Category Archives: Fringe

Fringe – “Peter”

“Peter”

April 1st, 2010

In its promotions for the show, FOX sells Fringe based on the tagline “New Cases. Endless Possibilities.” But what’s interesting, and ultimately enormously compelling, about “Peter” is that the possibilities aren’t endless at all: we know what happened to Peter at the age of 7, and we know the key parties involved, so the show isn’t interested in endless possibilities so much as it is interested in interpreting what we already know.

There’s a challenge in this type of episode, especially for a show that has created such a strong dichotomy between its standalone episodes and its mythology-driven stories; fans may go in expecting answers to big questions, and while “Peter” offers a couple of interesting tidbits and some neat connections it is first and foremost a story about the limits of humanity as opposed to the potential of technology. It is a starkly human story, largely taking for granted its science fiction premise in favour of a fantastic depiction of a man struggling against the inevitable and risking everything to save a life that wasn’t his to save, to right a wrong that was not his fault.

In the process he changed the course of time and space, and this show became both possible and extremely compelling, but for this hour none of that mattered compared to the love shared between parents and their children. “Peter” is a stellar negotiation of Walter Bishop and his dances with the dark side of morality, and in the hands of John Noble and with some nice stylistic flourishes, it is certainly one of the show’s strongest hours, if one that they’ll never be able to duplicate again.

Continue reading

6 Comments

Filed under Fringe

Moving into a Higher Genre Bracket: Consistency and Balance in FOX’s Fringe

Moving into a Higher Genre Bracket

April 1st, 2010

There are some shows that I can honestly say I’ve given up on: I stopped watching shows like Desperate Housewives because it was clearly not going in an interesting direction, and it had long gone past the point where the strength of the performances could carry my attention. However, there are other shows that I stop watching where there isn’t that moment of decision, where I don’t consciously make some sort of decree about it. I didn’t give up on The Mentalist or Grey’s Anatomy so much as I gave up on finding the time to watch them, which is a completely different situation and one that is particularly common on Thursday nights.

And so when I stopped watching Fringe, it wasn’t some sort of judgment on the show’s standalone episodes, or any sort of disappointment with its serialized development. Rather, Thursdays are busy, and the NBC comedy block having become four-strong this year (at least in theory) has made Thursdays busier than ever. Sure, it says something that Fringe was the first show I dropped, but I don’t want to make that out to be some sort of judgment when it wasn’t one.

I’ve spend the past few days catching up on Fringe’s second season, which I dropped after the second episode, and it’s been quite an illuminating experience. When you step away from a show like Fringe for so long, and end up watching it in this sort of condensed fashion, you see a lot of things that you might not have seen before: your perception, in other words, becomes more important (or at least more noteworthy) than reality, fitting considering the role that played in the episodes I had a chance to watch this week.

While some may argue that Fringe is “inconsistent,” I would argue that it is our perception which varies as opposed to the show itself: depending on where we place our expectations, Fringe is either a compelling procedural with a (relatively) complex serialized mythology or a blasé procedural with intermittent signs of serialized intrigue. I don’t think either of these perspectives are wrong, or unfair to the show, but I would argue that it has been pretty consistent in its ambitions in its second season.

And while I don’t necessarily perceive the show as one of television’s finest, I had a lot of “fun” catching up on the show…in fact, I had more fun than I had expected.

Continue reading

4 Comments

Filed under Fringe

Fringe – “Night of Desirable Objects”

fringetitle3

“Night of Desirable Objects”

September 24th, 2009

Thursday night television is, well, a night of desirable objects. With the return of Grey’s Anatomy and CSI, along with FlashForward, FOX’s decision to move Fringe into this competitive timeslot proved temporarily terrifying for J.J. Abrams and company as the show plummeted 23% in overnight ratings. Now, Live+7 numbers will ultimately tell the story of how many people DVR’d the show in order to catch the more buzzworthy Grey’s opener, but it’s like a big old red flag that FOX knew was coming, but that it hoped could be avoided. Bones has nicely situated itself in the once Survivor-dominated 8pm timeslot, and FlashForward dominated the timeslot with its premiere and CSI debuted to its own lowest premiere numbers since likely the first or second season.

