Mental note to self: never, ever take a flight with screenwriter J.J. Abrams. He’s the guy who crashed Oceanic Flight 815 onto a tiny Pacific island in Lost. Now he opens his newest television drama, Fringe, with another disastrous flight.
This time a virus breaks out aboard a jet descending into Boston. Nobody survives a rapid, flesh-eating outbreak. Enter FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), called in to investigate as part of an interagency task force.
When her partner, and bed mate, Special Agent John Scott (Mark Valley) falls victim to the virus, Dunham begins a goose chase to the only man who can provide answers, the institutionalised scientist, Dr Walter Bishop (John Noble). Here she meets Bishop’s son Peter (Joshua Jackson) who is convinced his father is too unhinged to assist. Together they make a unique division of the Bureau, The Fringe, dedicated to investigating paranormal and terrorist attacks.
As the 90-minute pilot unfolds, the show becomes a mix of action, drama and science fiction. The most fantastical elements echo Scanners, The X Files and Brainstorm. In some ways it looks like aspiring to become a rejuvenated X Files, with conspiracy theories and bad corporations underpinning much of the storytelling. Dunham also looks set to partner with Peter Bishop – Dawson’s Creek’s ‘Pacey’ looks all grown up now.
Australian actress Anna Torv, who appeared in Secret Life of Us, McLeod’s Daughters and Young Lions, is confident, vulnerable and the glue that holds this together. At times she even looks like a young Cate Blanchett.
Kirk Acevedo and Lance Reddick (two more of the super talented graduates of Oz) appear, and film actress Charlotte Rampling is also due to join.
There are some clever uses of titles as gigantic, two-dimensional letters hang from city buildings. The writing is fairly predictable, but Americans do this genre well with car chases, explosions, twists and jeopardy. In truth, it is closer to Abrams’ Alias than any of his other work, perhaps without the superhero element.
How well it lives with Nine’s audience remains to be seen – ¬other sci-fi shows including Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles and Moonlight didn’t connect with enough of its audience.
For all its hype, and as another follow on from Lost, there is also something about Fringe that left me sitting on the fence. But at least there is enough to come back.