I’ve been burned by J.J. Abrams before. The pilot of Alias was a hoot, but the series fell into the realm of the ludicrous by the end of the first season. The pilot of Lost was so much fun I spent my flight the next day imagining who would help me stitch up our fellow passengers and who we would eat, but the show has been a roller coaster ride since (thank goodness last season was an up). I’m not sure what this means for Fringe–since the pilot was a little slow and derivative, will it be in the toilet by the end of the year, or will it have room, free of hype and expectations, to breathe?
The show gets off to an eyebrow-raising start, not because of the airline passengers (here we go again) whose faces are melting off, but because it is so very reminiscent of its superior progenitor, The X-Files. They even use a handprint in the credits and break out the super-powered flashlights. This time around, the troubled FBI agent who believes in the possibilities of the impossible is a woman (newcomer Anna Torv, who, depending on the lighting, looks either like Cate Blanchett or Laura Prepon). The science-genius skeptic is a man in this version, and a gambling addict to boot (Joshua Jackson). The superscientist (and the skeptic’s father) who provides the key insights to their cases was driven mad by his forays into fringe science, meaning Mulder and Scul…er, Dunham and Bishop have to babysit the over-the-edge combination of Frohike, Byers, and Langley. Their version of Assistant Director Skinner might actually be the Cigarette Smoking Man (Lance Reddick of Lost and The Wire). Their version of The Syndicate is a super-corporation run by a woman with a robotic arm. And they revealed their Krycek awfully early in the game.
Also, there is a cow.
The best part (aside from the cow) is John Noble‘s (The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King) nutty professor. While the pilot had nice production values and an Abrams-esque twist, it lacked humor aside from Noble’s attempts to interact with the world outside his mental institution. While Jackson was woeful in this episode, perhaps suggesting he is miscast, he did have some truly atrocious dialogue to sell. If the writing for his character settles in, the relationship between Dunham!Mulder and Bishop!Scully might rise to be nearly as interesting as the senior Bishop’s tenuous hold on reality. They shot frighteningly high right from the top, though–it took even the notoriously reckless Mulder four full seasons to undergo experimental craziness to access untapped regions of his brain. Dunham went for it in the pilot. Where can you go from there?
Still, we have such a soft spot for The X-Files (and for Abrams, who weaves a fun yarn and looks like he could shop in the juniors section) that we’re willing to see where this ride takes us, at least for a while. If the cow turns out to be Dunham’s long-lost sister, however, we’re gone.