Generally, when a plane is shown on a prime-time drama, the flight doesn’t end well — especially if the scene plays before the opening credits. J.J. Abrams set the precedent with the hit drama “Lost.” True to form, J.J. Abrams’s new sci-fi thriller “Fringe,” which premiered Tuesday, Sept. 9 on FOX, begins with an ill-fated flight from Germany to the United States. While the plane doesn’t crash onto a mysterious island this time, the flight doesn’t exactly end with a bag of peanuts and a smile.
During the flight, a man injects himself with an insulin pen and is horrified to find it contains a virus strain instead of insulin. The disease quickly infects the rest of the plane, including the pilot and causes everyone on board to become translucent and ill. It is then up to FBI Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) to find the creator of the disease and try to find a cure for her partner and boyfriend, Agent John Scott (Mark Valley). In short, the show is a fresher version of “The X-Files.”
To cure the disease, Olivia must find researcher Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), who did experimentation relating to treatments of the illness. The only problem with this plan is that Walter is in a mental institution, and the only way to get him out is through an immediate family member. Enter Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), son of Walter and fellow genius. After convincing Peter to leave his job in Iraq to visit and free his father from the hospital, Olivia goes through a process in which she is drugged into streaming a conversation between a comatose Scott and herself, where she finds the man who poisoned Scott.
As television premieres go, the episode started off slow, setting up a combative relationship between Olivia and her new boss, Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick). It introduced both Bishops and hinted at the chemistry that they and Olivia may have in upcoming episodes. The premiere established “The Pattern,” a division of unnatural phenomena, thereby setting a theme for the series.
Torv was a good choice to play Olivia, since she is a relatively unknown newcomer from Australia. Her character is strong, independent and stubborn and Torv plays it well. Olivia is competent enough to question someone, jump off a building and submit herself to drugs and paranormal conversations to find a cure for the disease. Unfortunately, the main character lacks the originality that some viewers may expect. In essence, Olivia is a blonde Sydney Bristow (from Abrams’s “Alias”). In contrast, Jackson is wonderful as the loner genius Peter. He slowly grows to accept Olivia’s work, and has just enough angst to be interesting rather than pathetic. His strained relationship with Walter plays out beautifully, as the two work together to restart Walter’s research. Reddick is also fabulous as Phillip. His presence alone is enough to send chills down the back of even a casual viewer.
The show had some great moments — the initial outbreak that infected John, and the scene in which Walter watches “SpongeBob SquarePants” in the company of a cow and a box of Chinese food takeout. The problem with “Fringe” is that it is an amalgamation of other shows and ideas. Its first scene is too obviously straight out of “Lost.” Its main character’s personality and occupation are too similar to those of “Alias,” and “Fringe” has the emotional capacity of “Felicity.” With the title cards of “Heroes” (where the name of the city is part of the scene), and too much “The X-Files” phenomena, “Fringe” lacks necessary spark.
2 out of 4 stars
“Fringe” airs at 9 p.m. Tuesdays on FOX.