Reel Toronto: The Fringe Pilot
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Reel Toronto: The Fringe Pilot

A much-loved TV series comes to town, but only for its first episode.

2013 12 31fringe

As we’ve gradually been talking a bit more about about some of the TV shows that have shot here, we’ve noted that they can generally be divided into two camps: more typical, B-grade material (your Nikitas, Robocops, Relic Hunters, etc.) and quality shows of a more recent vintage (e.g. Hannibal, Suits).

Pilots are often shot months before a show is actually picked up, so sets and other elements of its actual home base have not yet been fully established. When you watch a show over the course of years, you often don’t even realize what an outlier the pilot might have been—but if you’ve ever come across the Seinfeld pilot (to give just one example), you will have noticed the diner is totally different, there’s no Elaine, and Kramer has a different name.

So it’s not surprising that the odd long-running series shoots its pilot up here, and then nothing else. Gilmore Girls, for example, was shot almost entirely on a backlot, but its pilot (which was unaired, but included on DVD releases) was shot in picturesque Unionville. More recently, J.J. Abrams’s big post-Lost small-screen offering, Fringe, came to Toronto for its Boston-set pilot—and there’s plenty of the city to see in it.

2013 12 31 southboston

First rule of Reel Toronto: ignore big huge titles that tell you you’re somewhere you totally aren’t, like South Boston. (Second rule: When watching something with Michael Bay-style editing, the pause and rewind buttons can only be used so many times before you go crazy.) So, here we are, about to start a chase scene in snowy not-Boston.

2013 12 31 ultracare howard

The scene starts with cameras whipping left and right here, in front of a Greek-flag-like awning that might suggest we’re on the Danforth. But it’s actually Howard Street, just east of Sherbourne—you can see that thanks to this split-second glimpse of a 416 number.

2013 12 31 howardchase

They chase this dude after he escapes from his apartment and runs on Howard…

2013 12 3110glenroad

…then past these houses on Glen Road

2013 12 31 acrossbloor down

…then out onto Bloor Street, and down those steps into the valley.

2013 12 31chase dundas bikepost

We love chases where you’re in one place and then randomly somewhere else, like Dundas Street West (complete with very visible Toronto bike post).

2013 12 31ttc go

Car chases also zip by quickly, but in this one, we can spot things that sure look like a couple of our local transit logos in the background.

2013 12 31royalyork

Indeed, you can see here we’re actually on York, right outside the Royal York.

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We then follow the drivers under…

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…and through the York Street underpass

2013 12 31lakeshorechase

…and hang a left onto Lake Shore….

2013 12 31gardinercrash

…where of course we run into a crew doing repair work on the underside of the Gardiner (and smash through it).

2013 12 31mdny

More lies! Okay, this shot of the Massive Dynamic headquarters could actually be from New York, for all we know…

2013 12 31mdext hyatt

….but as Anna Torv gets out of her car, you can see the awning from the Park Hyatt behind her.

2013 12 31md int1

Then, though there’s no exterior shot, we find ourselves inside the geographically contiguous Royal Ontario Museum. Its lobby…

2013 12 31md in2


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…and galleries do seem kind of cool and futuristic without all those old bones and jars and things cluttering them up.

2013 12 31ambulance hyatt

The Hyatt makes another random appearance in the back of this shot. See, through the window? You’re probably wondering how you missed it the first time.

2013 12 31pearson

Oh, and the series opens with this big set-piece out at an airport that—OK, at night they all look about the same. But there’s no reason to suspect this isn’t Pearson.

2013 12 31knox

If all that rather obvious Toronto-ness somehow got by you, it’s a safe bet the U of T stuff didn’t. Here’s Lance Reddick and Anna Torv meeting in the always-photogenic Knox College, pretty much exactly where Colin Farrell and Brian Cranston faced off in Total Recall.

2013 12 31knoxquad

And here they are in the picturesque quad, also seen in a zillion things, including Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle.

2013 12 31UC

The very end of the episode has our heroes coming down the front steps…

2013 12 31ucsteps

…of University College…

2013 12 31conahll

…and then, as the camera circles and circles for no real reason, Convocation Hall comes into view and pretty please can we see it?

2013 12 31cntower

Yes! CN Tower! Even without the donut visible, we’d know that phallic marker of our city anywhere.

And that was it for Fringe. It would never return during the rest of its five-season run. So we only own about 90 minutes of Fringe history, but that still trumps 40-odd hours of Relic Hunter, doesn’t it?

CORRECTION: January 2, 2014, 5:15 PM This post originally stated that the car in the chase scene turns right onto Lake Shore Boulevard, but it actually turns left.