09 June, 2011

FRINGE - Was It Worth My Time?

Pacey Bishop is Sexy, Like a Meow Meow
After my run with X-FILES back in the day, and my general distaste for all things sci-fi gore/horror, I decided, after one episode, that I had no interest in watching FRINGE. I found the lead female actor to be dull and poorly executed, and the story uninteresting. So I simply discarded it as a show that I would ever watch.

As the summer of 2011 closed in and I started contemplating doing this site, I realized that I couldn't possibly avoid the show, since it had become the new big geek/nerd deal. Also, a couple of friends who were fans of other shows I watched were often talking about it so I decided to just bite the bullet and catch up on all three seasons.

What follows are my general feelings as I watched the seasons. Note that there will be spoilers for those who have not seen the show. I do not recommend you read this if you want to know nothing. So stop right here if you don't want to be spoiled.  You should also stop right here if you are fragile.  Finally, you can scroll to the bottom to see my grades for the different seasons, if that helps your decision to watch or not:

SEASON 1

Right away I find this Australia Dumbham (played by Anna Torv), or whatever her name is, to be the most wooden, uninteresting, blank sheet of papery character.  I can't even be bothered to learn her correct name.  I mostly just call her "FBI b***h."  As in "that FBI b***h needs to die so I can almost enjoy this show."  Plus, her American accent is terrible.  This one is what I call the marble-mouth American accent where the actor sounds like she is rolling a marble under her tongue when trying to say certain words. I had recognized it when I watched one episode at some point during the live run of the show, but this is nearly every episode of me not caring about her character and hating her accent. I just want the writers to set her on fire. Is that possible? She seems like a main character/actor. I can't believe I have to watch this talentless hack for TWO MORE SEASONS!

Thankfully, Walter Bishop is addictive, awesome, brilliant, adorable, and superbly acted (by John Noble)! Also, Walter's relationship with his son, Pacey Bishop (played by Joshua Jackson), is very interesting and often wildly entertaining. I am happy about this because the snoozefest that is Australia Dumbham would have made this show a torture to watch. Granted, I really, really, super really, HATE the whole sci-fi horror/gore genre. I don't like zombies, I don't like goblins or monsters or bubbling masses of cancer cells. I don't dig it, I don't get the interest, and I piss in the mouths of people who masturbate while watching that crap. So I am already predisposed to disliking this show.

But I watch and I suffer through the case-of-the-week boredom, while enjoying Walter and his relationship/exchanges with his son. Thank the gods for Walter and Pacey. I can almost cancel out the insufferable FBI b***h and the storylines. I sometimes fast forward through the episodes. It is the first time I have ever fast forwarded through episodes. That is how much I dislike the genre and Dumbham (I laugh outloud every time she answers her phone: "DUMBHAM!").

Dumbham needs to poop.

I survive season 1 but barely. Oh no... are there more episodes in season 2? This is not good.  Also, I think I just realized Walter's son's name is Peter.  Goodbye Pacey Bishop.

SEASON 2

Man... this show isn't getting any better. Walter and Peter are still great but FBI b***h is just as bad as ever. Correction, Anna Torv's American accent has improved (she has a smaller marble in her mouth now). But from a story telling perspective, this season doesn't improve much, if at all. UNTIL... the final few episodes when there is a sudden rush on a real story arc.  Oh and I should mention that there is an episode in the middle of the season left over from season 1.  Featuring a character who is dead.  Yeah.  That just happened.

Yes, he is a scientist, but he's also trippin' balls!
Now, before I tackle what leads us into season three, I want to say that there are some original elements in this show that pop up every now and then. One of those is the "Observers." This is one of those story devices that made me fall for LOST and BSG. That something much bigger and unexplainable is at work. If done right, this type of story telling device can propel an otherwise mediocre show to greatness because it invests the audience in the bigger picture, not just what happens in individual episodes.

OK, so jumping back into where season two goes at the end, I am suddenly interested starting with the end of episode 15. However, it isn't until episodes 21 to 23 where I start looking forward to what comes next. Sure, Peter's decision to leave seems out of character, since he is such a deep thinker and with such a strong will, but I suppose I can also see that he feels disconnected from the things around him and decides to see what is on the other side. Also, there has been a slow build-up of possible romantic feelings between Peter and Australia. This begins to actually reveal itself here as Peter meets the other world FBI b***h. When she asks him what the other her is like, Peter's response is very honest and likely a revelation to himself. It is probably my favorite acting moment for Joshua Jackson, up to this point, and the point where shipper hearts likely took off like I do when one of my relationships gets serious.

