Someone suggested I check out the science fiction tv series Fringe.Over the past few months, my wife and I have been working our way through five seasons of episodes. We’re almost at the end, and perhaps it’s time to offer an assessment.
First, the plusses. The actors. The actors were all unknown to me, but they are each at least very good. And the ensemble cast works well. When most of the cast had to portray alternate versions of themselves in the alternate universe, that was excellently rendered.
Moving on from the plusses, in the X-Files, there was an artful balance between the “monster-of-the-week” tale and the story arc involving aliens. I thought Chris Carter handled the balance quite well in the previous show, and there were some surprises along the way. If he gets an A-minus, I would say that J.J. Abrams gets a C-plus for Fringe.
Fringe lifts the balance from its predecessor and leans a good bit more to the season-long arc. Or arcs. First, there’s The Pattern. Then we have the parallel universe. Then one character gets erased. Then future humans take over and season 5 rolls along in a near-future dystopia. I’ll give them credit for taking risks. Some of them just didn’t pan out.
Okay, Abrams gets a C-minus for the overall arc of the program. He violated my number one rule of good science fiction: pick one good idea and ride it to the finish line. Fringe felt like the braintrust just couldn’t decide where to go. They resolved things and moved on to the next Big Story a little too quickly. I also thought they resolved the romance too early. Keeping the tension there would have been fine. It worked for Mulder and Scully for, what–nine seasons?
The best story arc deals with the father and son who we gradually learn have a tragic backstory. That one was very well-handled–it had the best moments of the entire series.
Nearing the finish line, the series leaves me disappointed. Some episodes were good. Some not so much. My wife doesn’t like the grim future the characters find themselves in season 5. I think network tv had other alien invasion shows. Network tv also had man-woman relationship tension–many times. It also had one weird and really good show–The X-Files. Fringe has its moments. Just not enough to put it in the company of the last, best generation of speculative tv.
This was a better show than anything I saw on the SyFy network. I want these shows to be really good, and they inevitably disappoint me. Maybe it’s time to watch more Masterpiece Mystery with my wife.