The discipline known as fringe science deals with theories and concepts on the far outskirts of known possibility. It blurs the line between what is plausible and what is pulp.
That's the line J.J. Abrams hopes to walk with Fringe, the new Fox drama he created with Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. Fringe looks, sounds and feels like sci-fi, but executive producer Abrams (Lost, Alias) is quick to point out that the science in this show is not so easy to dismiss as fiction.
"A lot of what we're talking about is stuff that is at least in the realm of possibility, even though we're definitely pushing it," Abrams said in a recent teleconference. "So some of the stuff that we're talking about now is not as much sci-fi as much as it is just sci.
"Like when Star Trek came out and they had their communicators, that was a cool dream, and now we all in our pockets have communicators and it's just real. So when we're working on an episode and we read as we did a week ago, that invisibility is coming, they think we've cracked invisibility. And you're like, 'OK.' Like the stuff that you just would never in a million years think is actually possible is happening every day."
Fringe stars newcomer Anna Torv as Olivia Dunham, a Boston-based FBI agent recruited by a mysterious homeland security supervisor (The Wire's Lance Reddick) to investigate a series of paranormal events known as "The Pattern." For help, she turns to a brilliant, brain-fried scientist (John Noble) and the only person who can translate his semi-coherent ramblings, his reluctant son (Joshua Jackson).
Though the 90-minute pilot introduced a running plot that involves "The Pattern" and a corporation called Massive Dynamic, Abrams promises Fringe won't demand the week-to-week viewing required to follow his serialized hits like Lost. Obvious inspiration The X-Files pulled this off by bouncing between self-contained stories and episodes that tackled the overarching plot, but Abrams said the best point of comparison is a bit less obvious.
"It's closer to ER almost, where you have these ongoing relationships, these ongoing storylines, and yet week to week when the door bursts open you're faced with the insane urgent situation of the week," he said.
Abrams will probably need to stick to his word to find success. Serialized shows haven't had a long shelf life recently. But with weird science like the Hadron Collider in the news, Fringe seems likely to capture the public's imagination.
"The reality is that we are in a time ... where science is out of control," Abrams said. "Having said that, maybe everything is out of control."