I've been a fan of Abrams' genre work since the pilot of "Alias". I loved the Milo Rambaldi mythology and how it gave depth to what was, in essence, a show designed to toss Jennifer Garner into hot sexy outfits on a regular basis. "Lost" has been a deeper evolution of the "secret history" concept, where the impact of hidden reality is seen through less specialized eyes. If this pilot is a fair representative of what's to come, "Fringe" takes many of the same elements into a different and more immediate direction.
Much has been made of the fact that the series is very similar to "The X-Files", and that is certainly true. There's also a distinct "Twin Peaks" and "Altered States" vibe to the entire production. Add those, along with "Alias" and "Lost", to the DNA of the series, and one might wonder if Abrams and his acolytes are riffing on the elements of their own success a bit too much.
I don't see it that way. I see JJ Abrams and Joss Whedon in a similar light. Both have a dedicated core of writers, actors, and production partners, all of whom work to take ideas and give them the Abrams or Whedon spin. Just as it's easy to recognize a Whedon production by its common elements, regardless of premise, it's easy to recognize an Abrams property. Abrams is interested in taking beloved concepts and making them about hidden truths and secret connections. And just as I will read anything written by certain authors, no matter how similar they all are in the long run, I share Abrams' obsession with the unusual and possibly terrifying reality beneath society's consensus fantasy.
While I was a dedicated fan of "The X-Files", I was always frustrated by the lack of commitment to its mythology. The series started without one, then Chris Carter finally developed an arc, only to extend that beyond its intended lifespan. Unfortunately, that mythology was only tangential to most of the episodes. The result was an uneven treatment of character and plot.
"Fringe" looks to overcome that issue by establishing a framework around the disturbing events to come, right from the pilot. It's not just a questionable FBI agent running around looking for the connections that might not even be there. It's an agent who has been pulled, possibly on purpose, into a world of fringe science that is already known to exist. Agent Dunham has resources Agent Mulder never imagined in his wildest dreams, and unlike Mulder, Dunham already knows that there is a Pattern connecting it all.
The premise should allow the writers to tread the episodic/serialized line without too much trouble, avoiding the wild swings that made "The X-Files" so unpredictable. The question is whether or not the writing and acting will hold up their end of the bargain. While the plot was just fine in the pilot, some of the dialogue was atrocious. That didn't help the acting, which was generally favorable. I can't blame an actor for forcing a line that doesn't seem natural.
The production values were quite high, as one would expect from a $10 million effort. The question is whether or not the same level of quality will be seen during the series proper. It was possible on "Lost" because of its unique circumstances and its early success, but "Fringe" is on FOX. It's become a cliche of sorts for genre fans, but FOX is notorious for snap decisions. While this was better than most pilots, and a lot of care was taken in its execution, it will need to start strong and stay strong to gain time to shake out the first season jitters.