The season ends on a very predictable but interesting note as one Australia takes the place of the other, and FBI b***h is left behind (good, I hope they kill her). I am finally interested in where they may take this.

SEASON 3

Anna Torv is a revelation! What the hell happened here? I can't remember an actor going from a talentless hack to the one-to-watch three seasons into a show. Were the writers just giving her so little to do that it underwhelmed the actor? Is she like one of those geniuses who, if you don't challenge them, they deliver a half-assed job? Whatever it is, someone was screwing with me for two seasons.  I am just happy to see that the writers have given Torv two new characters to play.  Olivia Dunham and Olivia Dunham (the other world version who we shall call Fauxlivia to make things easier).  I know, not very original seeing as she played Australia Dumbham for two seasons, but I guess it is easier for the actor to remember her character's name if it is so similar.  After all, she is blond and you know things get really difficult for them.

Suddenly Olivia/Fauxlivia are the most interesting characters on the show. The arcs are deep. The emotions are complex. Both characters are similar but also noticeably different. Body language, facial expressions, even the way they speak is different. When Olivia smiles, it is the smile of someone who doesn't take happiness for granted. When Fauxlivia smiles, it is the smile of someone who is very happy to be who she is. But these stark differences also create a problem for Peter's character.
Someone's got some 'splainin' to do!
Peter Bishop is so smart, so aware, so detail oriented that it becomes increasingly difficult to believe that he wouldn't notice the difference. Sure, they have him note some differences but he seems to dismiss them too easily. This does his character a disservice. And this is a common issue for writers. The idea to change things up adds a new level to the show but often at the expense of another strong element. To work, Peter has to be dumbed down and I am sure fans of his character must have been livid over it.

Thankfully, once Peter begins to piece things together and, more importantly, when he is confronted by the real Olivia about it, the writers give Peter a believable (or close enough to it) explanation. Should he have known right away? Maybe. Did he? Maybe. But he wasn't thinking clearly because he wanted to make things work, even if he knew something wasn't right. Is it a bit tough to swallow? Yeah. But it also makes for an interesting dynamic between the three characters since... dundundun... Peter and Fauxlivia kind of fell for each other realzies like. Oh, and she is preggers! But Peter is in love with Olivia, or so it would seem, so this could get interesting.

Meanwhile, we have been dealing with a weapon that can destroy worlds and Peter's quest to discover what it is all about and his place in all of it. It seems that Peter is the juice the machine needs to work. At this point I begin to make bets with people that Peter will step into the machine in the finale and destroy one of the worlds, then scramble to take it back in season 4. The writers pull a CHUCK on this one and accelerate the storyline instead of using it for another season. But before I go there, the show deals with the Peter and Olivia romance, as well as the Fauxlivia pregnancy.

The Fauxlivia pregnancy is dealt with very quickly but with some fun dramatic beats (I am of course leaving out a ton of episodes between all of this just to get to the main points) and I get the feeling that the birth of her and Peter's son will have a greater deal of importance in season 4 than it did in season 3 (as nothing more than a tool for DNA). Meanwhile, after roughly 20 dramatic conversations (exhausting but sometimes believable and well written) about their relationship, Peter and Olivia finally become a couple and now I am sure one of them is going to die!

Somewhere along the way Peter has become my favorite character. Now, I am a heterosexual male with no bisexual tendencies but I am willing to go back to college to experiment.  Peter is dreamy.  I don't care how that makes me sound. It is the truth. I want him to snuggle me and tell me everything will be alright. Is that wrong? If it is, then I am prepared to wage a war against right. That man is just intoxicating. I want to go watch reruns of his other show, Richard Dawson's Creep.  Stop looking at me like that, guys!  Oh... Pacey.  Peter!  I meant Peter!  I wish I was a woman right now.... I sure hope that doesn't come back to haunt me some day when I run for president.  But I digress.
Peter tries to clone himself the lazy way. If only...
And so that brings us to the finale. The series finally pays off this Peter and Olivia connection that has been threatening to save or destroy worlds. I love it.  I also love the fake-out future where Olivia is murdered by other world Walter.  Sure, they do away with it quickly but the drama and emotions Jackson and Noble deliver in their sit-down confrontation is intense.  But I am beyond furious the moment Peter winks out of existence after "saving" both worlds. I throw things at my TV. I kick my PS3 across the room. I swing my arms around in the air like a monkey. But then I start thinking about the meaning of what I just watched.