What’s unfortunate for Fringe is that “Night of Desirable Objects” isn’t particularly desirable, effectively stopping the long-term storylines dead in favour of presenting a pretty simple (and not overly complex) frightfest along with a slow burn reveal regarding Olivia Dunham. For those who want the show to be a full-fledged television serial, it’s the kind of pace changer that turns them off entirely; meanwhile, for those who are mostly tuning in to see Walter have too much fun investigating dead people and to get some cheap thrills with some characters you enjoy, it was a harmless hour of entertainment that did some good work making Olivia more interesting and perhaps provide some laughs or scares along the way.

As someone who kind of sits in between, it was a not entirely unwelcome change of pace, although one that’s likely to prove an ineffective lure for new viewers.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Fringe

Season Premiere: Fringe – “A New Day in the Old Town”

fringetitle3

“A New Day in the Old Town”

September 17th, 2009

From the very beginning, I’ve said that Fringe is a cross between Alias and The X-Files, two shows that were pretty similar to begin with. While The X-Files leaned more towards the blatantly supernatural, both shows dealt with elements of prophecy which linked investigators with the events transpiring, and each dealt with the impact of bureaucracy on such investigations. So when J.J. Abrams created Fringe, in some ways it was an example of a creator taking an element of one of his earlier shows and simply expanding it into a new arena. There is not a huge leap between Rambaldi and the Pattern, and at various point in Fringe’s first season you could see Abrams (along with Orci, Kurtzman, etc.) tweaking the formula in an effort to avoid what happened to Alias, where serialized storytelling overran any chance of the show maintaining a procedural structure.

But at the end of the first season, Fringe truly came into its own. Once the show started more carefully considering the impact of the pattern and really indulging in its serialized side of things, the show picked up a new head of steam. Early complaints about Anna Torv’s performance mostly melted away, and the show should some skill in how it handled the conclusion of Mark Valley’s time on the show and eventually how it introduced the fairly huge development of an alternate universe. By linking said alternate universe both to Peter’s sense of identity and to Walter’s damaged mental state, and by placing the mystery of William Bell directly within it, it became part of the fabric of the show as opposed to tearing it all apart. When we panned out and discovered the Twin Towers still standing in said universe, it was a shocking moment that showed a series very much in control of its own destiny, and not just a collection of leftover ideas from Alias or The X-Files.

And to be honest, I think “A New Day in the Old Town” is probably a far better episode than I’m about to give it credit for, as its ‘big twist’ fundamentally took me out of the episode and right back into feeling as if this is Alias: Part Two for Abrams, in some respects. While parts of the episode really felt like the show that I came to really enjoy at the end of last season, there were other parts which were designed to capture new viewers and to trick unsuspecting viewers into feeling sad, or concerned, or anything else. It’s a trap that is often considered necessary for procedurals (which Fringe technically is), but by delaying the resolution to last season’s cliffhanger and providing a simulation of conflict it felt as if the episode was all about that big twist at the end…and when that was Abrams blatantly ripping himself off, I guess I’m just not as excited about this episode as I expected myself to be back in May.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Fringe

Season Finale: Fringe – “There’s More Than One of Everything”

fringetitle3

“There’s More Than One of Everything”

May 12th, 2009

I wrote a piece a while back about the ways in which Fringe sits between the procedural and the serial, with episodes that feel heavily formulaic and others that are heavily serialized and almost feel like a different show. “There’s More Than One of Everything,” as a finale, sits as the latter, an engaging with huge ideas, long-gestating character reveals, and the central “reality” that the show has been dealing with.

But what makes this episode work is that it didn’t come after a string of your run of the mill procedural episodes: by spending more or less the entirety of the post-hiatus period, which I haven’t been blogging about as I’ve been forced to play catchup more than once, balancing these two elements more effectively than in the first part of the season, the show has found its footing and was capable of delivering this finale without feeling as if this was an out of the blue burst of serialized interest to a show that too often falls on its procedural elements.

