J.J. Abrams Makes Everyone Else Look Sleepy

By JOHN HARLOW | Editor-in-Chief

It is typical that Jeffrey Jacob Abrams is a resident in both The Riviera and, as of last April, Rustic Canyon.

Abrams, a Palisades Charter High School alum so rooted in the community, created a wild version of favorite teacher Rose Gilbert as he rebooted the Star Wars universe, has a foot both in the upper echelons of Hollywood (think who else lives in The Riviera) and the funkier world of basic and premium cable television (very canyon, to drag that strained metaphor across the finish line).

I am writing this because every week we look for a Palisadian in the entertainment business to feature in our Reel Pali entertainment feature.

And if we run out of new work by Michael Keaton, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg or Adam Sandler, up goes the newsroom cry: “What is J.J. doing?”

But, scrolling through his IMDBPro entry, it’s starting to get silly. I mean, there are 37 future projects listed—movies, one-off dramas, reboots and a couple of serials that could run into the next century.

Only Ridley Scott  is juggling more—and that grizzled old geezer can reshoot a feature in two weeks flat.

To get a project green-lit in this town is a brutal odyssey. And yet in late January, Abrams was connected with no fewer than three new projects, mostly as producer or executive producer, any one of which might earn him his 21st Primetime Emmy nomination. Or his first Oscar.

If there is a typical Abrams project, it’s a high-concept, sci-fi dysfunctional/ersatz family drama, with convoluted multidimensional mysteries that risk toppling over themselves (“Lost,” “Fringe”) and monsters, even if you do not see the monsters (pace his “Cloverfield” universe).

There are sour voices that mutter Abrams shines most brightly when refurbishing pre-loved franchises, such as “Star Trek” and “Mission Impossible,” lacking a true auteur’s voice like his neighbor Mr. Spielberg.

But they probably wear black polo neck sweaters, smoke Gauloises and do not smile a lot.

Meanwhile, happily, Abrams is everywhere.

His Bad Robot studio produced the code that allows Facebook users to edit video in their Messenger communications.

He ensured that the next “Mission Impossible” will be, for the first time, in vertiginous 3-D.

If 3-D has a future, before it’s eclipsed by virtual or augmented reality, it must ensure we really feel Tom Cruise swinging into a wall.

He is working with Hulu to produce a Stephen King series, “Castle Rock,” which, judging by its cast—Sissey Spacek from “Carrie,” Bill Skarsgård from “It”—is as self-referencing as other Abrams’ joints.

Yet, by Hollywood standards, he is also old school. He plays in a classic narrative sandpit. It is just the distribution that is changing around him.

Abrams reportedly turned down Apple’s sweet offer to finance his next “Cloverfield” entry to go with Netflix. Until the Super Bowl, it was known as “The God Particle”—a commercial halfway through the game revealed it is not only been retitled “The Cloverfield Paradox,” but also it is suddenly available through the streaming service.

Before we get carried away, Abrams is not TV’s own God Particle: Monday morning reviews for “Paradox” were not positive. Many of his projects, like everyone else’s in this industry, fail to launch.

Where are those features based upon his past woman-strong creations “Felicity” and “Alias”—rumor is neighbor Jennifer Garner will work for chickenfeed.

And, glad to report, a feature based on the toy “Micronauts,” which sounded like a louder version of “Transformers,” is no longer slated in Abrams’ toy-filled studio in Santa Monica. (Abrams may send characters lightyears to work, but as a family man he prefers a short commute.)

He is an old-fashioned showman. A Cecil B. DeMille for our age.

Not bad for a guy who graduated determined to be a dentist.

Maybe that ambition has come obliquely true. After producing $10 billion worth of entertainments, Abrams always gives the world something to smile about.

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