Friday, May 23, 2008


A TV Pilot Double Feature Recap + Commentary

Last night Robert and I screened 2 pilots for upcoming shows, Fringe and True Blood. There was some smoking out, a six pack of Mike's Hard Lemonade (it was a weeknight, gimme a break), and a Digiorno Garlic Bread Pepperoni Pizza. Here's what we got out of the evening.

Okay, so I've been excited about this show for a while, since Robert read the script and told me how cool it could potentially be. I mean, it's JJ Abrams. I'm a total Johnny-come-lately fan of his work, I'll admit it. I've yet to get into Lost, but James and I watched the entire series of Alias in under a month, I'd say. Then came Cloverfield. I don't care what people say, I really liked it. Add to that JJ's upcoming Star Trek reboot, and I'm a bonafide follower. So here's Fringe. It's The X-Files for the iPod generation, and surprisingly I mean that as a compliment.


So the ep starts on a plane flying from Germany to Boston. They're in an electrical storm. There's turbulence. Does JJ hate flying? I'm starting to think so. One squirrely-looking passenger dripping with sweat pulls out his briefcase and injects himself with a syringe. Sadly whatever he shot himself with doesn't seem to be helping too much. He jumps out of his seat, freaks out, mass panic on board. But wait...he's starting to look all gross. HE JUST RALPHED IN THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT'S FACE! Nasty. But let's cut to the chase: whatever's wrong with this guy is now airborne, and everyone is screaming and gooey and disgusting. The pilot puts that shit on auto-pilot and turns to see the co-pilot's face melting and his jaw literally falling off. I was surprised that FOX would show this much gore, but I applaud them for it nonetheless. Opening credits. They're alright. I hope they get improved.

Now we're in a motel room. A seedy one at that. A guy and a gal are panting, post bang-bang. The guy's laying there with his arms above his head (
Robert: "He is way too comfortable with his body. Who told him that was okay?"). The gal's cell rings, and she gets called away to her important Homeland Security-ish duties. It's clear from this one scene alone that she is going to be a star. Certainly not because she's a good actress. Absolutely not because she's super pretty. But because she's the female lead in a JJ Abrams show. I envisioned the phone call this actress must have received (Me: "Hey, Suzie Blank-face - wanna be a JJ girl?"). So she bolts, but not before they make with the plot exposition and reveal that this is an office romance. Because those always end so well. She rushes to Logan Airport in Boston/Canada, where the Death Plane has landed itself, thanks to some incredibly handy uber-auto-pilot software. The windows are all bloody, and some unseen investigator puked after looking into the cockpit window. So Agent Blank-face (Olivia Dunham in actuality...I think) suits up in her biohazard suit and boards the Death Plane. Everyone has basically been reduced to skeletons. Some dude she's with asks her "What kind of terrorism is this?" to which she whisper-replies, "What makes you think this is terrorism?" I don't think we can skip directly to the paranormal, sweetheart. But way to get that option out of the way.

Back at her office, she has a run in with her new project manager. His name is Broyles (
Me: "That sounds like a disease.") and he's a tall black guy with an odd, alien-shaped head. There's clearly some tension between them, and it's not sexual or racial. Turns out she narc'd on some of his army buddies back in the day and had them discharged. Broyles holds a grudge. In their honor, I guess. He sends her and her hubby to check out a storage space that may have to do with something or another. They find an entire lab hidden inside an ENORMOUS storage space, with screeching monkeys in cages. It's the real deal. Then - OMG - it's the squirrely guy from the plane! He runs, obviously. Blank-face and Johnny give chase, but then he blows the place up. Blank-face gets thrown against a dumpster and Johnny got the brunt of the chemical explosion.

Uh oh! Johnny's got a less-intense version of the Death Plane syndrome. He's in a drug-induced coma so they can try to figure out what's wrong with him. Blank-face is on her computer, on what I first thought was Google, searching for articles pertaining to Johnny's condition (
Me: "She types in 'tissue damage' and the first result is 'disintegration'?). Then Robert pointed out that it was actually a government agency search engine and I felt better. So it's like this: there's a scientist named Walter Bishop who did experiments with this kinda thing, and then he got arrested after an accident in his lab, and was committed...where he's been for the past 17 years. Broyles ain't tryin' to hear all that, but Blank-face yells at him. All good, except the doctor's visitation is limited to immediate family. Let's go get Joshua Jackson.

He's in Iraq, trying to secure some job for contruction? Development? A lounge act? I don't know, and don't care. Blank-face goes on and on about how they need him so they can see his father, Walter Bishop. Joshua also ain't tryin' to hear all that - until Blank-face waves an imaginary "file" on him over his head. Time to head back to Boston/Canada.