So when the scene eventually arrives when all of the individual cases suddenly tie together to help Olivia solve the true motivations of the infamous Mr. Jones, it doesn’t feel like the hackneyed scene it could have. The show doesn’t quite feel as natural as, say, Lost within this particular environment of the big event episode, but the show quite adequately and quite subtlely put itself into position for this finale over the past few weeks, and it was much more effective as a result.

As for whether it’s right up there with Abrams’ other shows in terms of finales, well, that’s a different story…but not an unpleasant one for the creator.

Continue reading

5 Comments

Filed under Fringe

Fringe – “Ability”

fringetitle3

“Ability”

February 10th, 2009

If there was ever any question about which J.J. Abrams show Fringe was trying to be, “Ability” sealed the deal.

For those who didn’t have the pleasure of seeing Abrams’ second major foray into television, Alias, this episode played out much like that series. At a certain point, Sydney Bristow walked into a residence during a mission (serving as a spy) and saw a puzzle lying scattered on a table. Within a few seconds, she was suddenly (and subconsciously) completing the puzzle before her, instinctively creating the tower that the pieces created. While I won’t spoil the actual reason why Sydney was able to complete the task, let’s just say that it was some sort of test project, and that there was a reason why she became a spy.

Ultimately, “Ability” is trying to do the same for Olivia Dunham, giving her a reason to be so intricately linked to this mysterious scientific conspiracy that is currently unfolding. Catapulting the mysterious and creepy Mr. Jones back into our main narrative, we learn some very important things in this episode, things that will go a very long way to allowing the series (upon its return in April) to expand into ideas that have laid dormant since the pilot or have yet to even be uncovered. The result is, if not the cleanest episode since the show first entered into this type of territory with “The Arrival,” then certainly the one that has felt the most expansive.

Continue reading

6 Comments

Filed under Fringe

Fringe – “Bound”

fringetitle3

“Bound”

January 20th, 2009

When it takes four people to write an episode of television, it is easy to become suspicious: there is nothing about “Bound” that screams as if it needs to have so many cooks in the kitchen, and the show has enough trouble keeping a consistent tone as it is without having so many independent voices in the writer’s room.

But this is a huge episode for Fringe: it is the first to air behind American Idol, the biggest lead-in in television and, as a result, a real test of the show’s ability to draw in new viewers. As a result, I can see why four writers had enough of a hand in this episode: it has to introduce potentially new viewers to the universe while at the same time dealing with the fall finale of sorts which left Olivia Dunham in the hands of some dangerous people.

What “Bound” becomes is a prime example of why these types of mid-season reboots for the purpose of drawing in new viewers are inherently dangerous, if not why they are an entirely bad idea: the episode is not a complete disaster by any means, and its back to basics approach will probably help it draw in some of the post-Idol audience for a few weeks at the very least.

But the problem lies in the fact that they bring to head a long gestating question of double agency in an episode where they are treading carefully with serialized elements: it’s hard to feel the sense of finality or build-up we should have felt when everything felt too clean due to the episode’s lack of time to really get dirty. There was something about the episode that just felt a bit too clean, mouth slugs be damned, and while I get the reasoning I can’t help but feel it’s nonetheless a step back in terms of momentum.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Fringe

Fringe – “Safe”

fringetitle2

“Safe”

December 2nd, 2008

I wrote a piece a few weeks ago wherein I talked about the gradual serialization that was causing some viewers of one of the season’s successful demo hits; Fringe may be from J.J. Abrams, but it was taking a lot longer to feel like it was capable of rising to the scale of the shows we most often associate with Abrams (Alias, Lost). I argued at the time that this was part of the appeal, that it was designed (as will be Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse) to appeal to two different sectors of viewers.

Well, I’d tend to argue that between last week’s solid “The Dreamscape” and the quite eventful and entertaining “The Safe,” Fringe has officially entered into the next phase of its serialization. Picking up, really, where “The Equation” left off, this episode felt like vintage Alias. It put together pieces that we didn’t know were pieces, brought various recurring characters into one central location, and revealed that our charisma-less heroine is more central to the series’ biggest questions than we realized.

