The All-Pilot Project

The All-Pilot Project: Fringe & Sons of Anarchy (Sept 12)

Fringe 9 PM Tuesday, FOX

The Premise: FBI agent Olivia Dunham, along with a deranged, recently institutionalized scientist and his estranged son, investigates paranormal phenomena and struggles against a massive conspiracy. Around these parts, we call that awesome.

The Personnel: Co-created by JJ Abrams of Lost and Alias fame, we’re off to a good start. Of course, the other co-creators are the writing team of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who gave the world Michael Bay’s Transfomers. (They also wrote for Alias, so they get a pass for now.) Joshua Jackson of Dawson’s Creek plays Peter Bishop, Oliva’s reluctant partner. Oz’s Kirk Acevedo has a small recurring role, and Lance Reddick (of Oz, The Wire, and Lost) plays Homeland Security’s Phillip Broyles, who much like his Lost character, is either very good or very, very bad.

The Poop: Anything from JJ Abrams is worth a look, and when the series sounds at least a little like the classic years of The X-Files, my curiosity is officially piqued.

While only time will tell if Fringe is going to build an intricate mythology like that of Lost or whether it’s going to be a “Super-science of the Week” series, the pilot was easily the best of the year so far. Granted, as of its first airing, the competition consisted of two WB dramas about high school kids and a game show, but I think that honor could stand for another month or so. It felt like the beginning of something big – like we were just scratching the surface of a carefully designed world

The opening is inventive – on a transatlantic flight, something happens and every single passenger or crew member dies horribly, their flesh literally melting. (Dear FOX: Did you notice that one guy whose jaw fell off his face? At 8 PM? People are eating dinner!) When the plane lands, it’s full of skeletons. (Can autopilot land a commercial airliner? Maybe it can. That’s the kind of thing I know very little about.) That’s what brings Olivia and her secret co-worker boyfriend (John) to the scene. Following up on a tenuous lead, John is exposed to synthetic chemicals that mess him up but good. Not only does he end up in a coma, but the chemicals turn his skin transparent.

Olivia tracks down the designer of the chemicals, Walter Bishop. Bishop has been in a mental institution for the last 17 years, so Olivia recruits his genius/con-man son, Peter (aka Pacey), to help. It turns out, Walter is about as close to a mad scientist as you can get without actually having an hunchbacked assistant. He’s an expert on things like telepathy, teleportation, re-animation, psychokinesis, and all sorts of superscience.

There’s some great, mind-bending stuff in here, like Olivia’s visit with the comatose Scott in their shared subconscious. And it doesn’t get all depressingly serious about the weirdness, either. One of the key ingredients necessary to allow Olivia’s astral projection is a live cow, and that cow is used to great comedic effect throughout the episode. Peter is likeably snarky as the skeptical member of the trio. It’s a nice dose of irreverence that makes the craziness a little easier to swallow.

The X-Files comparisons are inevitable, but that’s to be expected. At least Fringe seems to root its paranormal activity in earthly origins, rather than pinning it all on the aliens. Actually, the pilot suggests that a recent rise in paranormal activity may come from Massive Dynamics, the corporation co-founded by Walter Bishop before he went crazy. It’s a post-Haliburton take on the basic concept of The X-Files.

Early in the episode, the acting seemed a little flat. I expect that from JJ Abrams, though. Just look at those early episodes of Lost for an example. None of the actors knew where their characters were headed, so they played it low-key, so as not to contradict the character-defining flashbacks headed their way. I can live with that, as I’d rather have a couple of episodes where Locke’s reactions are muted rather than having those same episodes where his portrayal is completely at odds with who the character turned out to be.

That said, I found myself enjoying the acting more by the end of the episode. Olivia (Anna Torv) had opened up a little more, and Jackson seemed to find Peter’s rhythm. John Noble, as Walter Bishop, was enjoyable throughout. He balances brilliant and crazy throughout, with touches of the sort of intensity that ruined his relationship with his son. Reddick, of course, is great, exuding confidence and managing to keep his motivations murky.

Based on just the first episode, this looks like a show that we’re going to have to watch carefully. The mentions of “The Pattern” (If JJ Abrams calls something “The (Noun)”, it always turns out to be important) and some intriguing questions posed at the end lead me to believe there’s a plan in mind. Why does Olivia see her uncle’s Kayak (named “Zeno”) while in the dream state? Were any of those names anagrams? I’ll be paying attention to these things. And for the Lost fans, the pilot contains references to the numbers 47 and 108. That’s the kind of thing that makes me very happy.

The Prognosis: We have our first “Record All” of the season! The pilot was really good, and this has the potential to turn into a full-blown obsession. Frankly, you have to love a show that ends its pilot with the following exchange:

“How long has he been dead?”

“Five hours.”

(pause) “Question him.”

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