I am sure that even though Peter went poof, he exists somewhere. He just doesn't exist to these characters at this time. But will they begin to remember him over time? Will they feel a loss, even if they can't remember why they feel it? Peter made an enormous impression on two worlds, he can't just be wiped away for eternity. And does Peter exist on a different plane? Can he now travel between worlds? Is he invisible? Is he a god? Can he remember everything and see everyone? Is he suddenly all-knowing? Does he go back in time and return to his body as a child but with all the memories of a man who just saved two worlds? Does he become Neo?  Can he appear in my bed right now?  Arrrgh!  Damn you, Peter! Why must thou be so full of wonderful?

This is why I am interested in seeing FRINGE season 4. Because the writers didn't play it safe. They elevated the game. And while I never had much interest in watching this show, I am glad I did. I am not glad to have suffered through about 36 episodes in seasons 1 and 2, but more than happy that the show creators figured out how to take what was working and to keep it interesting. And to take elements that weren't working and make them work. And most importantly, for realizing that the show they had been writing for two seasons was nothing more than an X-FILES wannabe with X-FILES homages. So, instead, they created a unique show out of the best material. Oh and I am sure fanboys and fangirls of this show will tell me how nearly two useless seasons of snail-paced exposition was necessary, but I will counter with season 3. This show never needed the long setup or the case of the week focus. It just needed to tell an exciting and well constructed story.

SERIES GRADE
(Non-Americans: A = awesome, B = good, C = ok, D = not good, F = failure)

SEASON 1
C : If not for Walter and Pacey, I would not have made it through this one.  The case of the week rarely interests me and the show focuses too much on my least favorite character, Australia.

SEASON 2
B- : Walter and Peter help me get through to the final three episodes where the show really takes off.  Also, there are a couple of pretty good episodes scattered throughout the season that set up the grander arc.

SEASON 3
A : The lame case-of-the-week structure is diluted into backwash.  Almost every character is interesting. I really enjoy Olivia (that's what he said).  Most of the stories rule.  The acting and writing is top notch.  On par with a very good season of LOST or BSG.  And the final few minutes of the finale had my heart pumping in ways only the best shows ever do.  I would have given it an A+ but there is at least one season left.  If all three seasons had been this good, FRINGE would be my favorite show on TV.

SEASON 4
TBD : As long as the writers pay off characters arcs, this one should be on the level of season 3.

What say you?  Comment below.  Anonymous posting is enabled.  Internet Explorer users, sometimes you have to hit "Post Comment" a few times.  I don't know why.

34 comments:

  1. I think I bailed on this series mid season 2 and everyone I know is telling me to pick it back up again.

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  2. Oh boy what to say about this review? I admit I laughed a few times expecially when you said you were in love with Peter.

    You said you didn't enjoy the genre so it makes sense why you were so down on season 1 but 2 had more arc than you give it credit. Also Olivia was designed to be stiff early on but I can't fault you for not liking that. Glad you stuck around to fall in love with the show.

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  3. Just about the funniest review I've read in a long time. I felt much like you did. Season 3's many times better than the other 2 and Torv deserves the critical praise she has received for her work this year. The ending pissed me off but I am slowly working my way to your line of thinking.

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  4. "Also, I think I just realized Walter's son's name is Peter. Goodbye Pacey Bishop."

    That made me spit up my coffee!

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  5. Sad thing is, I never watched that show but I still know him as Pacey.

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  6. I see your bringing sexy like a meow meow back. lol
    so is this romance as good as chuck and sarah?

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  7. As good as Chuck and Sarah? Hmmmm... well, I feel the angsty elements were more believable on FRINGE than on CHUCK. But I don't think Jackson and Torv have the same chemistry as Levi and Strahovski.

