Abrams’ Fringe provides edgy, supernatural thrills

The two-hour pilot of Fringe managed to hold my interest throughout despite its slightly hackneyed script and somewhat bland acting.

Co-creator J.J. Abrams grabbed my attention with Lost four years ago, and although his new venture in television isn’t nearly as exciting, Fringe presents some cool ideas and shows definite promise for the forthcoming season.

The creators reportedly had $10 million to work on the pilot episode, making it the most expensive pilot in television history, and it shows through creative special effects and large production sets. The sci-fi/mystery television show is often reminiscent of The X-Files, with a dash of mystery à la Lost, and it appears as though it will reveal its plot through the serialization style that has regained popularity in recent years (starting with Lost and revisited by Heroes).

Without careful inspection, the opening of the first episode appears as though it is taken straight from Lost, as an airplane jolts back and forth through heavy turbulence. However, before you instantly discount the show because Lost never interested you, or fall in love with it because you need something to replace Lost until the next season starts back up in January, Fringe quickly separates itself from the island drama and ventures into new territory.

The show continues as a man on the airplane unleashes some sort of rapidly-infecting, tissue-degrading disease, killing everyone on the plane and leaving only bones covered by a thin layer of skin. The FBI are soon on the scene and the story introduces its main character, Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv, uninspired and somewhat forced). The audience learns that she is in a secret relationship with fellow agent John Scott (Mark Valley, clichéd).

It isn’t long before the action kicks in and the two lovers are sent to investigate a potential suspect. In pursuit of the mysterious suspect, Agent Scott falls victim to chemical components of the bioterrorism weapon introduced on the plane. However, doctors retard the advancement of the disease, and the task of saving the seemingly doomed agent rests on Olivia’s shoulders.

Olivia needs the help of Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble, well-cast although slightly over-the-top), who remains in a mental institution after admittance 17 years before.

Visitation rights are only allowed to immediate family, and as a result, Olivia seeks the help of Dr. Bishop’s only remaining family, his genius son Peter (Joshua Jackson, fits well in the role). Peter is using his mental facility to make money in Iraq and is reluctant to return home. However, with a little threatening, Olivia convinces Peter to release his father, and the investigation delves further into the strange and unknown.

Commissioned by the United States military in the seventies, Dr. Bishop was a leading scientist in the area of “fringe” science (or pseudo-science), performing research on a variety of paranormal subjects, including teleportation, telepathy and other science fiction mysteries. Dr. Bishop plans to use his knowledge and prior research to help save Agent Scott. Meanwhile the viewers are introduced to a mysterious corporation named Massive Dynamic and learn of a disturbing trend in paranormal activity, simply referred to as “the pattern.”

The most promising aspects of the show are the numerous possibilities for the plot to interweave strange phenomena with a mythology that constantly keeps the viewer guessing.

However, the bulk of the drama revolves around actress Torv, and her capability to carry a series of this magnitude is highly questionable.

Joshua Jackson, the only familiar face in the show, provides some help, but the pilot would have fared better had the story focused on him as the central character.

I have high hopes for the subsequent episodes, and the final scene of the pilot episode left me wanting more, even though it ended in a manner reminiscent of those edge-of-your-seat Lost episodes.