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Fringe: X-Files meets Alias. And Lost, and Terminator, and... (Pilot review)

I watched the much anticipated and buzzworthy premiere of Fringe last night. And my reaction wasn't quite what I expected.

I want to love this show. I love J.J. Abrams' work. I'm a huge fan of Alias and Lost, and I fully expect J.J. to breathe life back into the Star Trek franchise, too. But even though there were elements of Alias and Lost in there, Fringe felt too much like a reboot of The X-Files. And I never loved the X-Files.

I thought X-Files creator Chris Carter never constructed a satisfactory mythology behind the series, he jerked the audience around way too much, and the truth really wasn't out there. Plus there was some sort of gross-out in every episode of X-Files, and I'm definitely not a fan of the gross-out. The first five minutes of Fringe was gross-out extraordinaire; it made me rethink what I had for dinner that night. Is it wrong of me to feel that the words "dissolved" and "flesh" should never go together?

My point, and I do have one, is that doing a much better quality X-Files with a better mythology and Sydney Bristow as the lead is good, yes. But the "homages" got so thick on the ground that I spent most of the episode noticing them. Flight 627? Lost, Outbreak, The Stand. A cow and sensory deprivation chamber? Altered States. (We even had one of the stars of Altered States, Blair Brown, do a bionic arm reveal right out of Terminator 2.) Weird twins? Lost and X-Files. Unauthorized torture of the bad guy to save the world? Kiefer Sutherland on 24. Big floating title cards? Heroes. Bishop's father looked remarkably like Cancer Man, and you can't tell me that wasn't deliberate. This isn't stuff you should be thinking when you're watching something new. It was like they were trying to push all of our buttons at once while hoping we weren't noticing the actual buttons.

The leads, Anna Torv and Joshua Jackson, were both good casting, even though I kept thinking of Dawson's Creek in spite of myself. I liked Bishop's quirky nutcase of a father even better. I will admit, and not even grudgingly, that this pilot was dynamic, exciting and beautifully, beautifully filmed, and the last half hour was a fast-paced wow with a twist I didn't expect. It's a great set-up for a series, no doubt about it. That is, if you like stories about melting flesh, see-through boyfriends, and mutant lab animals in dark basements. And conspiracy theories. And extreme corporate culture paranoia.

What I'm getting at is, this could be a great show. But I suspect it might not be for me.
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

9 comments:

  1. I wouldn't say the Terminator. moreso Supernatural.

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  2. All good points. I liked it more than you did. Then again, I liked X-Files more than you, too.

    That thing about your dinner made me LOL.

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  3. I agree also - even though I haven't watched Altered States or X-Files much - that the homages to other shows of its ilk didn't hit me as homages at the time but rather redundant pieces. I liked the episode for the most part but felt it was way too long and could have been cut shorter into a faster moving, cleaner episode.

    I'm anticipating that it'll get better though. Thanks for the review!

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  4. I missed the first half hour, which I now see as a good thing. But I liked the rest of it. I'd watch it again.

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  5. Great comments Billie.

    I didn't watch the X-Files. But I definitely saw the "inspiration" in this show from A LOT of other shows.

    I read an article in EW about Fringe and JJ Abrams said he fully realizes the pilot episode was full of homages to other shows and he feels like the episodes following this one are a much better reflection of his vision of what Fringe should be.

    So...I have high hopes!

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  6. I wasn't too impressed with it either. But it wasn't all the homages that bothered me, besides feeling like they were trying to mix X-Files with an FBI, less cooler version of Sydney Bristow.

    I kept cringing at the lack of logic. Were the writers just not thinking? I mean with any scifi type show I'm willing suspend my disbelief at least some. But this show crossed the line for me. Some examples:

    The only scientist that knew anything at all on the subject was a man that had been locked away for 17 years?? No one else had made any progress or looked into it after all that time? And after 17 years, his lab at Harvard had NEVER been used? Somehow I don't think Harvard is overflowing with lab space. I'm sure in all that time it would've been used by many people, crime scene or not. It would eventually have been cleaned out. And the FBI resupplying everything for his lab in the space of a day (quickly before her partner dies!) made me laugh out loud. The paperwork for all that wouldn't have even left the initiator's desk within a day...

    Yeah things like that just kept drawing me out of the show. And some of them could've been easily avoided too. For example, Bishop could've been locked up for a year or two, not 17. I guess they wanted to create angst of him not being around when his son was growing up, but he couldve been too focused on his work to pay attention to him anyway. There are other ways to do this people.

    Anyways, I didn't care for the main actress that much so far, but I actually do like Joshua Jackson and John Noble. I'm going to check out another episode or two and see if it gets any better. I'll give JJ Abrams that much.

    Here's hoping.

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  7. I agree with Kelly, the lack of logic was a bigger issue.

    And as an X-Files fan, I have to say I amp pretty dissapointed with you Bille. Not liking one of the most groundbreaking and cult driven shows is kind of blasphemy? no?

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  8. I liked it enough to watch it for its entire run. Just not enough to obsess about it or write about it. Like I said in my review, I kept feeling like Chris Carter was jerking us around and there was no underlying framework for the show. The first movie was really good and I think they pulled all the disparate elements together very well, but it was kind of too little, too late.

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  9. The points about the homages to the other shows and the lack of logic are all insightful.

    I feel that the pilot episode of "Fringe" started slow and picked up towards the end. It could've used editing and been turned into a one hour pilot instead.

    I'm not as high on JJ Abrams as I used to be. Abrams is a master of hype and self-promotion, but his actual work has mixed results for me. And if Abrams follows his previous pattern, he'll stay with "Fringe" (assuming it's not cancelled after it's initial order) for one season--two tops--then jump to another project which has interest and abandon it in turn.

    A TV series pilot generally generates about two seasons of initial storylines after which it's up to the producers develop new stories and characters arcs. Doing this is difficult and many series stumble after starting strongly. "Alias" is one example that comes to mind. Personally, I'm not certain that a mythology with internal logic has been set in place by "Fringe"'s pilot.

    I'm also skeptical about Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman when I consider some of their films like "Transformers" and "The Island," which I feel placed more emphasis on explosions and chases than characters and story.

    On a side note, I don't have high expectations for Abrams' reboot of "Star Trek," which I feel should've explored new characters on a new ship in a new century. We'll have to see what comes for that film and "Fringe."

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