    But in executing the romance, FRINGE season 3 is just better written than CHUCK season 3. However, outside of trying to snuggle with Peter, I would take Chuck and Sarah as a spy team or romantic couple any day. They are just more fun to watch.

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  8. I wouldve bet money ou would be all over Olivias hotness but you didnt mention it once.

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  9. Vader's My Little Pony PillowJune 9, 2011 at 1:05 PM

    My grades? S1 B. S2 B+. S3 A-. I am a fan of the genre and I liked "Dumbham" right away. I am not sold on the S3 finale. Feels like too much cheating to stall the inevitable. But if the showrunners tell it well then I will eat those words.

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  10. For the most part I agree with this review. A couple of points: One, I hate that the writers make the dumb claim that they "purposely" wrote Olivia the way they did for S1 and 2. Instead, I think they should just fess up and go "hey, we had trouble with her character" etc. whatever. I too might give Season 2 a bit higher grade since it did have a larger arc and some quality moments. My last comment has to do with the show's comparisons to X-Files or LOST. I loved that they upped the ante by disappearing Peter and all in the finale and they seem (this being the key word) to have a more well constructed overall arc than X-Files did. However, Fringe still occasionally gives me nightmares that it will all end in S8 or something with an impossibly dumb explanation that I will never be satisfied with. I was traumatized by the ending of X-Files though so it's probably just my latent fear. (I'm not kidding about that either; I was young and naive and believed up until the last 10 minutes of the last episode ever that Chris Carter would give me some explanation to it all and I was devastated when that was not the case)

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  11. No worries about the season 8 fear. FRINGE won't get renewed for a 5th season unless it does some amazing numbers next season.

    WB gave FOX a deal like it gave NBC for CHUCK. Get to 88 episodes so we can sell this show to syndication and roll in the dough. So, fans should hope the show runners aren't insane like the SGU jackass, full of delusions about the future of the story.

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  12. Nice! That makes me feel all warm and cuddly like I am snuggling with Peter Bishop!!!

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  13. I'll say that this is the best summary/review of Fringe I've ever read. Granted, it's the only one I've every read, but I'm sure if I read others, this would still be the best.

    I didn't watch all of Fringe in the compressed amount of time you did and my memories are more vague, but you nailed it.

    For the first season, I felt Olivia was the weakest part of the show and Walter and his relationship with his son was the main reason I watched.

    Anyone who says the writers planned Olivia out that way on purpose is deluded. What TV showrunner purposely makes a lead character dull in the first season when your main thrust is just to get high enough ratings to stay on air?

    I agree that Peter also grew more and more interesting as time went on and your observations about Olivia/fauxlivia are exactly mine.

    I want to put in a plug for Astrid. While she doesn't propel any storylines, I think she's a fun supporting character.

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  14. I didn't cover the supporting characters since I didn't want to write an actual review (GO ANYWHERE ELSE FOR THAT CRAP), but this show has some fantastic supporting characters.

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  15. Or, I should say... actors, who deliver fantastic characters. It is always smart to hire anyone who was on THE WIRE.

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  16. You are 3 for 3 in making me laugh out loud HGF. My coworkers just peeked their heads up to see what was so funny. Then I sent them the link and now one of the girls just asked me of I want to cuddle with Pacey too. I am laughing just hinking about it.

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  17. Awww... I made your day.

    I am your hero!

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  18. Ms. NBC UniverseJune 9, 2011 at 2:44 PM

    I don't know, Magnus. You are throwing some high praise on this show, all be it for the third season. Last time you sounded this excited about a show it got three more seasons. You are good luck. Fringe fans should worship you.

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  19. That is true... but first you need to get Wendy on board since our power only seems to work when combined, much like Peter and Olivia. I am the weapon and she is the defuse.

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  20. Spot on analysis. I feel that Season 3 was the best. As far as I'm concerned the show started for me in the second half of Season 2 with "Jacksonville".

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  21. This was wonderful, funny and accurate, not a small feat. That's exactly how I felt watching the show. Well done, sir!

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  22. I agree with your review of the first two seasons. Fringe was a show I watched because it was on, not because I was a big fan. I never searched the internet for spoilers or went to fan sites. It wasn't until this season when the show went all in on the alt-universe story line did I really start enjoying it. Walter Bishop has to be one of the greatest TV characters of all time.

