So J.J. Abrams, after having given us Felicity, Alias, Lost, Cloverfield, and diving into the Star Trek world with promises to ‘re-imagine’ the franchise, is also executive producing (as well as screenwriting and composing the theme for) a new Fox series called Fringe, along with his frequent collaborators Robert Orci and Alex Kurzman. Since I’ve very recently given up on Bones, which started its leisurely journey over the shark in last season’s finale and has thoroughly chummed the waters with the first four episodes this year), I decided to see if Fringe could make up for Abrams’ screenplay for Armageddon. So far, things look good.
A big part of the premise of the series, as put so succinctly by Blair Brown’s character, Nina Sharp, the somewhat creepy managing director of Massive Dynamics, which seems to be the source of most of the bad stuff that happens in the series, is that ‘science and technology have accelerated to the point that they’re completely out of control’ and, as another character puts it, someone is performing experiments with the whole world as their lab – shades of the downside of the Technological Singularity.
The story lines revolves around FBI agent Olivia Dunham (played by Australian actress Anna Torv), who, by the end of the pilot, ends up working for an inter-departmental task force investigating odd events that seem to be part of a larger something referred to as ‘The Pattern’. Her partners in this are an actual mad scientist (as in released from a mental hospital to help), the scientist’s ne-er-do-well son, a plucky junior FBI agent/lab assistant, and the secretive director of the task force. There are frequent sparring matches with the afore-mentioned creepy corporate figurehead, as well.
As with previous Abrams’ series, there’s a larger story, which is revealed bit by bit, and frequently it is discovered that people are not exactly what they seem at first glance. Which is why I’m not going to offer any spoilers here. I am, though, going to recommend this series for SF fans. Yeah, the science is sometimes a bit dubious (why do you think the series is called ‘Fringe’?), such as when they refer to dextromethorphan as an anti-psychotic instead of the anti-tussive cough suppressant that it really is, and they do deal with things like psychic abilities and the old saw that the last thing a dead person sees is permanently imprinted on their eyeball, but at least they attempt to come up with semi-coherent scientific explanations for these phenomena.
The scripts are generally pretty good, with a nice mix of humorous moments, baffling mysteries, and the ‘ick’ factor (which, I will grant, makes this series not a great choice for the squeamish). John Noble (who you may remember as Denethor in The Lord of the Rings films) is obviously having a wonderful time portraying the mad scientist (sample line: “Splendid! Let’s make some LSD.”), and Joshua Jackson, as Peter Bishop supplies the skeptical Doubting Thomas moments (“Do I need to remind you he’s been in a mental institution for the past 17 years?”) when his father comes up with some particularly bizarre idea (which, of course, ends up being not quite so bizarre by the conclusion of the episode). The whole cast seems pretty solid, and so far, the first three episodes have left me wanting more. So check this one out, folks. You can watch full episodes for free at the Fox website, or purchase down-loadable versions from the iTunes store, if you want to watch the series from the start (which, like watching Lost, is probably a really good idea).
So, does it make up for Armageddon? Well, that’s a pretty tall order, and I’m not sure anything really can, but for me, it’ll do as a partial apology.