Most television shows cater to people with moderate to severe mental retardation. As a result, I don’t watch a lot of television. When you are constantly bombarded with crap like: The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: Antarctica, CSI: NCIS: SVU: Los Angeles, Gray’s Anatomy, Jersey Shore, everything on the CW, and the fifty Kardashians reality shows, there is hardly any reason to turn on a television. Fortunately, I found a reason to watch TV again, the sci-fi series Fringe.
When this began airing in 2008 I figured it would be nothing more than an X-Files rip-off, so I completely dismissed it. Since that time it has garnered a cult following, as well as some critical acclaim, but has stagnated in the ratings. It was recently picked up for a fourth season, but only just barely. It was nearly canceled. Being someone who inevitably gets hooked on unpopular series that get canceled without a proper conclusion, (e.g. Twin Peaks) I decided to check this show out.
Initially, it was an X-Files rip-off. It featured the exploits of FBI Agent Olivia Dunham as she investigated bizarre events known as “The Pattern” which could only be explained by Fringe Science. Fringe Science is the kind of science you wish was real (e.g. teleportation, shapeshifters, telekinesis, etc.) because it’s awesome, but sadly it does not exist in reality. Olivia is aided by mad scientist Dr. Walter Bishop and his son Peter Bishop.
It was glaringly obvious when the series began, the writers had no idea where they were going. The episodes were mostly stand-alone filler. There were common threads running through them (which in later episodes was dropped): the investigation of evil corporation Massive Dynamic, Olivia’s murdered partner/boyfriend John Scott, and this anamolous “Pattern” of mysterious events. Unfortunately, none of these were very interesting. The acting was good, Walter’s character was funny, there was a cool aesthetic design to the series, but overall it was bland bland bland. Considering how much this kind of shit normally pisses me off, I’m surprised I stuck with the show.
Around the halfway point of the first season, the writing started to get a lot better. The stories were more interesting, the action more exciting, and the pacing tauter. Then, with about 5 episodes left, the writers finally figured out where the fuck this series was heading. They established the mythology and revealed it through a series of unique plot twists in the remainder of the season.
The newfound premise of the series was cool: our universe is at war with a parallel universe, and every time something crazy happens in our universe (i.e. The Pattern), it is the result of an attack by the parallel universe. This was a lot better than what they had going before which was: weird shit happens for no explicable reason.
Once the writers had figured this out, they were able to refocus the series. The writing became much sharper, and the majority of the episodes dealt with the ongoing struggle between our universe and theirs. The first season ended on one hell of a cliffhanger, with one of the characters traveling to the other universe. To my surprise, the writers had the balls to show that in the other universe the World Trade Center is still standing. It seems like we aren’t allowed to mention the WTC without making everybody cry like a baby and scold you for mentioning it, so this was actually quite refreshing.
Season two picked up right where the first ended. Fortunately, the show did not lose any momentum. They kept a rather breakneck pace going for a number of episodes. When that story arc finally ended, a new and equally awesome one began. Gone were the old days of shitty filler episodes with no focus. Now we had innovative ideas, cool new stories, and a lot of stuff I’ve never seen in a sci-fi series. Season three continued this trend, as well.
My favorite aspect of Fringe is how we get to see both sides of the equation: the main characters in our universe, their counterparts in the parallel universe, and how events in one universe can directly impact the other. Perhaps one of the best story arcs came when the two Olivias switched universes, and we were left wondering if the real Olivia would get back and how much damage “Faux-livia” would cause. I think that showing both universes has allowed the writing to become more complex and kept things fresher. Best of all, the characters are three-dimensional, have rich interpersonal dynamics, and are very likable.
Fringe isn’t perfect. A lot of the first season is forgettable. However, it makes up for that with the phenomenal second and third seasons. One of the characters conveniently speaks every language on the planet, but since this is a common Hollywood trope, it’s ultimately forgivable. In the third season the characters learn of a Doomsday Device which has been scattered into dozens of pieces and buried around the world. Naturally, they decide to dig up those pieces and put the device together, which is Brik’s Fourth Law of Science Fiction: “You must assemble and activate all Doomsday Devices.” Although, if they didn’t put the damn thing together, there wouldn’t have been much of a story in the third season. Despite these relatively minor shortcomings, Fringe still has a lot to offer. Plus, Leonard Nimoy shows up now and then to guest star, which is definitely a good thing.
No longer can anyone say that Fringe is an X-Files rip-off. It may have started that way, but it has outgrown the shadow of its predecessor. It has its own unique mythology and aesthetic. The writing is sharp, the acting is good, the action scenes are fun, and the overall storyline is fascinating. I would say that at this point Fringe is much better than X-Files was. It is certainly more original and intelligent than any of the other drivel that is currently airing on TV. My hope is that with season four, people actually watch it. If they don’t, it will be doomed to cancellation. Let’s hope it doesn’t get replaced by yet another Kardashians reality show. TV executives think that there can never be too much Kardashians shit on TV.
Now, I know what you’re going to say, “LOL BUT BRIK FRINGE SOUNDS COOL BUT I HAVNT SEEN ANY OF TEH EPISODES SO I CANT WATCH TEH NEW SEASON ON TV ID BETTER JUST WATCH SUM MORE CSI: MIAMI LOL!” Well, I have good news for you. Countering that exact sentiment, the creators of Fringe have posted a series of Youtube videos titled Fringe: Past, Present, and Future which serve to catch up anyone who is curious about the show but doesn’t feel like/have time to watch the previous three seasons. The other great thing about this series is that you don’t need to watch every single episode to understand it, as you would have to with garbage like Lost. You can jump in anywhere, maybe be a little confused, but by the end of the episode be more or less caught up to speed. So now you have no excuse to not watch it.
Fringe is great. If you like sci-fi even a little bit you should watch this series. If you are interested in seeing one of the best shows on television you should watch this. If you like things that are well-written, intelligent, and exciting you should watch this. If you don’t, and you prefer to watch shit instead, check out the CW, there’s probably another Kardashians show on.