Fringe Too Eager to Score: Our First Date With J.J. Abrams' New Show, a Lost Opportunity

The new Fox series Fringe premiered Tuesday following a cyclone of hype, and then proceeded to play out as if it were still in hard-sell mode. I wanted to like it more, but the pilot was like an eager date rattling off a list of attributes — “I can do in-flight horror, explosions, foot chases, car chases, evil corporations, asshole bosses, paranoia, mind-melding, mystery solving, father-son drama, wacky comedy, corpse gore ... shall I go on?” — rather than trusting the getting-to-know-you process. Creators J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are on a mission with their Michael Crichton–meets–X Files–style series about the worldwide threat posed by a secret conspiracy to use human beings as guinea pigs for sci-fi-ish experiments in teleportation, reanimation, mind control and more. Like mad episodic scientists, they want to mystify, amaze, charm, wow, excite, tickle and spook you with this post-Lost series loaded with procedural-style dramatic possibilities of the stuff that was originally the province of Universal’s chill-inducing horror pictures, cheap paperbacks and TV’s cheesy-fantasy past. (Which, of course, were themselves the pop-culture homogenizations of speculative fiction pioneers Shelley, Stevenson, Wells, etc.)

Fringe is a smorgasbord of a show, but one a little too synthetically engineered to allow you the chance to discover what it is, the way Lost — sorry to use your own show as an example, Mr. Abrams — started with an eye-popping crash but turned out to be a patiently alchemic mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous, one that refused to pander to what it thought its viewers want. Even when I grumble about Lost, at least it’s provoking a reaction out of me. In the Fringe press notes, the creators say they wanted “to make something we’d want to see as fans.” And Fringe does have the organic compounds required of a juicy fear-the-future adventure — save, maybe, the ham-fisted coupling of Joshua Jackson’s rakish son-of-a-scientist with Anna Torv’s idealistic FBI agent, which I’d call fear-the-chemistry — but even so, I worry this series’ eagerness to impress is its own version of an unforeseen lab explosion.


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