After a couple episodes, I had just about given up on FRINGE, the new paranormal show on Fox TV. The initial salvos seemed too concerned with getting viewers hooked, at the expense of telling good stories. To put it bluntly, the strategy seemed to be: Do not make episodes that audiences enjoy; make episodes that tease them with hints of a long-term story arc, so that they will come back next week. However, FRINGE’s seventh episode, “In Which We Meet Mr. Jones,” was quite a bit better in this regard. Now that the groundwork has been laid, the show seems more comfortable building plots upon the established structure, without belaboring the season-length continuity; a newbie viewer could step in, pick up on what was happening, and maybe even want to come back, just because the show seems entertaining, not because there are questions that still need to be answered.
The somewhat convoluted story has Agent Mitchel Loeb (Chance Kelly) stricken by a nasty internal parasite after carrying out a botched operation (an inside leak apparently warned the criminals). Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Tory) heads to Germany to consult with a prisoner named Jones (Jared Harris) who should know how to kill the parasite, while her colleagues Peter and Walter Bishop (Joshua Jackson and John Noble) stay back in the states, trying to extract information from the brain of a dead man named Joseph Smith, who was killed while attempt to escape from the FBI. Jones will speak to Dunham only if Smith will answer a question. The Bishops succeed in getting the information, which Dunham relays to Jones in exchange for the cure. Before that, however, Jones suggests that the whole situation may be some kind of a set-up – a warning that turns out to be prescient.
Most of the fun of FRINGE derives from Noble’s turn as the literally absent-minded professor – a brilliant man whose techno-babble dialogue is interspersed with random non-sequiturs (gum, mints and fruit salad are his topics du jour this time out). The oddball premises create some neat teasers (this one features something that vaguely resembles a miniature version of Audrey from LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, revealed with surgeons open a Loeb’s chest for heart surgery). Even if the episode has trouble living up to the promise of this memorable opening, at least this time out there is a worthy effort.
Although holding up fairly well on its own as a stand-alone episode, the script cannot resist the temptation to end with a twist intended to set up future story lines, revealing that Loeb (along his wife) is a turncoat who staged his illness in order to get the information that the Bishop’s extracted from Smith. It is actually a nice touch, albeit a tad predictable – the story is set up to cast suspicion on Loeb (his shifty-eyed response when he cannot come up with a plausible suspect for who might be the mole inside the FBI pretty much tells you that he is the mole).
“In Which We Meet Mr. Jones” was not enough to make me a confirmed repeat viewer, but at least it is nice to know that some effort is being made toward reigning in the continuing arc, using it as a basis for telling satisfying stories on a week by week basis, instead of simply stringing viewers along. Some stringing is still part of the strategy, but the show gets bonus points for addressing the frustration over the on-going storyline.
When Dunham complains that too many questions remain, her superior officer delivers a long speech on the subject, instructing her to be happy that she succeeded in saving a man’s life, and that should be enough in the short term, even while her tenacity will keep her searching for answers. It is not hard to imagine that series creators J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci are using this speech as a thinly disguised way of lecturing their audience: Be happy that we resolved this little story, and if you want answers to the open questions, you will have to be patient and keep coming back.
Judging from the pilot episode, producer J. J. Abrams’ new show is just on the fringe of being good. The show is just oddball enough to have a certain charm. Its premise feels familiar (an FBI agent tasked with investigating cases that involved “fringe” science), but it has potential to be interesting. The proceedings are reasonably spooky but not genuinely scary, like someone trying too hard to tell a joke that is not quite as funny as intended. The production values are nice, and there is a certain quirky flavor to the characters, even if they feel a bit stock. The question, really, is whether Abrams and company can abandon their gimmicky formula and concentrate on telling dramatically satisfying stories. Unfortunately, the opening salvo does not provide definitive reason for hope: its story serves less to offer a resolution than to open the door for future episodes. Read More
Japanese kaidan are suffering from a severe case of cinematic over-exposure. The bright light of the projector bulb has burned away most of the mystery surrounding the various yurei, onryo, zashiki-warashi, and jikininki that have haunted the screen since Sadako emerged from her well in 1998’s RING. If there is a “seen it all before” ennui to recent Asian offerings, the American remakes have taken repetition one step further, creating a series of photo duplicates that have been variously air-brushed, blown-up, brightened, blurred, cropped, sharpened, and stylized in a failed attempt to surpass the superiority of the originals. SHUTTER, the latest photographic enlargement of an Asian horror picture, is clearer and sharper than many of its predecessors, but even the most expert re-touching cannot obscure the fact that we have seen it all before – and seen it again – many times. Read More
