Sunday, Sep. 07, 2008


In the 1990s, Fox's The X-Files helped make conspiracy paranoia the lingua franca of TV sci-fi. But whereas Mulder and Scully's investigations centered on aliens, the threat in this new creepshow from J. J. Abrams (Lost) comes from government and corporate bioscience. The truth is not out there, but down here.

FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) is called in to investigate a suspected instance of bioterrorism: an airliner has landed in Boston with everyone on board dead of a flesh-melting virus. (I suggest you eat well before watching the pilot.) To assist her, she finds Walter Bishop (John Noble), an institutionalized scientist who once conducted military research in "fringe science" — bio warfare, teleportation and reanimation, with a side of parapsychology. Working with Walter and his black-sheep genius son Peter (Joshua Jackson), she discovers that the incident is part of a chain of events called "The Pattern." Someone is conducting massive, Frankensteinian experiments around the world — with us as the guinea pigs.

The two-hour pilot is fast-paced, chilling and laced with humor, and Noble runs away with the show as the eccentric Walter, rejoining the modern world after decades locked away. (His favorite discovery: SpongeBob.) But maybe the most distinctive thing about Fringe is how much of it there is; Fox has agreed to air the show with half the usual amount of commercial time. A TV network willingly giving up eight minutes of ads per hour? We thought we'd live to see teleportation first.