Tag Archives: The Observer

Fringe – “The Firefly”

“The Firefly”

January 21st, 2011

There is a lot to like about “The Firefly.” Any episode which centers on John Noble is bound to be of high quality in the performance area, and pairing him with guest star Christopher Lloyd proves to be as effective as one might imagine. The episode also embodies many of Fringe’s most distinctive qualities, twisting time and playing with alternate timelines in ways which have defined its creative improvements over the course of the past two seasons.

And yet, I can’t help but feel that “The Firefly” is not quite as good as it might seem on the surface. This is not to say that the opinions of people like my A.V. Club colleague Zack Handlen (who gave the episode an A) are invalid – like I say, I completely see where they’re coming from. In the end, though, I felt that the episode never found a sense of harmony within the dissonance, providing moments which seemed transcendent but ultimately delivering an episode which very much wore the scars of a necessary stepping stone on which the rest of the season will be built.

Thus, while I admire that it delivers some truly heartfelt moments which nicely set the stage for what will follow, the topsy-turvy nature of the episode feels purposefully elusive rather than genuinely mysterious – perhaps a fitting pivot into the remainder of the season, but ultimately disruptive to the episode at hand.

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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.

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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.

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Fringe – “The Arrival”

“The Arrival”

September 30th, 2008

I was busy finishing off an assignment for Wednesday on Tuesday evening, and as a result delayed the watching of my (ridiculous number) of Tuesday night shows. So while I’ll be covering the rest in a bit of Cultural Catchup likely spread out over the weekend, I believe it is in the best interest of everyone who’s been following Fringe to get their two cents in on the first episode of the series that seems to actually be unquestionably interesting.

Now, I say interesting instead of good because the jury is still out on the latter: the show received its full season order after good stability airing behind House, but the actual trajectory of the series was fairly unclear. But “The Arrival” marks, well, the arrival of some very interesting things that deserve our attention, and I believe the attention of most viewers. Co-written by J.J. Abrams and Jeff Pinkner, Alias alum both, the episode introduced the first signs of a serialized narrative that isn’t entirely related to Massive Dynamic, ended on the show’s most successful cliffhanger yet, and made great strides in making both the series’ male and female leads more interesting characters in terms of their relationship with The Pattern.

In other words, it has taken the series from “Curiousity” to “Compelling” in one fell swoop…for me, at least.

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