The net hasn't sent out screeners of J. J. Abrams' new drama but it did hold a few screenings for press the past few days in Gotham and L.A.
Fox execs emphasized that the roughly 90-minute Warner Bros. TV pilot was still "unfinished," but they are still eager to show it off (and undoubtedly get some feedback). I'm writing this with my Spoiler Radar turned up to 11 in a sincere effort (as always) to not ruin any of the drama for viewers prior to "Fringe's" September debut.
About five minutes in to the screening, I realized I've done this show a terrible injustice with the loglines I've been using the past few months, and the suggestion that it would be very "X-Files"-ish. It's not. It's right there in the patented Abrams-conspiracy chiller/thriller/action milieu with a wildly intricate plot. It's a good sign that the pilot -- penned by Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci and helmed by Alex Graves -- does not feel too derivative of "Lost," even as it opens with mayhem on a commercial airline flight bound for Boston's Logan airport.
The accurate synopsis: "Fringe" opens with FBI agents including Dunham sent to Logan Airport to investigate the ultra-mind-boggling situation that erupts when a German commercial airliner lands with a plane full of dead people, crew included. And they're not just dead, but dead in a horrible, scientifically inexplicable way. Dunham's dogged pursuit of the how, why and what-the-#$$%@? in the airline case puts her on the trail of a broader conspiracy that extends deeper and wider than she ever could have imagined. Her investigation also puts her in contact with a brilliant scientist who happens to have been institutionalized for the past 17 years. Dunham recruits the scientist's miscreant son to help get him a furlough from the institution so that the elder and younger can help her ferret out the truth.
Anna Torv. The Aussie star is really good in the skin of the driven, resourceful and not-without-humor FBI agent Olivia Dunham. She's not a warmed-over Kate from "Lost" or "Alias'" Sydney Bristow. She's got her own quirks and traits, and that's a very good thing. Torv is beautiful in an unconventional way. I also appreciate that she looks like a real person, not an 80-pound weakling. Olivia does share Sydney's ability to kick butt and run like the wind when duty calls.
**Once again, these are first impressions and not meant as a review or hit-or-miss declaration. Pilots at this stage of the game are still works in progress.
John Noble (pictured left). He plays the crazy old codger scientist Walter Bishop who's really not so crazy. His strong perf is intriguingly unpredictable and he avoids most of the mad-scientist cliches. His character is perhaps the most interesting of the bunch.
Lance Reddick (pictured right). The great Reddick plays an FBI agent, Phillip Broyles, who is affiliated with the Dept. of Homeland Security. He's a thorn in Dunham's side but also an ally at times. The pilot leaves open-ended the question of his allegiance to the good guys, repped by Dunham, or bad guys involved in the conspiracy. Very engaging to hear Reddick using different vocal inflections than the clipped, soft-spoken but deadly serious voice we've become accustomed to from his work on "The Wire" and "Lost." Nobody speaks body language on screen better than Lance Reddick.
Kirk Acevedo. Speaking of great voices, his husky veteran-cop, permanent-shout voice rings true in his role as a veteran FBI agent and boss of the Boston office where Dunham works. He's not featured all that much in the pilot but it's clear he's a bedrock member of the ensemble.
Blair Brown. So cool to see her sinking her teeth into a meaty, very against-type role. That's all I'm gonna say for now.
Casting really is the strongest suit here. The pilot script and story is very compelling. It's not "Lost"-level instantly addicting, but it leaves you very curious about what's gonna happen next week. There's a big twist toward the end of the pilot that I never saw coming. The direction is very fast-paced and not-showy. There's a few stretches that seem over-loaded with action-action-action but I'm guessing that's easily fixed in the editing process.
Without saying too much, there's a hell of an homage scene to 1980's "Altered States."
Joshua Jackson, but with a big caveat. At first blush he feels a little miscast in the role of wayward son Peter Bishop, who is very bitter toward his father and has lived a bipolar life himself of being a con man, hustler and half-decent scientist himself. When Dunham catches up with Peter, he's in full con man/hustler mode. Jackson is not 100% convincing in telegraphing the jaded, crafty and world-weary-at-age-30 aspects of the character.
The big caveat is that my feeling of him being unconvincing in the role could very well be mostly about me not letting go of thinking about him as puppy-dog Pacey of "Dawson's Creek," which is a cruel thing to do to an actor, I admit. It'll take a few more episodes. Jackson has some good moments in the pilot, mostly when he doesn't appear to be trying to hard to ladle all those aforementioned traits onto his character. So this one is a wait-and-see.
There's a bit of wooden-ness here and there in the dialogue...but again, nothing that probably can't be fixed in post.