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Hercules Appraises J.J. Abrams’
New Sci-Fi FBI Show FRINGE!!

I am – Hercules!!

Fringe 1.1 FAQ What’s it called? “Pilot.” Who’s responsible? Teleplay is credited to the “Alias”-“Mission Impossible III”-“Star Trek” team of J.J. Abrams (“Felicity,” “Lost”) and Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci (“The Island,” “The Legend of Zorro,” “Transformers”). What does Fox say? “When an international flight lands at Boston's Logan Airport and the passengers and crew have all died grisly deaths, FBI Special Agent OLIVIA DUNHAM (newcomer Anna Torv) is called in to investigate. After her partner, Special Agent JOHN SCOTT (Mark Valley, "Boston Legal"), is nearly killed during the investigation, a desperate Olivia searches frantically for someone to help, leading her to DR. WALTER BISHOP (John Noble, "Lord of the Rings"), our generation's Einstein. There's only one catch: he's been institutionalized for the last 17 years, and the only way to question him requires pulling his estranged son PETER (Joshua Jackson, "Dawson's Creek") in to help. When Olivia's investigation leads her to manipulative corporate executive NINA SHARP (Blair Brown, "Altered States"), our unlikely trio along with fellow FBI Agents PHILLIP BROYLES (Lance Reddick, "The Wire"), CHARLIE FRANCIS (Kirk Acevedo, "Oz") and ASTRID FARNSWORTH (Jasika Nicole, "Law & Order: Criminal Intent") will discover that what happened on Flight 627 is only a small piece of a larger, more shocking truth.” The big news? I’d be shocked if we see another fall pilot this year as good as this one. Scary, funny, suspenseful and superslick “Fringe” will fire imaginations and, like the three Abrams-scripted pilots before it, leave viewers craving more. What’s this about “a larger, more shocking truth?” That “larger, more shocking truth” business is interesting, and complicated. The description of superscientist Walter Bishop as “our generation’s Einstein” represents a rare bit of understatement on the part of Fox’s publicity department. Bishop is more like this generation’s Milo Rambaldi, the shadowy 15th century seer/inventor who haunted the events of “Alias” by designing technology he saw in our future. Bishop’s twentysomething son (who turns out to be plenty brainy himself) believes with Sydney Bristow-esque naivety that his chemist father made his living in a basement below Harvard University, “doing research for a toothpaste company.” Aim? Aquafresh? As it happens, Walter Bishop’s lab beneath Harvard had little to do with toothpaste and more to do with rapidly evolving technology into the realm of science fiction. “He was part of a classified U.S. Army experimental program called Kelvin Genetics,” the FBI girl tentatively explains to Bishop’s shocked son about 30 minutes into the 2-hour pilot. “They gave him the resources to do whatever work he wanted.” And all this is somehow tied to the plane mishap? There was “an accident” in that Harvard lab some two decades ago. Ubergenius Bishop was arrested. Bishop’s lab-mate and only confidant was a fellow named William Bell who, sometime subsequent to Bishop’s institutionalization, became the superrich, superfamous and superpowerful founder of a now-$50 billion high-tech defense contractor called Massive Dynamics, which appears to manufacture robots, weapons, proprietary pharmaceuticals, and a host of other modern miracles. And Massive Dynamics (an entity of which the long-sequestered Bishop remained wholly unaware) recently employed someone with an intimate knowledge of what happened on that plane bound for Boston. Say. Didn’t Fox already air a series about FBI agents investigating the uncanny? It did. Will subsequent “Fringe” episodes deal with sentient extraterrestrial crude oil, killer bees or humanoid tapeworms? We learn late in the “Fringe” pilot that what happened on that horrifying flight is somehow tied to a wave of three dozen incidents investigated and “authenticated” over the prior nine months. Dozens of kids who disappeared a decade ago have just begun reappearing, having not aged a day. A mysterious plane carrying a very noisy device apparently appeared in the skies over Asia not long before a tsunami killed 83,000 people. A man woke up from a long coma and began jotting down a seemingly endless stream of numbers – numbers that turned out to be “above top-secret” coordinates for NATO battlegroups stationed in the Pacific. Few are aware of these incidents, but certain U.S. officials are calling them “The Pattern.” Is the “Fringe” pilot as good as the “X-Files” pilot? Ha! The “Fringe” pilot strips its hot blonde FBI girl down to her underwear just before it sticks a cold metal rod in her brain and drops her in a tank full of saltwater. So yes. The pilot also suggests the “Fringe” series will offer more interesting characters and a more persuasive and coherent mythology than did Fox’s earlier sci-fi FBI series. The production values, stunts and special effects are eye-popping and even its superimpositions (showy, floaty text that tells us whether we’re in Boston or Baghdad) are supercool. “Twin Peaks” had FBI agents investigating weird stuff every week, didn’t it? Is the “Fringe” pilot as good as the “Twin Peaks” pilot? Nothing’s as good as the “Twin Peaks” pilot. Is the “Fringe” pilot as good as the Abrams-directed “Alias” and “Lost” pilots? It is not. But those were two of the best pilots ever forged. How rate you “Fringe’s” cast? Terrific top to bottom. Torv and Jackson are compelling and convincing leads. Blair Brown (one of the pilot’s many nods to “Altered States”) is spooky as a creepy Massive Dynamics exec. “Wire” walker Lance Reddick brings beautiful suspicion and disdain to his latest bald-guy-in-charge. And Noble does a spectacular job as the broken brain at the center of the tale – summoning a performance by turns sad and funny and scary. Abrams didn’t direct this pilot, right? Emmy-winning director-producer Alex Graves, whose work has graced “The West Wing,” “The Practice,” “Gideon’s Crossing” and “Journeyman,” helmed the pilot. His work here is striking and exceptional. Isn’t Abrams essentially abandoning “Fringe” as he did “Alias” and “Lost”? I gather Abrams, Kurtzman and Orci all have busy, expensive big-screen careers and will not be actively involved with the series. The good news is Jeff Pinkner, an “Alias” vet who wrote the superb “Lost” episodes “Not In Portland” and “The Man From Tallahassee,” has taken over as series showrunner. This sounds … promising. How long before Fox cancels it? “Fringe’s” lead-in this fall is the megahit “House.” Its lead-in next spring is the super-megahit “American Idol.” “Fringe,” I suspect, is going to be a ratings monster. Fox airs the 2-hour “Fringe” pilot Sept. 9.

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