Fringe, season 1
Friday, July 3, 2009 12:15:03 PM
"How long has he been dead?"
This show was exactly as I expected: Well-made, intricate, cursed with an overabundance of standalone episodes, containing some quite interesting characters, and based on a main plot and premise that is unable to escape the feeling of "haven't I seen this ten times before?" Fringe is another attempt - this one by Lost's J. J. Abrams and two guys who used to work on Hercules and Xena - at the age old "let's do the sci-fi show as a cop-show as well, that'll make it more mainstream"-shtick that's been floating around since The X-files, and as such attempts to, it's pretty well done. That is, though, not saying too much.
To not focus on all the negative right away, I should mention that I absolutely love two of the characters; the brilliant but confused Dr. Walter Bishop and his prodigal jack-of-all-trades son Peter, who between them probably have an IQ higher than Lex Luthor. John Noble and Joshua Jackson bring these awesomely entertaining characters and their complex relationship with each other out and alive in quite impressive performances. They are lucky, though, as their characters are both well thought-out and well written. Some kudos should thus also be given to the three actors rounding out the main cast (Lance Reddick, Kirk Acevedo and Anna Torv), including the main character Olivia Dunham, because they at times actually seem interesting in spite of the writing passing them off as cliches and dreadful bores.
As I seem to have stumbled into the negative again, why don't we look at the structure of the show? Fringe's main problem in my eyes is its slow-paced standalone episode set up. While I understand the need for attracting new viewers through this formula, they endanger themselves of losing old ones. I know several people who stopped three or four episodes in, and had I myself not been a student with a summer vacation to fill, I probably would not have finished this show either. The only season plot of any real interest - predictably enough closely tied to both the Bishop's - was dreadfully apparent after only four episodes, and the hints just kept on flowing. Now, I'm all for foreshadowing, but when the summer finale's big reveal is the same plot-twist I figured out before Christmas, they're not doing it right. It's a very good plot-twist, having vast potential both for emotional character-stuff, and further plot-progression, and it should not have been wasted by spreading it out so slowly that by the time it happened, there was no shock-factor at all left.
The show's science-stuff is very variable. I'm a humanities type of guy, so when I spot obvious scientific impossibilities in the mumbo-jumbo they have Dr. Bishop spew out, that means they are too far-fetched. If you're going to explain everything with pseudo-science, honestly, you need better explanations than what Fringe often offers. However, sometimes it is not too obvious that their theories are all complete ridiculous bullshit, and those times, the show works splendidly - though it is still laughably ridiculous that anyone, regardless of intelligence, would have vast experience in as many thoroughly different fields as Walter Bishop repeatedly demonstrates. I can overlook that, though, in the interest of storytelling convenience. (Also, it makes Walter even more awesome).
All in all, Fringe is a well-made cop-show with a conspiracy-theory standing in for a main plot and science-fiction with a touch of explicit horror scenes standing in for regular criminals. If this sounds interesting, the show's definitely for you. If it doesn't - if, indeed, it sounds unoriginal and trite to the point of yawning, like it does to me - you might want to steer away but for one thing. It's main redeeming feature - and it is indeed very redeeming - is the dialogue, performance and dynamic of the two Bishop-characters, which consistently offers both emotion, drama and humour of high quality. And, by the end of the show, to a less extent the main character Dunham as well, who in all fairness did get some decent character development throughout. I will check out season 2, but unless it improves strongly, this is one show I will not be too sad to have to let go once I'm no longer a full-time student with scores of sparetime.