What we got, finally, is an episode that felt meaningful: where the science was being used not to terrorize but to disrupt, and where both our characters and the conspiracy took on new roles that will lead to a better series once the show returns in January.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Fringe

Fringe – “The Equation”

fringetitle2

“The Equation”

November 18th, 2008

In a burst of inspiration over the weekend, I wrote a piece about the sort of transitional state of Fringe, a procedural series that people expect to offer heavily serialized content; it appears to have various states of being, and the confusion between them has kept me (to this point) from really becoming a fan of the show. Yes, there have been high points (“The Observer” has got to be on everyone’s list), but the uneven nature of the show’s opening episodes have made falling in love with Fringe a problematic scenario.

No longer, however – “The Equation” was maybe the show’s best episode yet, one which felt less contrived (if not entirely organic) and infinitely more personal than most of what we’ve seen so far. Much as “The Observer” delved deeper into Walter and Peter’s personal lives in search of an answer to a question about the Pattern and how it operates, “The Equation” takes Walter back to his time at St. Claire’s Hospital and it send us on a creepy and atmospheric journey into a quest to solve the end of an unsolvable equation.

Yes, the show still feels a bit like a low stakes Alias at points, but this episode combined some of the most interesting qualities of Alias’ mythology while focusing on the dramatic pathos of the right character at the right time. I’m not quite ready to see it as a trend, perhaps, but I was enraptured and hooked on tonight’s episode and, well, might just now call myself a fan.

Continue reading

5 Comments

Filed under Fringe

In the World of J.J. Abrams, Fringe Watches You: Gradual Serialization and the Active Audience

[As part of an ongoing personal experiment designed to assist in deciding my academic future, it is my goal to complete short (by my standards) essays from a television studies perspective. If you find these more interesting than my usual writings, you can find a great online journal devoted to such efforts at the University of Texas at Austin’s FlowTV.]

fringetitle2In the World of J.J. Abrams, Fringe Watches You:

Gradual Serialization and the Active Audience

When Lost exploded out of the gate with a surprising amount of success in 2004, it created a domino effect on both sides of the screen. For the networks, it created a renewed interest in highly serialized television, spawning numerous shows that offered deep mythologies, interconnected stories, and science fiction-like premises. For the audience, meanwhile, it spawned new forms of what is often referred to as “active audience,” producing large fan communities speculating on the answers to questions and the keys to mysteries.

In 2008, however, the landscape is quite different. Prison Break, a much-hyped serialized drama, is in danger of cancellation, absent from FOX’s January schedule. Heroes, once NBC’s flagship drama series, has fired two executive producers amidst falling ratings and dwindling fan interest. Meanwhile, CBS recently tripled its ratings performance in a Friday night timeslot by replacing new drama ‘The Ex List’ with a repeat of crime procedural ‘NCIS,’ now one of their highest rated performers. Where serial dramas seem to be losing viewers every week, procedural dramas seem to be picking up steam at every interval.

And yet, there is still an emphasis in terms of the networks of searching and promoting for active audience: whether through online ARGs (Alternate Reality Games), message boards, or through online webisodes or comic books that fill in gaps in continuity or add extra bits of character information. In “A Specter is Haunting Television Studies,” Jeffrey Sconce of Northwestern University questions not the effectiveness of these tactics but rather their impact on the medium as a whole. He writes that “we should be compelled to ask if these “activities” actually serve us, or if they instead actively expand the demands and desires of television itself, the most seductive point-man in the overall ‘system of objects’ that wants us to continue serving as the Petri dishes in which it cultivates its own future sustenance.”

While Sconce is speaking specifically to those who practice television studies, as well as those who consume media, a question exists here about the people who create the shows themselves. For J.J. Abrams, who developed highly serialized shows such as Lost and Alias, there is an expectation that what he produces will follow their example, particularly amongst these types of active viewers. When FOX debuted Fringe, however, this expectation was thrown for a loop. This is a show that viewers jumped into expecting to find deep mythology, complex theories and scientific phenomenon of unknown origin – what they found instead was a highly formulaic if stylized procedural that, at a glacial pace, is introducing an overarching mythology.

It’s a new structure that requires viewers to relearn how to watch a show with Abrams’ name attached to it; and, if Abrams gets his way, he and his writing staff might be the ones to teach them.

Continue reading

8 Comments

Filed under Fringe