Fox Screens "Fringe" for The Critics

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I just stepped out of the Fox Broadcasting’s special screening of the pilot of Fringe, the new series from J.J. Abrams.  Fox set up a bar and hot snacks - pot stickers, ribs and sushi - for the late night gathering.

The problem (not the fault of Fox) is the equipment provided here at the Hilton.  The LG flat screens, also found in the rooms, are okay but the attached speakers are very low quality and the sound is muddy.

A boatload of money - ten million according to Alex Strachan and others - was spent on the 90-minute Fringe pilot and it shows.  The production values are fabulous.  There are car chases a al French Connection, foot chases, and explosions.  But beneath the glitzy production values and the X-Files/Flatliners/conspiracy/paranormal storylines could lie a problem with the underpinnings - thin characterization.

Still, a series can get away with a bit of sketchy character development if other elements are in play - pretty good plotting, humor, high production values, and a strong concept.

FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) is dedicated to her job but she doesn’t "do" relationships very well.  (Women’s Murder Club meets X-Files)

A Timothy Leary-like Harvard scientist, Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), and his estranged son Peter (Joshua Jackson), learn to collaborate, heroically. 

A number of people are not who they seem to be. 

Hints of UST (unresolved sexual tension) between Peter and Olivia are evident and, due to circumstances that develop in the pilot, Olivia is sure to have trust issues going forward, a perfect set-up for stretching out the UST.  In fact, a special "bonding" moment between Olivia and Peter telegraphed to me the fate of Olivia’s boyfriend, Special Agent John Scott.

Nevertheless, Fringe is not the Battlestar Galactica of the paranormal.  By that I mean there were some great moments of humor that had the critics laughing out loud.  The cast is appealing, Torv, Jackson and Noble especially.  And the writing was very good at moments, especially in the hands of Noble. 

The pilot moves so fast that it’s easy to overlook some sloppiness.  A lot of initial friction and conflict among the characters had evaporated suddenly about midway into the episode.  Olivia and Peter But rapidly partner up, after she blackmails him.  Olivia’s boss is rigid and tough and uncooperative, until he gives her carte blanche to re-establish a lab in the basement of Harvard.

Only time, and at least four or five episodes, will tell if the writers manage to go beyond the basics of characterization.  If the producers keep up the pacing, the production values, the excitement, the snippets of humor, and manage to resist the other mighty broadcast network temptation - CSLaI (conspiracy storylines ad infinitum) -  we might not care.

Fringe debuts September 9 @8p.

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