George Holz, Fox
Joshua Jackson, left, Anna Torv and John Noble star in "Fringe."

My TV critic pals talked me out of asking the question I really wanted to ask J.J. Abrams during a July press conference to promote the new Fox series "Fringe."

(I embarrass them at times. Imagine that.)

So I'll just have to ask it now.

"Um, Mr. Abrams? After watching the pilot, could you tell me if future episodes will be any less boring?"

I kid you not, I was having trouble staying awake when the pilot was close-circuited to critics. And this is a show I was genuinely looking forward to watching.

"Fringe" gets off to a creepy/gross/ridiculous start. Something causes the passengers and crew of a jetliner headed from Germany to Boston to melt. Literally melt. Like, we see their faces melt away and their jaws drop off.

It's disgusting.

And then the plane full of melted people magically lands itself at Logan Field. Giving FBI special agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) and the rest of officialdom a chance to look inside.

They're grossed out, too.

This turns into an investigation/love story/family drama. Really.

Olivia is working with her boyfriend, John Scott (Mark Valley) to find out what the heck melted those people. And then John gets hit with the same thing and starts to melt ... until he's magically put in some kind of stasis.

(Science fiction is great because you can just make stuff up as you go along.)

Olivia's investigation leads her to Mad Scientist (really!) Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), but he's locked up in a mental hospital. And — the FBI apparently only having superpowers when it's convenient for the script — Olivia has to coerce Noble's son, Pacey ... er, uh, Peter (Joshua Jackson of "Dawson's Creek"), to get her in to see the old man.

After some stunningly bad acting by Jackson, that happens. And soon the three of them are set up in a lab — complete with a cow — trying to figure out what the heck is going on.

(In Pacey's ... er, uh, Jackson's defense, he's handed some really lame lines in the script. But some of his worst scenes were so bad I was certain they'd be reshot before the pilot airs ... and that's apparently not the case.)

And just when you think the show couldn't be any less believable, Olivia is hooked up to wires and submerged in a tank and starts having an out-of-body conversation with John.

I hesitate to tell you much more for fear of giving too much away, but suffice it to say that this 90-minute pilot is an extraordinarily shaky start to what's supposed to the the greatest sci-fi show since "Lost" (another of Abrams' shows) or "The X-Files." Unfortunately, it has more in common with the incomprehensible later seasons of "Alias."

But I hesitate to tell you that all is lost, either. There are some intriguing elements in this show that's supposed to be about "Fringe" science. You know, with Olivia taking on the Mulder role as she battles to prove this stuff really exists.

Hey, there's even a Big Bad Conspiracy of some kind that involves a Big Mysterious Company — it's actually called Massive Dynamic. (Keep an eye out for its corporate logo in seemingly unrelated scenes, conspiracy theorists!)

And there are weird symbols before each commercial break — a leaf or an animal or a hand with six fingers.

Hey, maybe there are aliens!

But if future episodes aren't any less boring than the premiere, how the heck are we going to stay awake in order to figure all this out?


E-mail: [email protected]