times she reminds me of Claire Forlani, for some reason. However, she is surrounded by a wonderful cast with a smashing performance from Joshua Jackson, finally returning to his wonderfully smarmy form as Peter, a drifter/hustler with daddy issues, and Jackson's rapid-fire dialogue delivery would make even Aaron Sorkin proud. If this goes for a long run, though, I can easily see John Noble stealing the show many a time as the oddball Dr. Walter Bishop, who's readjusting to life outside a sanitarium for the first time in almost 20 years and The Wire's Lance Reddick is a glove-perfect fit as Phillip Broyles, the boss with a grudge against Torv's Dunham for getting him canned from his last military post.
While I'd love to tell you all about how this marvelous pilot ends and gets the season kicked off, that's just not how I operate, or "how I roll" as the kids say. Suffice it to say, this first episode will get you hooked and give many channel surfers a new spot to find home on 9 PM on Tuesday nights. Mark my words, folks. J.J. Abrams has a new hit on his hands and, while you'll surely see an enormous amount of promotional bait to lure you into this series, all you really need is his name alone.
4.5 stars out of 5
Fringe will premiere with this two-hour pilot on Tuesday, September 9 at 8 PM ET and the show will be regularly seen on Tuesday's at 9 PM ET thereafter. Well, that's it from Preview Night at Comic-Con 2008. Check back often for our continuing extensive coverage of all things Comic-Con. Peace in. Gallagher out!