So Bishop's a crazy fuck, but they get him out eventually to examine Johnny. On the car ride over he pisses himself. I'm not joking. Bishop takes a gross skin sample from Johnny, while new character Farnsworth, a speak-when-spoken-to black girl with a stereotypical afro looks on and runs errands for them. Bishop says he needs to get this sample back to his lab to analyze. Except, wait....his lab at Harvard was shut down 17 years ago. Apparently Blank-face can take care of that, which she does, and we keep the plot moving. So now we're at Harvard/Canada, and it turns out that one of the most crowded cities in the U.S. has managed to keep an entire basement level laboratory at Harvard University vacant with all its old equipment intact...but under sheets! Oh no! Thankfully there was no cleaning montage, but they get the place up to snuff long enough to get Blank-face to strip down to her bra and panties. Why? Because it's the
pilot, duh. But also because in order to get the cure for Johnny, Bishop needs to get some of each of the chemicals that Squirrely Guy had in his storage space. But Blank-face didn't see his face, only Johnny did. So Bishop has to put Blank-face under (and mostly naked) in a enclosed tank of water with wires attached to the back of her neck. Then they'll connect her to Johnny in a weird dream state where Blank-face can find the memory Johnny has of Squirrely Guy.

Got all that?

Obviously she does it. Cross-referencing with Farnsworth, we find out that Squirrely Guy from the plane was actually Squirrely Guy from the storage space's twin brother. And the last place he worked was this mega-conglomerate corporation known as Massive Dynamics. JJ hates the man, too. So off goes Agent Blank-face to interrogate the head of Massive Dynamics. She gets a lackey, who's this scary bitch with red-orange hair. She's gives her the information she's looking for, as well as some attitude about how obviously the Death Plane is connected to "the pattern". Blank-face blank faces, and Ms. Flame Head laughs at how clearly she's not cleared to know any more. Oh, and she has a robotic arm. And the offices of Massive Dynamics (
Me: "Maximum Capacity? What's it called?") look like a cross between the Guggenheim and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. And the architect was on psychotropic drugs. I can't wait to keep coming back here.

So Johnny gets the antidote and starts to get better. Aww. Broyles breaks it down to Blank-face, saying that she needs to join his team that investigates these "Fringe Sciences". He knows about the pattern and shares a bit with her. Bottom line - there's fucked up things happening all over the world, the government probably knows about it, and once again the public are just lemmings who are oblivious to all this crazy shit (Me: "The writers of Transformers give us the line 'terrifying terror'"). Massive Dynamics has higher security clearances than the Homeland Security peeps. Is anyone else uncomfortable with this? Well clearly Broyles is, but Blank-face whines that she just wants her old job back. Nice try, but you're already down the rabbit hole. As a quick aside, she looks like shit. All the time. There are some points where she just looks downright UGLY (
Robert: "Hello, Agent SlugWalrus"). Her hair is flat on top (Robert: She needs some volumizer in a big way") she sometimes has freckles, and pretty much always looks like she's exhausted. And don't tell me it's because she's been running all around the world for the past 50 minutes, because she always seems to find a way to display her "hotness". Examining a decomposing body? She doesn't need a mask! Working with the SWAT team to apprehend Squirrely Guy from the storage space? She doesn't need a helmet like everyone else!

Blank-face goes to see Squirrely Guy from the storage space, and he tells her that he can prove that the government was paying him to do his research. Oh, and he killed his twin on purpose, BTW. Blank-face digs up the recording that proves his "innocence" and it turns out he was answering to none other than our favorite Death Plane syndrome survivor (what ribbon color would that be?), Johnny! But wait...Johnny's feeling a lot better now. So much better in fact that he suffocates Squirrely Guy in his hospital bed. Oh well.

So now the hunt is on for Johnny. There's a big exciting chase scene, and finally he gets it. Boo hoo, Blank-face is tortured and upset that he's dead. But it turns out that because of all this mayhem, she'll be sticking around to work with alien-head Broyles, and Bishop and Joshua Jackson will hang out too. I guess Bishop can be of some assistance, and Joshua Jackson has to stick it James Van Der Beek somehow. The Scooby Gang has been assembled!

Back at a morgue, possibly - Ms. Flame Head shows up to see the corpse of dear departed Johnny. She asks the coroner how long he's been dead. He replies, "5 hours."

"Question him."

BOOM! This is where the end credits would have rolled if this weren't a screener. Hot damn, I love it. This has so much potential to be awesome I can't even wrap my brain around it. I like the new Mulder and Scully, but I do need Joshua Jackson's character to stop being such a dick all the time. Farnsworth is shaping up to be my favorite underdog character. She's just so wonderfully marginal. Did I mention that there's a cow named Jean in the lab, too? Farnsworth and Jean are going to go head to head soon to win my affections. I can already tell.

Part II will be coming's a not-as-glowing review of the upcoming HBO vampire drama called
True Blood. Shocking as it may be with those teeth, star Anna Paquin is NOT a vampire. But more on that soon.

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