FOX is expecting Fringe to be a hit. I suppose they have their reasons. J.J. Abrams, Big Hollywood Name, brought Fringe into existence with the help of Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman, Big Hollywood Screenwriters. The staff writers are made up almost entirely of the team that worked on J.J. Abrams ABC series Alias. There is a certain amount of impressive pedigree, then, involved with Fringe, a sci-fi series in the vein of The X-Files. But, considering the lack of big names (Joshua Jackson is not a big name anymore, Dawson’s Creek/Mighty Ducks/Skulls fans, though a resurgence is possible), and the troubled history of of genre shows on FOX (Firefly, for one), I’m going to offer an unpopular and possibly overly pessimistic opinion: Fringe will not be the hit that FOX assumes it will be.
J.J. Abrams is a big name, yes, and he’ is well respected by any fan of genre programming. But, it’s not like his past series were out and out moster, slam dunk hits. Felicity was a mild success for the WB, but had it been on one of the big four networks and got similar number of viewers as it did on the WB, it would have been canceled almost immediately. Alias, Abrams’ next series,was a hit early in its life (not a huge hit, a small one) but it petered out in its later years. The show went through wild swings of critical success, going from darling to utter disappointment more than once. Then, of course, you have Lost, which is still going strong. However, Abrams hasn’t been heavily involved with Lost for years, leaving the duo of Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse to shepherd it along while Abrams went after a big Hollywood career.
Now, J.J. is back to TV with Fringe. FOX will surely hype the hell out of the series as its premiere approaches, though it’s all going to be about the viewers response to the pilot. I’ve gotten the chance to see the pilot and, well, my thoughts are very much mixed. It starts out with a bang, and the ending is especially jarring, setting up the premise well. The middle is boring at parts, but I can forgive that – there was a lot of exposition that needed to be put forth to set the base for the series. The problem I have is with the premise in general – I’m not particularly confident that it will work for a mass audience. There’s a lot of disbelief to be suspended, and the technical jargon and far-fetched ideas are going to be borderline undigestible for some.
Because Fringe is set in the real world, and presents itself in a somewhat gritty manner, the science fiction elements (of which there are many) might be difficult to pull off. The cast lacks star power, and I remain unconvinced by Anna Torv as the lead. It’s almost unfortunate that she’s surrounded by the likes of Joshua Jackson, John Noble and Lance Reddick, who all steal Torv’s thunder on a regular basis in the pilot.
Again, as much as FOX might hype up Fringe, it’s all about getting the viewers in right at the beginning. The pilot needs to lure and then excite the viewers, and I’m not so sure the pilot is good enough to get people amped up for the rest of the season. Even with my worries about the quality of the pilot, I’m still going to give Fringe a shot. After seeing the Fringe panel at Comic-Con, I got the feeling that the series will only improve, and it was cool to find out that Abrams will be significantly involved with production.
Expectations should be tempered. With Abrams, viewers are going to be expecting the second coming of Lost or Alias. If they are, then the pilot will disappoint. I could be wrong, and Fringe could become the breakout hit that FOX is expecting it to be, but consider yourself warned: the potential for failure is much higher than anyone would like to admit.
-Oscar Dahl, BuddyTV Senior Writer
(Image Courtesy of FOX)