Joshua Jackson delivered many of the funniest one-liners during Thursday (April 23) night’s PaleyFest panel for the FOX drama “Fringe,” but he also came through with the most trenchant observation.
“I’d rather be part of a show that aims for best-ever and comes in second-best ever over a show that aims for mediocrity and achieves it,” Jackson told a full house at the ArcLight Hollywood’s Cinerama Dome.
The PaleyFest crowd was appreciative for all that “Fringe” has attempted to do in its first season, even if the show has sometimes taken a while to hit the creative stride hinted at by its epic $10 million pilot and FOX’s aggressive marketing push this past fall. It was probably too much pressure on a show inspired by a Robert Wagner/Stefanie Powers classic.
“We started at ‘Hart to Hart,'” series co-creator Roberto Orci told Ken Tucker when asked for the show’s origins.
He clarified slightly, “We went back and forth between a mad scientist show and ‘Hart to Hart.'”
Co-creator Alex Kurtzman added, “‘Hart to Hart’ went by the wayside.”
The show’s third co-creator, Paley Festival regular J.J. Abrams, has never shied from acknowledging the show’s myriad other influences, sometimes explicitly referenced classics like “Altered States,” “The X-Files,” “The Twilight Zone” and the early films of David Cronenberg. “Hart to Hart” aside, “Fringe” came from the collaborative trio pondering a central question.
“What is on television now that we want to see?” Kurtzman recalls. “And the answer was a genre show based in character.”
One of the keys for Abrams and company was making a show that was intentionally less mythologically convoluted than either “Lost” or “Alias,” as Orci put it “the idea of learning from procedural shows and mixing it with something more mythological was a challenge for us.”
The episode screened at the Paley event was “The Transformation,” one of the season’s most successful mythology/hybrid episodes, both semi-resolving the ongoing mystery involving Agent Dunham’s (Anna Torv) trailer/not-a-traitor (death/not-so-dead) ex-partner and also introducing the world to the Porcu-Man.
While showrunner Jeff Pinkner says the goal was to be inviting, to say “Come on into the tent and enjoy the show,” most of the questions at the panel revolved around the complicated underlying mythology, the elements beyond just Agent Dunham and the Bishop Boys and their weekly adventures into the paranormal.
[Some spoilers are coming…]
One thing you can never count on Abrams and company to do is give anything resembling a straight answer about much of anything. So the Paley audience learned that Blair Brown’s Nina Sharp will “have an increasingly important role on the show.” OK, I guess. We learned that the Act Out Cards (the glyphs like the embryo-apple) has some meaning, though Orci deadpanned, “It basically works out to ‘Drink Your Ovaltine.'” Sure. That sounds right.
There was more information parsed out, albeit slightly unintentionally, regarding the arrival of Leonard Nimoy as long-awaited Massive Dynamic founder William Bell. The team credited producer Bryan Burk with throwing out Nimoy’s name in the first place, though actor’s work with Abrams, Kurtzman and Orci on the upcoming “Star Trek” reboot was what got the deal done. It had already been relatively public knowledge that Nimoy’s deal isn’t just for a single episode, though Abrams wouldn’t clarify a number of episodes.
One thing we do know now is that Nimoy’s role in the finale isn’t exactly expansive. When the moderator asked John Noble about working with Nimoy, he got an initially blank stare, followed by the response, “I do look forward to the opportunity to work with him next year.”
It appears that the only actor to work with Nimoy thus far is Torv, who admitted to being a little starstruck by the interaction.
Of Nimoy’s interpretation of the Bell character, first heard in last Tuesday’s episode, Pinkner says, “You’re like ‘Now I get it… now I get why he and Walter were lab partners.’ He does it in way that is kind of unexpected and you go ‘Oh my god I know see why these two men simpatico,’ even though one went in an insane asylum and one went on to be one of the richest men in America.”
With few shocking revelations, the Paley event was really about the small highlights, brilliant moments like…
*** The eccentric and hilarious Noble agreeing that the show owes a great debt to the ’60s counterculture movement and pointing out, “You didn’t have to be a hippy to try drugs in the ’60s. I’m not saying it was the right thing, but there was a wave that took you, whether you were a lawyer or a hippy.”
*** The original cow from the pilot was, of course, replaced. But why? “We moved from Toronto to New York and the other cow asked for too much money,” Orci explained, with Jackson interjecting, “But the hamburgers tasted great.” Gene, the new cow, has done such a great job that Jackson says, “There was a theory on set for a while that Gene might be William Bell.” [Bovine humor? Always funny.]
*** Abrams says that the Big Maybe Evil Corporation became Massive Dynamic only because Massive Dynamics had recently been registered as a website domain (and after Prometheus Corp was discarded). “It was me,” Jackson cracked, “I was trying to make a little money on the side.”
*** There’s some resentment among the cast of The Observer and his creepy FOX ubiquity, particular his ability to score NFL tickets. “I couldn’t get a ticket and I’m watching Jumbotron and the godd*** Observer… I’m up in the nosebleeds with the key boy grip…” Jackson recalled. The producers also said that FOX had tried to get The Observer into the crowd at the Obama Inauguration, but it proved too difficult.
*** Jackson — notice that everything comes back to him? — is pretty sure that his Peter slept with Ari Gaynor’s Rachel (Agent Dunham’s sister), but we just didn’t see it. “I got an e-mail from Josh, he says ‘Why is he calling if he isn’t sleeping with her?'” Pinker said, neither confirming nor denying. While Noble wouldn’t mind seeing his on-screen son getting a little action, Jackson pointed out, “If you think about it, Peter isn’t really much of a catch. He’s a 30-year-old man who live in a one-bed hotel room with his father.”
*** After Tucker referred to “American Idol,” the “Fringe” lead-in as “The Spawn of the Devil,” Burk clarified, “It only helps. Everyone should be blessed by ‘American Idol’ as their lead-in,” to which either Kurtzman or Orci cut in, “There can be no good without evil.”
*** Asked whether Peter was becoming the moral compass of the show, Jackson argued, “I don’t think Peter is a moral character himself, but because he’s immoral, he can stand back and tell other people when they’re behaving poorly.” He called his character’s humor “a release valve” for the audience and said, “He’s the cipher. He’s the one who stands back and watches this world.”