Monday, January 21, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Fringe (TV series 2008-2013) ***½

TV-14, 5 seasons, 100 43-min. episodes
Creators: J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci

Directors: Joe Chappelle, Brad Anderson, Fred Toye, Jeannot Szwarc, Charles Beeson, Dennis Smith, Akiva Goldsman, Jeffery G. Hunt, David Straiton, Paul A. Edwards, Paul Holahan, Tom Yatsko, Jon Cassar, Miguel Sapochnik, P.J. Pesce, J.H. Wyman

Writers: J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, J.H. Wyman, Jeff Pinker, Akiva Goldsman, Graham Roland, Josh Singer, Alison Schapker, J.R. Orci, Robert Chiappetta, Glen Whitman, Monica Breen, David Fury, David H. Goodman, David Wilcox, Matt Pitts, Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Ethan Gross, Julia Cho, Brad Kane, Zack Whedon, Jeff Vlaming, Jason Cahill, Andrew Kreisberg

Starring: Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble, Jasika Nicole, Blair Brown, Lance Reddick, Michael Cerveris, Kirk Acevedo, Seth Gabel, Ryan Mcdonald, Mark Valley, Lily Pilblad, Michael Kopsa, Leonard Nimoy, Ari Graynor, Jared Harris, Sebastian Roché, Eugene Lipinski, Kevin Corrigan, Shaun Smyth, Georgina Haig, Orla Brady, Clark Middleton, Chance Kelly, Michael Gaston, Gerard Plunkett, Philip Winchester, Amy Madigan

Over the past weekend, one of television’s most original and brilliant programs came to its end. After five seasons of dwindling ratings, “Fringe” finally succumbed to that all too frequent fate of so many great shows on major network television—cancellation. To FOX’s credit, the show really should’ve been cancelled at the end of season four, because of its poor viewership. The network appreciated the show and the fans enough to give the producers 13 extra episodes to wrap up all its storylines.

The final season was probably the least impressive of the series because it was solely devoted to wrapping up its story. It also didn’t seem as necessary as the other seasons since the primary storyline was wrapped up in the final two episodes of season four. I’m sure this was in case they didn’t get those extra episodes. Even in the third and fourth seasons the show had lost a little of its brilliance as its mythology became so convoluted that even the devoted had trouble following it at times. The first two seasons, on the other hand, are perhaps the most impressive television I’ve ever seen.

Like a tripped out “X-Files”, which could be pretty tripped out itself, “Fringe” followed the exploits of a special division of the FBI that investigated unexplainable phenomena. Lead by Special Agent Olivia Dunham, the cases investigated by the Fringe Division outdid the strangest of the “X-Files” cases by half and then some. Mythology played and even bigger role in the Fringe universe, however, as the main characters’ lives were intertwined much more heavily than just as co-workers. The brains of the operation were provided by the often-scrambled musings of Dr. Walter Bishop, played by the great character actor John Noble. So taken was I by Noble’s performance in this series, that I’ve returned to “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” several times just to watch the sequences of him as Denethor.

After pulling the eccentric doctor from a mental institution, the Fringe team brings on his son, Peter Bishop, as a consultant and an anchor to keep his father grounded in reality. That’s a hard thing to do in the Fringe universe, since reality is not only relative but also changeable. What sent Dr. Bishop to the nuthouse was a series of science experiments conducted with a mysterious partner named William Bell, eventually played in the series by sci-fi icon Leonard Nimoy. The work that he and Bell performed is at the heart of many of the “fringe” events investigated by the team and eventually leads to the discovery of multiple universes and different versions of all the Fringe characters, and this is where the series really starts to get confusing.

What is most impressive throughout the series is the writers’ ability to keep everything tied together and consistently keep the characters engaging. The series takes some brave risks with its audience in the way it trusts them to roll with different versions of the heroes becoming the primary characters and then shifting back to the originals again. They also did a good job of recognizing what worked and what needed to be abandoned. One of my favorite aspects of the series is the character of Walter’s assistant Astrid, whom I think was never intended to be one of the four primary cast members at the series’ inception. Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seemed she came into the spotlight after fans let the producers know they liked her.

“Fringe” will be missed by its devoted fans. However, I think its passing probably came when it needed to. As is obvious from where the series ended up, this type of high concept television can only sustain itself for so long before burning its ideas out. A full fifth season might’ve brought a more fully realized vision of the storyline’s resolution, but by its end there was little left to explore in the Fringe universe. 

No comments: