Why You Should Be Watching 'Fringe'
“What if?”. It’s a question that’s asked almost every episode on Fox’s sci-fi show Fringe, now in the middle of its fourth season. The question implies limitless possibilities, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I’ve recently become hooked on the series. It follows a special division of the FBI who investigate strange phenomena, including cases of mind control, teleportation and supernatural creatures.
Starring a number of very talented actors, like John Noble and Lance Reddick, Fringe is cleverly constructed and unpredictable. Read on to find out why I think it’s worth checking out!
Fringe premiered in 2008, a product of one of my favourite Hollywood creative teams, J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. The series is set in Boston, Massachusetts, and makes good use of the neighbourhoods and surrounding communities for its stories. Critics have described the series as a blend of The X-Files, The Twilight Zone and Altered States, but I feel Fringe is still an original property – there’s nothing on TV quite like it.
The action revolves around FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Australian actress Anna Torv), who brings together an oddball team to crack the supernatural cases that have been popping up all over the country. Most importantly, she recruits Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), a “mad scientist” type whose research thirty years ago predicted many of the occurrences the FBI is now dealing with.
The super-eccentric elder Bishop is watched over by his genius son Peter (Joshua Jackson), who has had a difficult relationship with his father over the years. The two Bishops set to work dealing with a new case in each episode, slowly unravelling the larger mystery of why these strange events are all happening now. The show weaves in a number of side-narratives, including the possibility of a war with dimensions parallel to that of the characters.
As the FBI team tries to stay on top of each new scientific puzzle, we the viewers are also decoding mysteries of our own, searching episodes for hidden references to the show’s mythology and cracking the little ciphers the show’s creators hide in glyphs that flash before commercial breaks.
Fringe is so layered that it has the sought-after quality of the best television series: replay value. Viewers can re-watch episodes several times over and continually find puzzle pieces they might have missed on the first viewing.
I love seeing John Noble chew scenery as Dr. Bishop. Before becoming a fan of Fringe, I only knew him as Denethor, the corrupted Steward of Gondor he played in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (You know, the one who lights himself on fire and jumps off Minas Tirith). In Fringe he plays a character so filled with arcane knowledge and strange habits that we’re never sure what he’ll do next.
Credit must also be given to Anna Torv, who I first thought would simply play a standard FBI type. Not so: Torv puts a lot of effort into making Agent Dunham compassionate, dedicated and open-minded. It would have been irritating if Dunham was always the voice of disbelief whenever a crazy new case presented itself. Instead, Dunham dives right in, and it’s refreshing to follow her and see how her conventional detective skills are applied to otherworldly phenomena.
A big theme in Fringe is the ethics of scientific pursuit. Many of the cases the Fringe Division encounters are due to experiments gone wrong, the work of scientists who didn’t know when to stop in their search for knowledge. This is where John Noble’s acting skill as Walter Bishop really comes through. Bishop realizes what his work has inspired others to do, and Noble allows us to instantly understand Bishop's considerable remorse.
Without this theme, Fringe might have become another “villain of the week” show with no real emotional or philosophical grounding. I also like how the science is then used to inspire some imaginative problems for the Fringe Division to deal with: the show draws on all manner of urban legends, popular myths and other supernatural stories.
For example, when the show wanted to refer to vampires, it came up with a virus that forced its sufferers to rip open the back of a victim’s neck to get the spinal fluid, rather than the blood, to sustain themselves. When the show dealt with teleportation, it made the phenomenon into one that virtually crippled the traveller. Just like science itself, Fringe “de-mystifies” the supernatural, making its stories more “realistic” in a twisted kind of way.
It’s possible that I'm a bit late to the game in my newfound fandom. As Fringe nears the end of its fourth season, more than one TV commentator has suggested that Fox will cancel the series. Fox president Kevin Reilly said recently that while a show is a “point of pride”, “…with that rating on that night it’s almost impossible for us to make money on it. We’re not in the business of losing money.”
Fringe’s executive producer has promised that even if Fringe’s upcoming season finale becomes its series finale, the stories might continue in graphic novel or webisode format. I might be only into the second season at the moment, but all I can hope for is a tidy conclusion. I don’t want the show to run on when there’s not enough money to make it worthwhile. With all the effort that’s obviously gone into Fringe so far, it would be a shame for it to go out on a sour note.
That’s part of the reason for this article – maybe I can inspire some of you, O my readers, to seek out Fringe and help keep it on the air for one season more. It seems that Fringe has inspired me to ask “What if?” myself.
Have you been watching Fringe? If so, how long have you been a fan? What do think of the danger of the show being cancelled? Share your reaction to the series in the comments section down below. You can also browse through some of my other entries in the Why You Should Be Watching column: