Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Thoughts on "Fringe"

J.J. Abrams newest show, Fringe, debuted tonite, an X-Files-meets-Lost kind of show that - rather than causing you to marvel at the cleverness of such a combination in a "why didn't anyone do this before?" kind of way - instead leads you to the realization that those shows were not quite dissimilar to begin with.*

I have to lead off immediately by drawing the Lost comparison because, as Victoria pointed out to me 5 minutes into the show, I fear that I might have enjoyed the pilot solely because it reminded me so much of Lost - my obsession for Lost being a matter of public record. For instance:
  • The show begins on a plane that's suffering through a particularly rotten patch of turbulence, which seems like a deliberate allusion to Lost (which, though it doesn't begin with the crash, is overdetermined by that sort of TV-plane-disaster imagery)
  • The guy that plays the authoritative, mysterious, and ambiguously bad guy Matthew Abaddon in Lost plays the authoritative, mysterious, and ambiguously good guy Phillip Broyles in Fringe
  • The score is nearly identical. The same crescendo builds and suddenly stops before every tense reveal or commercial break.
  • I swear, one of the photos that Broyles shows to Olivia when he tries to recruit her to join his team had a Dharma logo on it. Or some close approximation of it.
  • The show uses a variation on an early swerve that was supposed to happen in the pilot of Lost. In that early draft, Jack (who, as the name implies, should be the everyman) would be set up as the main character only to die half-way through and cede the protagonist's role to Kate. In Fringe's pilot, Olivia and John (same rule applies) are set up as our co-leads, only for John to fall victim to an explosion 15 minutes in. In a bit of a new twist, John lives long enough for us to learn that he's actually a low-level villain - and Olivia is installed as the main character, just like Kate was supposed to be.
So yeah - maybe it's actually quite bad and I'm blinded by the associations with Lost. It features Joshua Jackson, and I'm not sure that I can ever see him as anyone other than Pacey Witter. And there are certainly some silly and seemingly unnecessary moments - Jackson's character is introduced brokering some deal for oil in Iraq for no obvious reason and Broyles seems too free with information about "the pattern" when he tries to recruit Olivia, (especially when we earlier learned that the mere existence of "the pattern" was a classified matter) as if the speech was more for our benefit than hers.

But no pilot is perfect, right? (Except for the Lost pilot, maybe...)

* This is not the sort of work that a good "Show-X-meets-Show-Y" cliché should accomplish, of course. The combination should be wacky or unexpected, and typically draws its material from different genres, if not different planets. For instance: my friend Claudio, in an interview to get into a University program many years ago, was asked a question to the effect of "sum up your dream film project". He responded with five words: "Citizen Kane meets American Pie". Which is perhaps a needlessly absurd example, but serves as a nice counter-point, anyway. (But I won't let you know whether the answer worked.)


Jason said...

I had to miss "Fringe" on Tuesday so I just watched the pilot tonight, when they re-showed it.

I am, of course, obligated by one of my own blog postings to love it. So, I do.

Anyway, I thought the pilot was enjoyable. (And to keep this in the J.J. Abrams realm, I think the "Alias" pilot is pretty much perfect, and better than the "Lost" pilot. I truly do.)

Your comments on some of the flaws (along with Geoff's much harsher critique) are well-taken, but I don't think they're deal-breakers. As far as the silliness goes, it's pretty much Abrams' typical M.O. -- he's even said as much himself -- to take a silly premise and try to sell it through dynamic (massive dynamic!) execution. So it's almost a vain endeavor to catalogue any of the silly logic flaws. I have no doubt they will keep on accumulating as the series goes on. It's all a matter of how cool the show will continue to look while getting sillier and sillier.

neilshyminsky said...

Massive Dynamic! I forgot to mention that both Lost and Fringe have evil, ill-defined corporations calling the shots!

My partner, Victoria, kept complaining about the logistics of the episode - how is everything happening so quickly, what about all the red-tape, and, like Geoff, how the hell could they get the lab running so quickly - but I think it's alright to embrace a certain amount of silliness. I'm not sure that 'cool' with tolerate 'sillier and siller', though. The two really aren't that complimentary, are they?

Jason said...

Well, in the "Alias" pilot, the quintessential silly-cool moment (the one that defined the next five seasons) is Jennifer Garner walking down a busy street looking ridiculously conspicuous (try saying that five times fast) -- bright clown-red hair, a bloody mouth, and a tight all-black outfit. She then strolls into CIA headquarters and double-crosses the spy organization to which she currently belongs, offering to become a double-agent.

It's rather ridiculous -- wouldn't you be a tad more circumspect about such a thing? But it works because of the momentum of the pilot's previous 50 or so minutes, and the acting, and the music, etc.

I don't think "Fringe" sold its silliness as well as "Alias" did (just talking in terms of the pilots -- I missed tonight's episode by the way, so if you saw it, NO SPOILERS. Somebody DVR'd it for me...). But it's definitely the same aesthetic at work ... I don't know if it's the silliness that *makes* it kind of cool, or if it's SO cool it's silly, or if the coolness masks or writes over the silliness ... but somehow, it works for me. (With the caveat that with "Alias," it REALLY worked for me. With "Fringe," it *pretty much* worked for me.)

neilshyminsky said...

I never got into Alias. No reason, really - I just didn't watch.

As for Fringe - I haven't decided whether I'll watch the second episode or not. I just seem to be getting increasingly indifferent toward it. But CTV, which is the parent company of its Canadian broadcaster, often streams shows that it wants people to latch on to, so if they've done that...