It basically tells the ongoing story of a task force thrown together to investigate a conspiracy with the ominous name of "The Pattern". Heading the group is FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv- one of two Aussie actors in the show and a runner-up in the Cate Blanchett look alike/act alike contest), who in the first episode finds that two men may have a clue as to what is going on- one is the head of a Microsoft/General Electric global science conglomerate called Massive Dynamic (because, I guess, Omnitech and Buy-N-Large were already taken)- the other has been institutionalized for 17 years. The only way to get any answers is through either of the two men. So, after being rebuffed by Massive Dynamic, they go for the crazy guy- Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble- the other Aussie, who looks like he could be Danny Huston's father except that John Huston is already in that position. You may remember him as "Denethor" in "The Lord of the Rings". You know, the crazy King who wants to burn his own son alive on a pyre?).
But they can only get Bishop through his roguish son Peter (Joshua "I was Pacey" Jackson) who has a good deal of his dad's smarts, but has gambling debts which have him on the run from the mob. Peter hates his father, blames him for most of his troubles, but you know how persuasive the FBI can be.
So, once they get Walter out, the show proper begins. What I liked about the show was how much they got right without totally ripping off the X-Files. It is a cinematic show, with J.J. Abrams' (the producer of this, plus "Lost", "Alias", the new "Star Trek" film, etc.) brand of pacing and his way with a great opening act. You won't believe you're watching network TV.
So, what's to hate? Not much really. I could've done with less of Mark (the weak link on "Boston Legal") Valley (has he ever played someone who wasn't a stiff? Ever?), but besides that all of the actors are really good especially...
John Noble and Joshua Jackson. Their scenes both crackle and not just with the tension between the characters. Noble as slightly lucid Dr. Bishop is channeling frickin' Vincent Price here with a palpable joy-of-acting that I wish more actors had. And Jackson has taken some Kenneth Branagh "Round Face Actor With Grit" pills (ask for them by name!) reminding me at times like a less ethical Mike Church the character Branagh played in "Dead Again". Joshua Jackson- who knew?
The conspiracy stuff, which after living through the entire run of the X-Files makes my teeth itch usually, is handled very well here, with Blair Brown being the face of corporate evil as a highly placed executive at Massive Dynamics. The head of the company (and former partner of the mad Dr. Bishop) is nowhere to be seen in the pilot, but I imagine he will be good for some sweeps week stunt casting down the line.
If you must see one of these X-Files-ish shows, this is the one.