The Lost season-four finale is all the rage with the kids today, but I would be remiss if I didn't report at least a few of my findings from yesterday's Fringe screening at the Fox lot.
Long story short? It's super.
Want the long story long? Click in for what Fringe is about, why it's great and what unanswered questions from this series are going to be torturing us come fall on Fox...
What Is It? FBI Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) finds herself entangled in an investigation of a series of paranormal crimes and mysteries. Many or all of these happenings appear to be related to the dirty work of an evil genius. To solve these mysteries and crimes, she must work with a similiar genius, only the one on her side (John Noble) is incarcerated, insane and of indeterminate moral orientation. His miscreant adult son (Joshua Jackson) is the only who can, well, "speak Walter," meaning that he is the only one equipped to interpret the man's mad mutterings.
Sure to have procedural elements as well as an ongoing myth arc, Fringe buffers its horror-show edge with a fair portion of comedy, an undercurrent of romance and some nice action sequences as the basis for a lot of interesting character interaction, as Dunham puts together a motley team of investigators and scientists (including the marvelous Kirk Avecedo) to help take on the bogeyman behind the curtain.
Is It Good? Have you seen the Alias pilot? How about the Lost pilot? Did you think those were OK? If yes, you'll like this. It is of equivalent quality, if perhaps a bit less grandiose than the Lost pilot. Still, the story structure of Fringe feels perfect. All the narrative pieces that need to fit together, in the end, do. Guns placed on tables in act I go off in act III. Loose ends are tied up or are drawn out enough to be a season-long story threads. Anna Torv's Olivia Dunham is a woman of substance and grace. Joshua Jackson, for his part, is what they call laugh-out-loud funny.
What Happens? We were asked to neither review Fringe (at this stage) nor to give away key plot points, which limits discussion topics to a certain extent, but I thought the smattering of teases below might be of interest. However, to summarize the high points, the passengers of a transatlantic 747 flight are turning into melting messes—I call them snot zombies—and Olivia, an investigator who is at odds with her disdainful superior, is sent off on a wild-goose chase that turns out to be a mission into the midst of the mystery. Now, on to those teases...
Endearments: The dialogue in this pilot is riddled with the kind of patronizing endearments that the ad men of Mad Men can get away with in 1962, but which are just pathetic and old-school in today's work environment. "Sweetheart…honey…baby." (Told you Olivia was having trouble with her boss.) However, even when used derisively, "Sweetheart" in the hands of Joshua Jackson or Lance Reddick (Dunham's dismissive team leader) almost makes a girl wonder if there really is some love behind the word. Does condescension necessarily abrogate a sincere sentiment? Olivia Dunham is not naive enough to think that, and neither am I, but I won't apologize for the wondering...kudos to the script and the actors for adding in all the layers.
Self-Storage Units Are Evil: In movies and television, self-storage units are only used by no-goodnik serial killers and thugs, and in real life, you don't need that much crap. Which is to say: (a) Seriously, self-storage units are evil, and (b) there is a no-goodnik out there in one of those units, and what happens there sets up a chain of events that entangle our heroine personally in what's going down. Keep your eyes peeled during this scene. You'll want to use your memories of it at a later time.
Negative Space Is a Powerful Thing: I don't want to outline it too closely, but there is a "stock" TV scene where two characters face a medical crisis and are rushed into a hospital. As directed and edited together here, it is easily the best and most correct that I have ever seen, both visually and emotionally.
With Apologies to All the Hot Bald Guys: Hairless mammals are creepifying. Snot zombies are grossest of all, but hairless mammals definitely make the "things repellent and horrifying" list generated by this show.
The Titles: As reported elsewhere, the location titles are awesome: Specifically, they are 3-D words in the 2-D space of the show. It's hard to explain, but I feel like I recognize the technology from a Spider-Man movie commercial where, if I recall correctly, the text of movie critics' blurbs hung between the buildings of Manhattan as Spidey swung through the streets. Anyway, the titles look great in general and there is one in particular that has a cute twist, but I won't spoil it for you here.
Mildly Relevant Factoid: Of the five major branches of the U.S. armed forces, the United States Marine Corps branch has the smallest percentage of female personnel. I include this information because based on what I'm deducing about Dunham's backstory, it may be germane.
Crossover! In terms of series style, theme and structure, there's a lot of Alias and X-Files at work here, but there's also a fun little Lost shout-out. Look for it in one of the FBI scenes.
Quibbles: These quibbles are perhaps unfair because this was not a finished copy of the pilot, and/or these are painfully pedantic, and/or they are intentional plot points inserted by the writers, but...
Questions: With any luck, some of these will be answered in the November 2008 sweeps episodes of Fringe:
What else do you want to know? Post in the comments.