Home > previews > 90210, J. J, and Vern Tessio Return: Fall Previews 2008

90210, J. J, and Vern Tessio Return: Fall Previews 2008

September 5th, 2008 | Jonathan Gray

The Paley Center for Television and Radio in New York is once more doing its Fall Previews, showing pilots for new shows, and, because some networks don’t have many new shows, showing the premiere of some returning new-ish shows. I’m skipping The CW’s tonight, since all they had on offer were 90210, which I saw (and will comment upon below) and Privileged, which is on next week. But last night was FOX’s night, showing the premiere of this season’s Sarah Connor Chronicles, along with pilots for Do Not Disturb and the much-anticipated J. J. Abrams show, Fringe. I’ll discuss the new shows below the fold …

90210

I never was much of a fan of the original (though I was amazed / appalled to remember Nate and The Peach Pit before they were named in the pilot), so my expectations were low. Cognitive dissonance shuddered through my bones to begin with too, all centered on Tristan Wilds. Wilds was superb as one of the four kids in The Wire, and it was profoundly odd to see him transplanted from the streets of West Baltimore to 90210, without a sawn-off shotgun or bag of blow to be seen. More to the point, hearing him spout a silly, bubble-gum script actually hurt. He’s okay in the pilot, and his character’s okay, but if ever you needed a reminder of the existence of two Americas, look no further than Wilds in the two shows. I couldn’t really get beyond this, therefore, and so every scene involving him became, unintentionally, a critique of the media’s love affair with rich vanilla lifestyles.

That said, the show seems to have all the necessary ingredients to be a guilty pleasure. I’ll be fascinated to see whether it can capture the nostalgia crowd as well as the Gossip Girls of today. For the former, Kelly and Brenda are back, and Kelly’s psycho mother promises to play a large role, unseen in the two-hour premiere, but since one of the new recruits is Kelly’s sister, and since the “next week on” snippet showed her, there’s some continuity. For the new recruits, the kids are skinny and good looking and all capable enough actors, disappointingly so for this viewer: Tori Spelling, Brian Austin Green, and Steve (sorry – he doesn’t deserve me looking him up on IMDb) were all so gloriously horrific that it allowed more camp than this one does. The pilot nails in enough narrative hooks that the guilty pleasure set will likely have to return. I can’t see myself seeking it out, but I might watch it if it was on.

Do Not Disturb

I’m not really sure that multi-cam sitcoms have much life left in them, and this one didn’t really challenge that belief. Admittedly, as I’ve seen in past years, such sitcoms play really poorly on the big screen. And to be fair, it’s really not all that bad. But it’s not all that good, either. I feel like I’ve heard all these jokes, seen all these gags and set-ups, and met these characters many many times before in my life. Between reruns and a childhood in the 80s, I’ve seen so many sitcoms that I don’t think I can stomach them without significant snark anymore, and while I’m sure I’m not wholly representative, I’m also by no means alone.

Anyways, it’s set in a hotel, starring Jerry O’Connell (the guy who nobody thought would be the last of the Stand By Me kids standing, yet proved us all wrong), and at least its pilot based most of its jokes around sex, the need for sex, judgment about sex, the search for sex, and so forth. O’Connell, in other words, is trying to be Jack Ritter (with a slight touch of director Jason Bateman) in the workplace. The cast is quite remarkably diverse, and all seem quite capable. The script’s okay. Some lines were very funny. It even grew on me as the pilot progressed. If I had time to kill and it was on, I wouldn’t flee the room crying and ripping out my eyes (it’s better than According to Jim, in other words). But I’d guess that with nothing special to separate itself from the pack, it will not be long for this world, unless it benefits from wonderful scheduling. Apart from anything else, most sitcoms create sexual tension between characters, whereas this one rushes to hook everyone up, and so I find it hard to imagine where it will go from here.

Fringe

I knew next to nothing about the show going in, having avoided most of the buzz, and the pilot was all the better for it. So with that in mind, I’ll try not to spoil anything with this review. Suffice it to say, though, that I was blown away. J. J. really is the master of the set-up. In a fun nod to Lost (and The Twilight Zone), it begins on an airplane in a storm, with a crisis of sorts that quickly turns really freaky, thereby creating a masterful narrative hook.

It’s an intriguing mix of The X-Files, Alias, Lost, and 24 that boldly ups the gruesome quotient, and that offers a series of interesting, complex characters. Joshua Jackson does a very good job, all grown up. Lance Reddick gave me none of the Tristan Wilds cognitive dissonance mentioned above, since he’s a mix of The Wire’s Lieutenant Daniels and Lost’s Abaddon. Boston Legal’s Ken-doll, Mark Valley, is decent. John Noble really has fun with his role, as do the writers, yet he also finds little ways to ensure he’s got more depth. And Aussie Anna Torv, at the center of the whole thing, offers a superlative performance, showing herself more than ready to carry the show, and a likely contender for Emmys.

The show is so perfectly cult-friendly, and the characters are a huge part of that. They’re all open-ended enough that I can see fanfic writers having a field day with them. The topic matter of the show – fringe science – is a cult staple. Also, while pilots are often way better than the resulting show, the mood created by the excellent camerawork, scripting, and pacing really embed the viewer into this world. Yet a particularly smart addition is Joshua Jackson’s snark – the show asks for viewers to make a pretty big leap in terms of suspension of disbelief, but Jackson’s character struggles with this himself. Thus, just as The Muppet Show and The Simpsons mastered the art of having your stylization (in their case, cheesy feel-good-ness) while paradoxically standing back from it ironically, Fringe navigates its viewers into the world with a continuous escape valve in the form of Jackson’s quips, and in the form of Noble’s amusing one-liners.

Visually, it’s stunning, right down to the cool graphic placement of location announcements that copies the work in the intro sequence of Grand Theft Auto IV. It’s also got twists aplenty. Some of the set-up is painfully clichéd, and the need to transport an audience into another world produces some odd and sloppy exposition. But I still enjoyed it immensely. I haven’t watched much fictional television (other than the GOP speeches, that is) for a while, so this really got me back into the mood, reminding me of what good shows can give you. If you don’t like J. J’s other work, you’ll probably hate this too. It’s not a standard procedural, and J. J’s penchant for mysterious organizations is alive and well. All the same, I’ll be stuck to the television when it starts. Flight 815 has just been joined by Flight 627.

Tags: , , , , , ,

previews , , , , , ,

  1. Bertha
    September 6th, 2008 at 13:44 | #1

    I actually needed a lot more convincing with Anna Torv’s character in Fringe. Loved the others, and the set-up. Also the thought of having x-filish on TV again. :) But somehow her FBI agent needed to convince me more. Then again, I saw the pre-air version so it’d be interesting to see if they made any changes when it premieres over here in Oct.

    Not sure about 90210 though. I watched the original back in the day, but don’t think nostalgia would actually make me invest in this re-make, having lost interest in this particular genre.

    I’m definitely sticking with Fringe though. And looking forward to Whedon’s Dollhouse!

  1. September 12th, 2008 at 11:41 | #1
  2. September 18th, 2008 at 13:56 | #2