Monday, July 14, 2008

Pilot Watch: Fringe

We're in the middle of the writing break now, and as my bosses unsurprisingly want me to wait for the Fox News/Karl Rove session before I do any column-writing, I thought I would write up my thoughts on Fox's "Fringe," which Fox screened last night on the hotel's closed-circuit system. The panel itself wasn't incredibly newsworthy, though I got J.J. Abrams to say afterwards that they'll make Lance Reddick available as needed to the "Lost" guys (and said that he initially resisted casting Reddick here to avoid keeping him off "Lost," until he realized he'd have more control over the situation than if Reddick wound up on someone else's show), so I'm going to stick to my traditional Pilot Watch format.

Same caveat as always applies: this is not a review. The version I saw has a number of significant changes from the one that leaked online, and J.J. and company said they might be tweaking it even more between now and when it debuts in the fall. These are just my first impressions, coming up after the jump...

"Fringe"
Who's in it:
Anna Torv (Australian newcomer), Joshua Jackson, John Noble, Kirk Aceveda, Lance Reddick, Blair Brown, Mark Valley, a cow
What it's about: An FBI agent (Torv) recruits a mentally ill genius (Noble) and his brilliant and bitter son (Jackson) to investigate crimes involving fringe sciences like cloning, telepathy, etc.
Pluses: J.J. and company know what they're doing. It's a slick pilot with interesting characters, a plot that moves and some good action sequences. Noble and Jackson are very strong as genius father and son (I always liked Jackson as Pacey and am glad to see him in a good adult role), and supporting players like Reddick (as Torv's hard-line boss, not much of a stretch from his work on "The Wire") and Brown (as an executive of a cutting-edge science company) do the expected lot with a little, in terms of screen time. J.J. admitted at the session that "Alias" got too incoherent too quickly and promised stronger episodic elements each week, in addition to whatever ongoing story arcs he has planned.
Minuses: Didn't wow me in the way that the "Lost" or "Alias" pilots did, and I'm not sure how much of that is on Anna Torv, who didn't make nearly as strong an impression as the two male leads. But even if it's nothing more than a well-made "X-Files" copy, I can see myself watching it on a regular basis.

25 comments:

Alan Sepinwall said...

Also, I should add: since the a version of the pilot has leaked online, do not include any significant spoilers in your comments. I will delete them immediately.

Anonymous said...

Without getting into spoilers are there any differences between the version you saw and the leaked one that you can talk about?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Lemme think: the leaked version had a temp music track, while this has the full Giacchino, they took out a bunch of scenes right after one of the suspects gets apprehended and added in some new scenes to explain things better... J.J. and the other writers rattled off a list. When the transcript comes out, I'll put it up.

Alan Sepinwall said...

And by "it," I mean the list, not the full transcript.

Alap said...

i actually kinda rather liked anna torv's performance. i thought she was pretty adept at alternating between "sweet, lovelorn, and aggrieved" and "tough, all-business, government agent girl." maybe not as much as, say, kristen bell was on veronica mars, but veronica had a more quippy character than torv needed to play.

and besides, i don't think jj abrams does quippy all that well. his shows have humor, yeah, but most of the really funny stuff seems to be from a release in tension (like ben on lost dropping some unexpected line in the face of ratcheted-up danger), rather than some sort of rapid-fire, witty exchange between a group of characters. which is why i had more of a problem with joshua jackson's character than torv's--he was trying to pull off the quick, quippy, xander-on-buffy-esque banter with lines that weren't really all that funny.

Myles said...

Disappointed you didn't include the cow on your list of solid supporting players, but otherwise agreed (although I'm leaning a bit more positively on Torv).

Alan Sepinwall said...

Myles, I liked the cow, but I left it off the list for two reasons:

1)It doesn't really do anything in the pilot, other than stand there and be a cow

2)They're replacing it, since the pilot was shot in Toronto, the series will be shot in New York, and the cow couldn't cross the border.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Alap, I'm not saying I needed quippiness from Torv. I just don't know that she had as much screen presence as I would have liked.

Then again, I felt that way about Jennifer Garner at the start of Alias, and pretty much continued to feel that way for much of the series' run, with the obvious (and rather large) exceptions of the fight scenes and the undercover stuff. (I just never found her work as Sydney-being-Sydney all that interesting.)

Alan Sepinwall said...

And the quippiness wasn't what did it for me with Jackson. It was the scene where he first goes in to see his dad in the cafeteria. The way he carried himself really grabbed me.

Bryan Murray said...

Looking forward to Fringe mainly for Reddick so this "review" does not excite me too much. But the Lost news is fantastic. Hopefully Reddick and Nestor Carbonell will have expanded roles this season. Not sure if this predicition has been made yet: Abaddon is grown up Walt.

Nicole said...

I liked what I saw, so I hope the changes didn't alter the tone of the show that much. I will keep an eye out for this one in the fall.

Mrglass said...

The plot makes absolutely no sense. This is no X-Files, or even Alias.

bgt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

To quote you Alan, it's nice to see Fox kept up with the "tradition of casting all police authority figures (particularly those in small roles) with an actor of color."

mac said...

So Giacchino's working on this too? That makes me more interested, considering he's the best music-maker on tv, but I hope his work on Lost doesn't get stretched out because of it.

