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Explore the Small Screen Side of THE FORCE AWAKENS Director J.J. Abrams

There’s one name on the lips of Hollywood this month—J.J. Abrams. Is he the only hope for the Disney-owned Star Wars universe? Will he bring balance to the force of this franchise? We can only wait and see.

In the meantime, there have been signs of his well-deserved directorial uprising, and I’m not just talking about his major blockbuster films of the past decade. Abrams, a Sarah Lawrence alumnus, has been a force of creative multitudes for years as a writer, producer, composer, and director of four long-term small screen gems. We hope you can relive your television memories (or create new ones) with these specifically exceptional shows, brought to you by the mind of J.J. Abrams.

Felicity (1998–2002)

felicity-cast-which-new-star-wars-episode-7-cast-member-is-totally-j-j-abrams-lucky-charm-jpeg-134661The 1990s wouldn’t be the same without fan favorite network dramas and sitcoms. Felicity was among the cream of the ’90s crop and part of the WB’s nighttime-lineup of family-friendly dramas.

Felicity wasn’t always about smiles and goofy young adult mishaps, though. Things got real for many of the characters during its four-season run. Abrams, and his team of writers and producers (including Brain Grazer), mimicked the four-year college experience by fashioning each season to the four years it generally takes attends college—Freshmen, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior. Curly-haired Felicity, played by Keri Russell, held her own as one of hundreds of students attending a faux-New York University, renamed the University of New York. Year after year, she struggled through tricky finals, jobs, and yes, romance.

Ben Covington (Scott Speedman) and Noel Crane (Scott Foley) were Felicity’s two main love-interests throughout the series, but let’s not reduce them to mere eye-candy. Ben and Noel turned out to be two major catalysts for the series’ finale, a fascinating two-episode arc involving time travel.

The rest of the large recurring cast also supported Felicity in her expedition, as well as their own, towards some resemblance of adulthood in the big city. And as a result, all of the characters are deeply intrinsic to the series. From the start Abrams and co-creator Matt Reeves had their minds set on making all the characters of Felicity matter to the show’s bigger picture, and each episode reflected that mindset.

One could say that with Force Awakens, Abrams took this similarly inclusive approach with its own gigantic list of characters. From the new cast and characters to the returning ones, Abrams had to make a clear distinction that everyone in his Force Awakens vision matters to the entire Star Wars universe.

Alias (2001–2006)

65154_229_47 - ALIAS -From J.J. Abrams, the creator of "Felicity," comes this thoroughly contemporary, high-octane series. Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) is a vivacious, athletic grad student, who has a not-so-typical after-school job: she's an agent for SD-6, a top-secret division of the CIA. Revealing her secret is verboten, and if there's one rule you don't break -- this is the one. But Sydney breaks it, and suddenly her world is spun terrifyingly sideways: Her boyfriend's life is now in grave danger, and Sydney's in a fight for her own life. She also discovers that her long-estranged father, Jack (Victor Garber), is also SD-6 and that the organization might be covering up a secretly nefarious plan. "Alias" will air Sundays at 9:00 p.m. on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/NORMAN JEAN ROY) RON RIFKIN, VICTOR GARBOR, BRADLEY COOPER, JENNIFER GARNER, MICHAEL VARTAN, CARL LUMBLEY, MERRIN DUNGY, KEVIN WIESMANSpies, lies, and Rambaldi—this is the essence of one of the greatest contemporary spy dramas on television. Fresh off the family-friendly boat with Felicity, Abrams and his team crafted a world of intrigue for adults, much like the televised Mission Impossible series from the 1960s. (Not so ironically, considering Abrams returned to the form for the Mission Impossible film series.)

In 2001, Abrams and Bryan Burk (now co-producer of Force Awakens with Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy) created the production company Bad Robot, with Alias being the company’s first major television success. (Bad Robot is now a producing company, along with LucasFilm, for Force Awakens.) For five seasons Jennifer Garner played agent Sydney Bristow, a graduate student-turned-double-agent-turned-black-ops-member, thrown into numerous situations that require — you guessed it —different aliases. The unforgettable cast who portrayed formidable characters included Victor Garber, Ron Rifkin, Bradley Cooper, and Lena Olin.

What makes this series a special Abrams creation was the attention to detail in each season, leading to satisfying cliffhangers and, ultimately, a definitive series finale. There’s a reason why an Alias film hasn’t been largely demanded by its fans or the actors: the show carried onwards to a fairly even (despite some casting bumps in the final fifth season) ending. Overall, Alias was an extremely rewarding and definitive TV show.

For Force Awakens, we can surely expect a cliffhanger ending, much like the installments before. But given Abrams’ time with Alias, hopefully he erred on the side of pleasurable delay rather than perplexing anxiety (until director Rian Johnson takes over for Episode VIII). Additionally, the action scenes from Alias are constructed and filmed with lots of finesse: with any luck, Abrams also included some of this action-chutzpah in Force Awakens.

Lost (2004–2010)

LOST - ABC's "Lost" stars Michael Emerson as Ben, Evangeline Lilly as Kate, Josh Holloway as Sawyer, Emilie de Ravin as Claire, Dominic Monaghan as Charlie, Matthew Fox as Jack, Naveen Andrews as Sayid, Terry O-Quinn as Locke, Yunjin Kim as Sun, Henry Ian Cusick as Desmond, Jorge Garcia as Hurley, Daniel Dae Kim as Jin and Elizabeth Mitchell as Juliet. (ABC/BOB D'AMICO)The show which birthed dozens of memes and elaborate fan theories was in fact one of Abrams most popular (and divisive, depending on the kind of fan you are) television shows. The cast is humongous. The island is iconic. And the plot? Well, let’s just say it was neither here nor there throughout its entire 6-season run.

Abrams, along with co-creators Damon Lindelof and Jeffrey Lieber, had another huge cast and character list to manage and showcase in Lost. While Alias was satisfying to the end, the series finale for Lost proved to be troublesome for many. But despite the pitfalls, Lost helped Abrams learn to work on location with a volatile climate. Hawaii isn’t exactly the ideal spot for filming an ongoing series, as natural occurrences roam over the set almost weekly. In The Force Awakens, filming took place across the U.S., U.K., Ireland, and the deserts of Abu Dhabi. And instead of heavy green-screen reliance, each beautiful but challenging location will add realistic atmosphere for audiences — much like the original trilogy did.

After Lost surely Abrams learned a thing or two about dealing with a “live” set. And when you look at it, Lost was actually the first chance Abrams had at constructing a long-running mythos deep inside of the series. While Alias remained fairly user-friendly, Lost was almost too expansive for primetime TV. The Force Awakens, however, fits right into its colossal medium as a large-scale, living universe. Abrams can expand to his heart’s contend.

Fringe (2008–2013)

fringe_season_2_cast_photos-6Abrams’ definitive blast of sci-fi creativity began when Fringe premiered on Fox in 2008. I, for one, was skeptical when this show started out, but given the right amount of time and patience, this 5-season series deserves a lot of respect. Labeled as a  love-child of The X-Files and The Twilight Zone, Fringe was created by Abrams, Roberto Orci (Xena, Alias, Sleepy Hollow, and the Star Trek films), and Alex Kurtzman (nearly the same filmography as Orci) to handle new scenarios every episode. Yet the deeper distinction, like all of Abrams’ TV shows, was the close-knit characters reacting to the bizarre world around them.

As the title implies, Fringe was largely about fringe science and the thinkers in this speculative area of study. The genius in this series happened in the storytelling, the “what-ifs” and “whys” of strange occurrences in human existence. The mythology of Fringe is intense (and I’m not even going to try and condense it into words, because I still haven’t even begun to understand it all), but the characters made these situations seem realistic.

Even naming a few of the reoccurring cast and characters—like John Noble as Dr. Walter Bishop, Joshua Jackson as Peter Bishop, Lance Reddick as Phillip Broyles, Anna Torv as Olivia Dunham, and Jasika Nicole as Astrid Farnsworth—should be enough to demand the attention of most discerning audiences. These actors were all remarkably fresh, witty, and interesting, and remained so until the last season.

Fringe is the show which gives me the most hope for The Force Awakens. Heartfelt ideas were the driving force behind each episode of Fringe. How did Abrams and his creative team rebuild the universe of one of the most beloved sci-fi series ever created? They had ideas and they listened to their imaginations for The Force Awakens.

One last small-screen gem J.J. Abrams learned from his four tv shows? The fans keep the series alive. From followers of Felicity to Fringe, Abrams is one of the most informed writer/directors of his audience. He’s an honest fan of the Star Wars universe; he understands us. We all want a Star Wars sequel to be proud of, one to keep the legacy of the original trilogy alive.

So, of which J.J. Abrams tv show are you a fan? Let us know in the comments below (and here’s hoping The Force Awakens makes us all proud)!

Image Credits: The WB, ABC, FOX
Featured Image: Joi/Flickr via Creative Commons


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