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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2008-2009 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot - or in this new post-strike/straight-to-series world, reading the pilot script. We'll start with the ones that were actually filmed and move on to the others in the coming weeks.
With that in mind, it's even more important to remember that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. Plus: as an added bonus, we've got a backlog of passed over pilots - some from this season, some from last season - we'll be tackling as well. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
(written by J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman; directed by Alex Graves; TRT: 1:22:09)
The network's description: "FRINGE (Tuesdays, 9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT): From J.J. Abrams ("Lost"), Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the team behind "Star Trek," "Mission: Impossible III" and "Alias," comes a new drama that will thrill, terrify and explore the blurring line between science fiction and reality. When an international flight lands at Boston's Logan Airport and the passengers and crew have all died grisly deaths, FBI Special Agent OLIVIA DUNHAM (newcomer Anna Torv) is called in to investigate. After her partner, Special Agent JOHN SCOTT (Mark Valley, "Boston Legal"), is nearly killed during the investigation, a desperate Olivia searches frantically for someone to help, leading her to DR. WALTER BISHOP (John Noble, "Lord of the Rings"), our generation's Einstein. There's only one catch: he's been institutionalized for the last 20 years, and the only way to question him requires pulling his estranged son PETER (Joshua Jackson, "Dawson's Creek") in to help. When Olivia's investigation leads her to manipulative corporate executive NINA SHARP (Blair Brown, "Altered States"), our unlikely trio along with fellow FBI Agents PHILLIP BROYLES (Lance Reddick, "The Wire"), CHARLIE FRANCIS (Kirk Acevedo, "Oz") and ASTRID FARNSWORTH (Jasika Nicole, "Law & Order: Criminal Intent") will discover that what happened on Flight 627 is only a small piece of a larger, more shocking truth."
What did they leave out: The show uses a neat effect when it changes locales: instead of just indicating "Harvard University" or the like at the bottom of the screen, said text is blown up into larger 3-D letters that pass in the background at the start of each scene.
The plot in a nutshell: When Flight 627 from Hamburg, Germany lands (thanks to its auto-pilot) at Logan International Aiport with all 147 of its passengers literally liquefied (the first of the show's many impressive special effects), FBI agent Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick) is called in to sort out the mess. There he reluctantly allows Olivia Dunham (Aussie import Anna Torv), the local interagency liaison, and her team - which includes the dryly witted Charlie Francis (Kirk Acevedo), her assistant Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) and her secret paramour John Scott (Mark Valley) - in on the action. Broyles nevertheless saddles Olivia (who's been dubbed something of a pariah thanks to her history as a Special Investigator for the Marines) with the weakest lead - a report of several Middle Eastern men exchanging briefcases at a nearby storage facility. Because this is TV though, that's exactly where they stumble upon the man responsible and his makeshift lab, a man who in turn sets off an explosion that nearly kills John. But that's just the beginning, said explosion has inadvertently infected him with an unstable compound that's somehow turning his flesh invisible - a condition that will kill him within a few days. Olivia then begins to dig around the FBI's files and discovers that John's condition is eerily similar to research done by a Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble). But the problems just keep on coming - Bishop has spent the past 17 years in a mental institution after an accident killed his assistant and rumors began to swirl of his experiments on human beings. Even worse, he's only allowed to be visited by his son Peter (Joshua Jackson), a genius in his own right who spends his days pinballing between various professions and talking himself into and out of trouble. It's in Baghdad where Olivia manages to catch up to him and where our adventure begins... It would be cruel to say any more but suffice it to say it involves a bionic arm, taking LSD, a cow, sharing dreams, something called "The Pattern," an evil corporation, an unexpected betrayal and the coolest closing seconds on television since Charlie asked "Guys, where are we?" at the end of "Lost."
What works: I continue to be blown away by the ambition of Abrams and company - they literally are the Henry Fords of the imagination business these days. For better or worse, this is a show that's not willing to settle for the status quo - in this case a 21st century update on "The X-Files." It's a territory ripe for exploration as real world science and technology begin to take off into all sorts of trajectories. The show then wisely operates in that "fringe" or pseudo area where the dots haven't quite gotten connected, meaning it can pull off its various crazy concepts without having to fully explain them - but at the same time gives them enough rules so that they aren't easy outs or cure alls. It's a tantalizing combination and the pilot even spends a few scenes theorizing about all the various avenues that could be taken in future episodes. The real treat however is the pilot's closing acts which not only set up a head-exploding amount of mythology, but also rip the rug out from under everything you just saw. Anna Torv also proves to be the next big thing as advertised, in this case some kind of love child between Ellen Pompeo and Blake Lively.
What doesn't: At the same time however, this feels like a "two-hour" pilot - and not always in a good way. Various hurdles in the plot seem to be hurdles for hurdles sake, rather than natural extensions of the story (I can't say more without spoiling certain elements). And at an hour and 22 minutes already, the potential of more filler to meet FOX's new "Remote Free TV" initiative isn't exactly thrilling. Furthermore, and perhaps it will just take some getting used to, but Jackson (stubble or no stubble) feels extremely young as compared to the rest of the cast, especially considering he's supposed to be Olivia's Sawyer (and John is supposed to be Olivia's Jack) so to speak. While he may have been the "bad boy" on "Dawson's Creek," he kind of feels like the little brother here. That being said, his relationship with his dad proves to be the most interesting as he turns out to be more or less the translator to Walter's crazy while his sardonic reactions provide a much needed dose of humor. All in all, there is absolutely a great show to be found in here...
The bottom line: ...and I look forward to finding it.