SHUTTER, the new film starring Joshua Jackson (DAWSON’S CREEK) and Rachael Taylor (TRANSFORMERS) is based on an Asian horror film, as is all too often the case these days. However, there is a difference from the usual remake: the new version is an American-Japanese co-production, based not on a Japanese film but on an excellent effort from Thailand. The screenwriter is American; the director is Japanese, and so is producer Taka Ichise, who gave us the original Japanese versions of RING and JU-ON, as well as their American remakes THE RING and THE GRUDGE. Like THE GRUDGE, the new version of SHUTTER places American characters in Tokyo, where they encounter a Japanese ghost girl who will not go quietly into the afterlife. Read More
Actor Joshua Jackson (DAWSON’S CREEK) was at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood on Friday, promoting his new horror film SHUTTER, which opens March 21. While discussing the challenges of shooting an English-language remake of a Thai ghost story, shot in Tokyo with a Japanese director, Jackson offered some comments on FRINGE, the upcoming sci-fi television series that earned a bit of buzz last year when Fox plunked down big bucks to purchase the spec script for the pilot. Written by J. J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci, all of whom serve as executive producers, the $10-million, two-hour opener of FRINGE stars Jackson as Peter Bishop, the estranged son of Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), who is described as a cross between Albert Einstein and Dr. Frankenstein. The show, which will combine elements of horror, science-fiction, action, and comedy, will focus on a female FBI investigator who teams up with the brilliant but possibly unstable doctor to find rational explanations for apparently preternatural phenomena. FRINGE also pays homage to ALTERED STATES, David Cronenberg’s SCANNERS, and medical science thrillers of Michael Crichton and Robin Cook, with a “slight TWILIGHT ZONE vibe” according to Abrams. Alex Graves directed the pilot. The cast also includes Charlotte Rampling, Kirk Acevedo, Lance Reddick, Mark Valley, and Blair Brown.
Describing his work on the new show, Jackson says, “We’re actually almost finished. We have about a week and a half left. If this movie [SHUTTER] is in the paranormal, that one’s on the outside of normal. It’s the science side of science fiction. It takes the physical world that we live in and goes just past that edge.”
FRINGE sounds like an attempt by Fox to recapture the ratings success of THE X-FILES. The new show will even feature stand-alone episodes, plus a long-term mythology. Jackson, however, indicates that FRINGE is not another series about paranormal investigations.
“X-FILES to me would be a paranormal detective show – these ideas that are slightly outside the rest of our experience,” he explains. “FRINGE takes the world that we all live in and says, ‘What you think you know about this cup, you don’t actually know, because if you look at it from over here, it’s something entirely different.’ That will be the thrust of the show. The physical world that we live in, without the addition of any magic or anything supernatural, is far more than we all see it as being.
FRINGE marks the first television commitment for for Abrams since LOST became a hit. Since then, the Abrams-Kurtzman-Orci team have been busy with the feature films MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III and the upcoming STAR TREK revival. Jackson also has been away from the small screen (not counting a couple episodes of GREY’S ANATOMY), and it took some convincing to get him to sign a six-year contract.
“Working in television is as close to a real job as an actor will ever have, and life has been pretty good for the last five years,” he says of his film career. “So yeah – it took not convincing, but me convincing myself and really making sure that I was ready to make [the commitment]. The crazy thing about television: you’ve got to sign a contract for six years, so you psychologically have to prepare yourself for that amount of time, and then most things don’t make it past the second season. So it might all be over tomorrow. But I had to be really ready to go back.”
Part of the decision was based on the desire to work with Abrams. “He was the reason I was interested in the beginning. He got me to the shore, and then I sort of backed away from the shore a little bit. The guys who wrote STAR TREK for him and TRANSFORMERS, with Rachael [Taylor, who co-stars in SHUTTER], wrote this script, and it’s an incredibly dense two-hour pilot, the likes of which you don’t see…well, you don’t see it in film either, but you really don’t see it in television. It’s really layered to give you the possibility for just about anything from here on out. So that got me into it. It’s a rare type of character – especially in television, but in film as well. Usually, if you’re smart, you are inert, and if you are capable, you’re a moron. Well, this person is a smart, capable person. You put the two together, which is not often the case. You hire the lunk-head guy to go do the stuff, and the guy with the glasses to figure stuff out.”
Jackson has had some opportunity to be creatively involved behind the camera with his film and TV work, directing an episode of DAWSON’S CREEK and serving as executive producer on his recent film ONE WEEK. On FRINGE he was happy to find himself part of a creative team that welcomes input, even on an unofficial level.
“I’m not one of the producers on the show, but as I’m learning, one of the great things about J.J. and his whole company is that they work always with the same people. By promoting from the inside there’s this very open group of people, which is not usually the case. Usually, it’s the Big Brain, and everybody else just does the job.”
Jackson was attracted by the science-fiction aspects of FRINGE, which he sees as a natural progression from his previous small screen roles. “The last time I was on television…the dreams [had] to be smaller about what can happen to the character. But if you can dream it, we can do it on FRINGE. Nothing is taboo. If there is any semblance of an explanation for any phenomenon, it will be in the show. That’s cool.”