It’s odd that this article should be about Fringe, isn’t it? I mean, it’s on our TVs on a weekly basis on Sky1, it’s produced by American powerhouse Fox and is the creation of J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Alex Orci, the brain trust behind things like Lost, Alias and the Star Trek reboot. And, yet, no one seems to be watching.
It’s one of those shows that, when spring renewal season blossoms, is always on the chopping board due to its high production costs and relatively low live viewing figures. After its first season leveled off at an impressive average of 10 million viewers in the States, it all went downhill with the fourth season sitting on an underwhelming 3 million. UK figures on Sky aren’t particularly hot, either.
But that’s what I’m here to address. With Fringe once again sitting on the brink of cancellation, I think it’s time to gather a few more viewers to this wonderful show. (It’s not all doom and gloom, however, as On-Demand figures are often pretty decent).
Let’s start at the beginning. Fringe suffered from an identity crisis in Season 1. I’m not going to lie to you. The first batch of episodes, whilst good, isn’t on the same level as the rest. If you’re familiar with the woeful Alcatraz, consider the first half of Fringe’s premier season as a better version of that – a ‘monster of the week’ show, with a vague and intriguing lore hiding bashfully behind the surface. This formula was misguided. Critically too, this didn’t fair well, with many people claiming it was too naively following in the footsteps of its clear influences – The X-Files, LOST, The Twilight Zone – without establishing an identity for itself. And yet – thankfully – , the whole staff of Fringe had their ears to the ground and quickly changed it up, transforming the show from an enjoyable yet shallow watch into one of – if not the – most interesting and surprising shows on television. By the time you reach episode 7, In Which We Reach Mr. Jones, all the elements have become to come together. And it only gets better from there.
Fringe centers on FBI agent Olivia Dunham (played by the wonderful Anna Torv) who is charged to head up the new Fringe division, to investigate the ever-increasing occurrences of The Pattern, a seemingly intertwined series of fringe science events. To assist her in her investigation, Olivia hires the Bishop family, the institutionalised Walter (John Noble) and his son Peter (Joshua Jackson), who both may or may not have some connection to everything that is happening. This central cast (as well as Lance Reddick’s Sergeant Broyles and Jasika Nicole’s Astrid) develops quite fantastic chemistry and a lot of this goes down to the affecting script, which never allows the heavy sci-fi themes to become alienating. John Noble’s Walter, in particular, becomes the funniest, craziest, saddest excuse for a human being on television. His emotional journey from ‘deliciously insane’ (Noble’s words) scientist to sympathetic father is one of the finest you will ever watch on television. By the time you get to the episode Peter in Season 2, you’ll agree. Trust me on that one.
The other cast members are also fantastic, balancing their character’s connections with Fringe’s infrequent (but irritating) dips back into ‘monster of the week’ show with wonderful poise. When the show forgets its origins, which it does 90% of each season, it happily goes where no sci-fi show has gone before.
Think of Fringe as a modern day X-Files, equal (if not superior) in acting, inspiration, writing and production values. Its only real problem is that it isn’t new. Yes, these sorts of shows have been done before – but never with so much heart. Borrowing lessons from LOST, the show does answer questions it presents, whilst taking the viewers on a ride they won’t forget. By the time season 1 wraps up, it’ll be obvious that this show doesn’t want to tease you in with endless mysteries. Everything comes together, everything is constantly renewed. Without spoiling anything – which would be a sin in an article like this – Fringe has a wonderful knack of self-renewal, with each season developing on the previous in new and surprising ways. Whilst at times baffling in its complexities, Fringe constantly proves itself to be a worthy watch by its sheer breadth of variety. You have your wonderful emotional pay-off episodes (Peter, White Tulip), the sci-fi heavy episodes (Pilot, August), the stylized episodes (Olivia. In the Lab. With the Revolver, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide), all of which are fundamentally different in approach and scope but pulled off with equal aplomb.
How can I sell this more? Critically, Fringe has never had a problem; so don’t take the average viewing figures as a sign of an unfulfilling show. It has a very loyal fan base that watches it for its mystery, its characters, its surprisingly delightful humour (Noble is almost a laugh a scene), its sense of reinvention, its ability to tie-up loose ends (something I’m sure many people reading this will appreciate). If you’ve been hankering for a sci-fi show with a bit of soul, and disappointed by recent fodder like Alcatraz and FlashForward (… Christ), then get yourselves to Amazon, HMV, wherever, and pick up the box set immediately. Then tune into Sky1 for the Season 4, which is shaping up to be just as bizarrely unique as the three that came before. – Oh! And one more thing, due to the great relationship Fox seems to have with Fringe, don’t think that Fringe won’t be given time to wrap up its story in a satisfactory way. If it gets the cull, it’ll be done so in good time to complete their narrative.
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