‘Fringe’: J.J. Abrams chats


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It’s a big week for J.J. Abrams. Wednesday night put all the pieces in place to head into next week’s season finale of ‘Lost.’ ‘Star Trek’ hit theaters Thursday night, and the fan response is just starting to roll in. And last but not least (at least to this Showtracker), ‘Fringe’ concludes its inaugural season Tuesday night at 9/8 central. But when asked about how his day was going, Abrams said it was “wonderful,” though mostly because his oldest was out of school and they got to spend time together.

It almost made me feel bad that he had to pause in the middle of his Friday afternoon to answer a bunch of questions. Almost made me feel bad. I mean, come on. I get to be on a conference call with J.J. Abrams. The kid will be fine. Hollywood children are a tough breed, right?


Of course the first question out of the gate was about Leonard Nimoy. How did they land the iconic actor in the role of William Bell? “Begging,” Abrams joked. He went on that selling the part on ‘Fringe’ was similar to selling Nimoy on returning to the role of Spock on ‘Star Trek.’ They pitched him the idea, and like the plan to reboot the classic franchise, Nimoy also found ‘Fringe’ to be “interesting and intriguing.”

William Bell was originally planned to appear earlier on in the first season, Abrams explained, but as the show progressed, “it tells you as much as you telling it.” “One of the biggest challenges of the first seasons of a show,” he went on, “is finding the pace of the series.” Which seemed to encapsulate Abrams’ overall feelings about the first season of ‘Fringe.’ He said that the first season was “about the setup of this show. The characters. Their roles. Their jobs.” He and his co-creators had a surprising amount planned but in broad strokes, but as the season progressed, “you start to get resistance. Not from an actor or a director or even other rights. The show defines its shape in a strange way.”

Olivia Dunham started as a “guarded, protective woman,” but she’s gotten opportunities, like her sister moving in, to be warmer. When similarities were raised between Olivia and other strong female characters in Abrams projects, he confessed, “I don’t really try to write characters that are strong women. I just write when I can, strong characters. If they happen to be women, then they happen to be women.” Though he admitted to having a good basis for strong female characters in his wife, Katie McGrath. “It’s no coincidence that after I met her I wrote ‘Felicity.’ She reminded me to write things I care about.”

But enough about the sappy stuff, what’s going to happen in the season finale and on into season two?

Abrams called next week’s episode a “massive turning point” for ‘Fringe.’ “The end of one chapter and the start of another.” Among other things, Abrams promised revelations about Peter Bishop. It’s a “piece of Peter’s ultimate story but a huge turning point for the other two as well.” The father/son relationship between the eccentric scientist Walter and his estranged, outlaw-ish son Peter “was at the very beginning one of the things that got all of us excited.” While the Bishops seem to have developed a rhythm, as Abrams put it, he and the show’s writers are giving them more sparks, “setback that will make their working together a little more dynamic. Not so familiar and easy-going.”

Don’t forget the crazy science that will keep on coming. Abrams told us that ‘Fringe’ was “always meant to be a fun, cool and insane representation of what it feels like to live in a world where science seems to be limitless in what it can do.” Last week’s episode introduced us to a sort of alternate reality. A déjà vuniverse, if you will, that Abrams referred to as the “other place.” When asked if time travel will be appearing in ‘Fringe’ since it has seeped into both ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Lost,’ Abrams answered that while ‘Lost’ has focused on travel in time, ‘Fringe’ is more focused in traveling through space.

Keeping the show unique was a big concern for Abrams. Concepts like the “other place” are part of that uniqueness. He pushes to follow the ideas where you can say, “There’s no other show on TV that could do that weird thing.” He said that if you don’t go for those ideas the show becomes “increasingly mundane” or “disposable.” But no matter how far out, Abrams finds reality keeps them in check. “The weirdest part of ‘Fringe,’ as we work on it, pushing the envelope, there’s always a real-life actual story that’s reported that feels almost beyond what we’re playing with.”

Overall, Abrams seemed very excited about the direction of ‘Fringe’ going into its second, 22-episode approved season. He promises a “shift in the fundamental paradigm of the show at the beginning of next season in a very cool way.” “It’s one of those next season beginners that feels thrilling to me.... I can’t wait for them to come back. I can’t wait for them to experience what we’re doing and come back this way.”

I, personally, can’t wait.

-- Andrew Hanson