Fringe – not really all that good

I’m always game to give a new TV show a solid chance before judging it. And I didn’t really have great expectations for the new US series Fringe in the first place. Having seen three episodes now, I have to say that it’s pretty weak.

Billing itself as something like the X-Files, with a series long story arc to appeal to long term fans and single stories every episode to appeal to more casual viewers, it seems to have landed in a dead zone somewhere in the middle. The long story arc is a bit obvious and overplayed while the individual stories are not that great and absolutely full of holes. Seriously, the science alone is atrocious, let alone the actual story-telling.

There seemed to be potential at first as the series appeared to be like the X-Files, only a bit darker and grislier. That appeals to me. Less UFOs and more human phenomena. That appeals to me too. It could be really good. But the makers have said that they can keep the story going over several seasons or, if the studio pulls the plug, they can wrap it up in a single episode. This is a deliberate attempt to prevent the Lost syndrome where people give up on the series when it gets too complicated with no end in sight. (Although they have now announced an end date for Lost in an attempt to woo some viewers back.) Perhaps this “drop out at a moment’s notice” position contributes to the weakness of the show.

So far, and three episodes is not that many to judge by, there seems to be a very distinct formula. But no one would give a book more than three chapters to hook them in, so TV series should be held to the same standards. Especially prime time drama.

The show’s formula appears to be something along the lines of:

– Weird event occurs;
– Doctor Bishop (who is quite mad, naturally) posits a bizarre hypothesis while Agent Olivia Dunham looks on with an expression of grim determination;
– A tenuous connection to Massive Dynamic (“Generic Evil Worldwide Corporation”) becomes apparent;
– A tenuous connection to “The Pattern” is stated, which appears to mean “anything weird that Massive Dynamic might have a hand in”, although the team have yet to really take the Massive Dynamic link seriously for some reason;
– Doctor Bishop begins some preposterous experiment to move the case along, usually with something that he first developed in the 70s that he never thought he’d see again (and this is always done with absolutely no regard for any of the recognised scientific disciplines);
– A truly blatant coincidence causes the Doc’s experiment and Dunham’s grim determination to bear fruit;
– More of “The Pattern” and everyone’ s connection to it is hinted at as a post-script.

The coincidences are one of my biggest gripes. Take Episode 2 where the Doc manages to use one of Massive Dynamics funky new technologies to read the images a dead girl last saw. Don’t even try to understand how this is supposed to work. But it does work. They don’t see the face of her murderer, however – the last thing she saw – nor do they see the inside of a random building. They see a bridge she was looking at a minute or two before her murder. What a piece of luck! Not the nameless face of the criminal, but a location they can track easily (apparently). And then the criminal happens to be plying his criminal trade at that very location when Dunham and the official sidekick (Peter Bishop, son of Doc) arrive to save the day. Brilliant!

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry. I was convinced that you’d find some science in there.”

However, even with all this going against it, I might give it one or two more episodes to tighten up. “The Pattern” concept may yet keep me interested enough to know what happens. Or I may stop wasting my time and look up the answer on the internet once the series ends. If it carries on like this, that may not be very long.

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2 thoughts on “Fringe – not really all that good

  1. Haven’t seen it yet as it doesn’t start here ’til next week, but I am open to the possibility it’s rubbish. However, saying a book should grip you in the first 3 chapters and also applying that principle to any form of entertainment media is sad state of affairs. I don’t disagree with this stand point and as a writer yet to establish a catalogue of best sellers you have have to capture your audience quickly or they’ll move on to something else. It’s just some of the most satisfying pieces of work take a while to penetrate and require a bit of commitment that is sadly lacking in today’s short attention span masses.
    As a couple of examples, Stephen King’s Needful Things has the first third of a significantly sized book dealing with seemingly mundane character development, but persevere and it becomes one of his most satisfying reads. Babylon 5 has most of the first series being a sequence of individual stories with only a few hints of what’s to come until the last four or five episodes. That leaves the first 15 or more episodes as stories designed to try and keep your interest while developing the characters for something bigger.
    I don’t really have a point, it’s just sad that potentially great works are now driven by commercial need or they have a hard job getting recognition. If Tolkien took Lord of the Rings to a publisher today, they’d laugh him out of the building, throwing his commercially unviable manuscript after him.

  2. Absolutely – I couldn’t agree more. But times change and tastes/fashions change. These days it’s all about instant gratification. People have proven your point before – many manuscripts by people like Charles Dickens or Emily Bronte have been submitted to publishers under pseudonyms to prove the publisher is crap. Of course, the publisher rejects it. It’s not right for these times. But those of us that appreciate the slower burning classic will persevere to find it.

    That’s why I’ll give Fringe a few more eps, but it’s probably designed for the SMS generation and won’t get any better. Sad, really.

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