@Alap - that's a good point, Abrams and the writers he associates with don't do quippy, but I've always seen that as a strong point. Humor just seems much more natural and satisfying.

bgt said...

I saw the leaked pilot a few weeks ago, if you're a Lance Reddick fan (especially from The Wire), there's not a whole lot he does in the pilot to get you excited. It's not that he's bad - his performance is fine, he just doesn't have much to do outside of what is, in the pilot, a pretty stereotypical role.

The only scene that I even remember jumping out a bit is the one in which he explains some of the crazy stuff going on in the world. (hope that's not too spoilery). But I've got faith that as the show goes on, he should be more involved, much like Mitch Pileggi's character in the X-Files.

Anonymous said...

You should make a review for The X-Files: I Want to Believe when it premiers.

Alan Sepinwall said...

That suggests I have any interest in spending money to watch another Chris Carter-produced X-Files story, which I really, really don't.

jim treacher said...

John Noble is going to be this show's secret weapon. He's the one thing raising it from "X-Files ripoff" status. Best mad scientist since Doc Brown!

Anonymous said...

I agree -- it's not a bad pilot, but it didn't wow me. The ingredients are all there, but I don't think they pop.

The only that really caught my attention is the character of John Noble. He provided some much-needed humor.

Anonymous said...

Nobody needs to worry about Lance Reddick, I guarantee by the end of the season, assuming the show doesn't get canceled, that he's the character that the audience and writers like more than anybody else and he'll get the more interesting stories because of that.
I also think Anna Torv was good. The writers are facing that problem that every network show does which is how they make an interesting lead character without making them a drug addict or asshole. But hey, she did do one kinda shady thing during the pilot.

Anonymous said...

Overall, based on the pilot you've seen, do you think Anna Torv deserves the role, or do you think nepotism could be involved? I doubt Rupert Murdoch would particularly care what his niece does, but one has to wonder whether she has become a more valuable commodity out of the perception that she may be connected to Murdoch.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Okay, here's Bryan Burk, and then J.J. Abrams, on the differences between the leaked pilot and the one we saw:

BRYAN BURK: And some of the things we shot after the fact when we went to series for pickups is we added an interrogation scene which helped bridge the story of how they were able to capture (a bad guy) and continue on in their investigation, and we felt that the show needed that, and we added something at the end of the show that we didn't have time to shoot originally when we were in Toronto. There's little things that really helped work the show out. And also our composer, Michael Giacchino, didn't get a chance to finish his score, so what leaked online was a lot of temp music.

J.J. ABRAMS: We also cut like five minutes from the show before the interrogation scenes in there. The ending wasn't done yet, so it was about tightening and moving some moments here and there.

Andrew Dignan said...

I was underwhelmed by the pilot, which I didn't see on the internet but based on what I'm reading here sounds like it was the "leaked" version.

I mostly thought it to be a slick-looking but overly expository and clumsily written X-Files knock-off. Wasn't invested an iota in the over-arching scheme and thought it took way, way too long to establish that there even was an over-arching scheme. Emotionally it left me really cold as well. There's really no reason on Earth beyond myopic network/TV producer logic for Jackson's character to even be on the show as he doesn't really *do* anything (based on existing evidence) beyond sarcastically translate Noble's brilliant ramblings. The whole thing reeks of ageism if you want to know the truth, as though the idea of pretty young FBI agent working with 60-something eccentric character doesn't generate enough sexual chemistry so throw in Pacey just to raise the pulse a bit.

Noble's character was the highpoint for me but they seem to shrug off the whole "crazy" business when it's convenient as well as the fact that the guy (allegedly) was involved in the death of a colleague years ago (hence being in an institution). Also his background in "psuedo-science" is the sort of hazy, vague whatever works for this week gimmick that I suspect will bail the writers out of a lot of plot holes. Just lazy, lazy writing across the board and the truth is it really could have been tightened to alleviate these issues.

Also I could of sworn I recognized the Boston skyline during some of the exterior shots (specifically a daytime chase scene) so either they did some beautiful CGI work or I don't recognize my former home city anymore.

amasea said...

"Alan Sepinwall said...
That suggests I have any interest in spending money to watch another Chris Carter-produced X-Files story, which I really, really don't."

Alan, I'm quite curious why not. You said you have an interest in watching an X-Files clone, but not the (probably last) installment of the original (I'm betting the movie won't make enough money to justify a sequel, and I expect that although the actors seem excited about revisiting their famous roles once, another time would likely be turned down). I was a huge XF fan, a bigger fan of that than virtually any other popular media. Of course, that probably has more to do with it coming along at the right time in my life than the show itself, but...
I've also been getting a kick out of the A.V. Club's revisitings of the XF, Buffy, My So-Called Life and Newsradio this summer, and watching along as they progress. It's been especially interesting to go back to season 1 of the XF, to see where the seeds of both success and failure were planted.
I expect that I'll also quite enjoy Fringe, as I get a kick out of most supernaturally-themed and sci-fi themed shows (though there have been some God-awful stinkers made), and have appreciated Abrams' other work.
As someone who often agrees with your opinions and always respects them, I'd love it if you could take a few minutes to explain your lack of interest in the new XF movie.
thanks :)