Tag Archives: Fall 2008

Series Premiere: Fringe – “Pilot”

“Pilot”

September 9th, 2008

One of the fascinating things about Fringe is that, at its core, it is many things we normally associate with lesser television series. It’s blindly derivative of The X-Files, is a procedural in an era where the term is a dirty word, and J.J. Abrams’ creative influence feels like a simplified version of Alias. Combine with a rather outrageous sense of psuedoscience that takes some time to get into, and there’s plenty of reasons why Fringe could have been a disappointment.

But it’s not: from the opening scene, Fringe raises a central question that begs an answer, a scientific mystery that is caught up in something very large and, most importantly, something very real. I don’t mean real in the sense that this exists within our own universe, but that it is not some conspiracy trapped within pure shadows: yes, there is definite mystery, but the actual structure of the series represents a clear and, at least generally speaking, easy to follow setup in which these questions can be answered.

While this does mean that the show will not be quite the action-based and serialized rollercoaster that Lost or Alias were on occasion, it more importantly allows the show to focus on other things. In particular, there is some very strong character work throughout the episode, with strong performances and good scripting creating both interpersonal relationships and personal motivations that drive the action forward. While the result is a pilot that lacks the same punch as Abrams’ previous projects, it might actually be a better pilot at foregoing a few twists and turns (not that the ones in the episode are poor) in favour of building a sustainable foundation for the future.

Plus: that dude’s jaw totally just melted off.

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What’s Cultural Learnings Watching?: The New Shows of Fall 2008

To be honest, I’m in over my head answering the question of what shows I’ll be covering this fall. Not only am I extremely busy at the moment (Hence why I’m behind on Mad Men, Burn Notice, Greek, etc.), but we know extremely little about what’s to come. With a rushed pilot season, we have less information and fewer options, a combination that has me going blind. When you bundle this with the “relaunch” phenomenon I’ll discuss later this week, you have a sense that new shows aren’t going to be dominating our television viewing schedule.

But, there’s a few that are on my radar for varying reasons, and ones that I’ll be covering in some detail – others will probably be watched once, and could join the lineup in time.

Fringe (Fox, Tuesday September 9th, 8pm)

I previewed the 90-minute pilot earlier in the summer, and I think the same of it now: this is the fall show that feels most like something I’d want to watch every week, to get wrapped up in and think about long after I’ve watched it. While I love Lost and Alias’ pilots, I find this creation to be Abrams’ most recognizably serial: the setup is less personal and more situational, which could definitely benefit its long term stability compared to Alias’ eventual departure from the rails. Abrams’ shows all seem to be about characters intertwined in something bigger than them, but this group is yet another in the long list of people who we want to see go through these trials.

90210 (The CW, Tuesday September 2nd, 8pm)

Yes, it isn’t being screened for critics, and there are certainly questions about its quality, but I can’t help but think that The CW’s great hope is something to watch this fall. Ignoring the subject matter, which I admittedly enjoy as a guilty pleasure, it stars Tristan Wilds (Michael from ‘The Wire’) and Jessica Walter (Lucille from ‘Arrested Development’); this kind of pedigree can’t go unnoticed. I’m a bit too young to have been sucked into the phenomenon on which the show is based, but there still is room for a show like this should The CW pull it off.

The Ex List (CBS, Friday October 3rd, 9pm)

After doing some really great work on Grey’s Anatomy (as trauma victim and facial reconstruction patient Eva) before her character was sent to crazy town towards the end of the fourth season, Elizabeth Reaser has earned at least some of my loyalty. Combine with Diane Ruggierio, late of Veronica Mars, and you have a potentially engaging combination for a more light-hearted romantic comedy option. The show, which follows a woman who is told that she has already met her true love and must sort through her ex-boyfriends in search of the individual, is the kind of series that could be smart enough to overcome its sappy concept. I am hoping for appeal similar to Samantha Who?, a show that is carried by its star and some strong supporting work.

Life on Mars (ABC, Thursday October 9th, 10pm)

For those following the history of this American adaptation of the hit British series, there’s like ten reasons to be concerned: David E. Kelley fights battle with studio while pilot is shot, new showrunners step in and dump most of the cast, and an entirely new cast is just recently completing a new pilot, with a whole new direction from the one ABC originally greenlit. It could work out in quite an intriguing fashion, though – while the showrunners from October Road bring little experience, they have brought a cast featuring Harvey Keitel and Michael Impirioli. For that reason, and for the potential in the story, I’m tuning in for now.

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Pilot Preview: HBO’s “True Blood”

“True Blood”

Fall 2008 Pilot Preview

[As per pilot screener regulations, this is a preview and not a review. The content of the series may change between now and the show’s official airing, so all thoughts are of a preliminary nature pending said changes. For a full review, tune in for the show’s September premiere.]

Having recently made my way into Six Feet Under’s fifth season, I’ve started to better understand the work of Alan Ball. That HBO series was known for its dramatic performances, its death-riddled plot points (Seriously, a lot of people die), and also its inability (for better or worse) to keep a consistent tone. One moment you’re laughing at two characters, and the next you’re getting punched in the face by a cold reality. It’s a visceral television experience, and one that I’m still kind of torn on. I’m capable of appreciating the work I’m seeing, but there’s something that keeps me from really engaging with it, likely out of fear of “getting hurt” in the process.

That left me at least mildly tentative heading into Ball’s latest project, an adaptation of the Southern Vampire novels by Charlaine Harris. HBO’s True Blood is the story of Sookie Stackhouse, a young waitress with a special power who is making a living in an exciting time for America. Vampires have “come out” as it were, emerging as real citizens with their own lobbyists after the Japanese were able to manufacture synthetic blood that “suits their dietary needs.” It’s a strong setup that seems like it’s got a lot of broad potential, but it’s intriguing to see that its trajectory is far more fantastical than I had imagined.

And that, I think, is a good thing considering Ball’s history in television.

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