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  23. "Somewhere along the way Peter has become my favorite character. Now, I am a heterosexual male with no bisexual tendencies but I am willing to go back to college to experiment. Peter is dreamy. I don't care how that makes me sound. It is the truth. I want him to snuggle me and tell me everything will be alright. Is that wrong? If it is, then I am prepared to wage a war against right. That man is just intoxicating. I want to go watch reruns of his other show, Richard Dawson's Creep. Stop looking at me like that, guys! Oh... Pacey. Peter! I meant Peter! I wish I was a woman right now.... I sure hope that doesn't come back to haunt me some day when I run for president."

    Without any hyperbole I proclaim this the funniest and best thing anyone has ever said about Fringe.

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  24. Something about the article is so sexy. You may be in love with Peter or Pacey or whatever you want to call him but allow me to fall in love with your words, Sir.

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  25. No comments on the casting of Leonard Nimoy as William Bell. I thought that was pretty genius...

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  26. Leonard Nimoy as William Bell falls into what I said in the comments section... fantastic supporting cast. But for the purpose of this article, unmentioned.

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  27. I watched the first two seasons because 1. It was conveniently on after Bones and 2. Everyone else in my family was watching. By season 3 I was watching because I really enjoyed the story, and happily followed it to Friday. It should be interesting this fall to see Chuck and Fringe on one after the other.

    John Noble is fabulous in all seasons, but I especially enjoyed seeing the differences between Walternate and Walter. Every week, when I thought his performances couldn't get better, I was floored when he consistently blew me away.

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  28. At first I couldn't stand Olivia (I kept thinking "poor man's Cate Blanchett" and "will someone PLEASE give her a tube of Chapstick???") and I didn't LOVE the writing either, but I stuck with it cuz I knew it was a great concept with the POTENTIAL to be amazing. I'm really glad I did cuz now I can't wait for next season. End of the season 3 finale I was SCREAMING "Noooooooooo!" at my tv. I hate it. I love it. I hate it. I love it. Don't judge.

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  29. Magnus, you've written a most hilarious and spot on criticism of the show. You're a revelation! If Fringe is your new love then I am excited for the future after Chuck.

    Andicia

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  30. Thanks, Andicia.... I have no plans to make FRINGE my new CHUCK or anything like that. But I will watch it and, if I feel inspired, write about it when I feel it is necessary.

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  31. Brillant. Saying Dumbham has a marble rolling around in her mouth is exactly what I thought but didn't know how to explain. And honestly is there anyone as sexy as Pacey? I've had a crush on him since I was forced to watch Mighty Ducks by my brother.
    I watch this with my husband, the first season I usually read a book while it was on, during 2 I would usually set my book down halfway through and when I came to watch season 3 without a book the old man was excited. Great review!

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  32. Excellent, Katie. May season 4 make us refuse to leave the couch until Pacey Bishop returns!

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  33. Love the article! I laughed alot! Peter is beautiful!!!

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  34. Ok so I probably disagreed with two thirds of this review because I've always been one of those "You need to watch it from season one or you won'd get season whatever". While I'll agree season 1 was a little slow special with all that Agent Whatshisname's drama is he or isn't he a traitor, who cares BS. But Season 2 really picked it up for me because suddenly we had this new Alternate Universe to play with and a new threat from over there and how much of what had happened in Season 1 was actually this Alternate Universe's doing? I think everyone can agree that to date Fringe made itself unmissable TV because of season 3 it was just brilliant, everything about it. But with out putting in the time with the characters in season 1 and 2 it would have just been mediocre sci-fi at best. Its the contrast between the two halfs that packs the punch much like Olivia and Anna Torv's (and let's not even start on the Nerdgasum that is John Noble's acting) seriously genius preformance. Olivia is played down in the first 2 season not because Anna can't hackit but because the character is subdued. Experimented upon as a child she and the other Cortxikids were in essence molded into sleeper agents waiting patiently for their activation. They're meant to blend in and go unnoticed. Olivia is the product of a seriously messed up childhood while Fauxlivia's life has been much easier without any abusive stepfathers or childhood experimentation or tragic past at all. The contrast is striking and illuminating. You have to admire the detail.

    We're about to get our 2nd dose of season 4 and I'm more excited for Fringe then I've ever been.

    P.S. PaceyBishop love transcends all orientation!

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