Monday, 12 October 2009
Does any body miss the X-Files? A love letter to Fringe
I have been laid low by a cold this past week, so I apologize. I couldn't post my Canadian mystery writer feature on Monday because Blogger was down. Then I became sick. And how did I pass my time? Did I watch re-runs of one of my favourite past tv shows? No.
Instead, my 20 year old, who is very persistent, after asking me a few times if I wanted to see an episode of Fringe over the past month or so, woke me up Thursday afternoon from a nap, and asked me if I wanted to watch Fringe. He is persistent. I should know by now what will happen, since he did the same thing with Lost, and then Heroes. Maybe I should just give in and watch new science fiction/supernatural shows on tv. I think with Fringe, I did try it once, but 10 minutes in I still hadn't met any characters and had no idea what was going on, so even though I was interested, I turned away. I'm not perfect! So, Thursday afternoon I watched the pilot. Then the next episode. Then the next. Then it was time to get the kids from daycare, and I arranged craftily for them to play on the computer and X-box so that I could get another episode or two in while dinner cooked. (They aren't allowed to see Fringe, far too dark and scary for young children). I was hooked.
And then it began. I watched another two episodes that night. Went to work the next day, still sick (we were short staffed for our Thanksgiving holiday, I'm such a trouper! but will not get recognized for my efforts!), left early, ran to the dvd store on the way home and bought the entire first season of Fringe, just out (thank heavens, because I don't think I could get the entire season on the internet), and have watched all the episodes through the weekend. Then I went on the internet to watch the first four episodes of this season, yesterday. I watched the one that aired last Thursday, last night. That's 24 episodes of tv in 72 hours, more or less. I didn't know I could do it!
So why do I say it's like the X-files? It is, a little, but not too much, which is good, because I hate copycat tv series (thus I love Star Trek original, but Next Generation always had similar story lines to the original series and I'd end up yelling at the tv and story writers). Nope, Fringe is better.
What was that? I, an original X-Files fan, think Fringe is better? Oh yes.
I don't want to do an X-files comparison because it's not fair to either; they are both very good tv shows, and excellent in some outstanding episodes. They both feature an FBI agent (X-Files of course has 2), who investigates unusual phenomena involving people's disappearances/murder. And there is a story line arch, a mythology in each series. But that's where the similarity ends. Oh, and both series have Monster of the Week episodes, MotW hereafter. Which are very creepy/scary.
It's been a very long time since I sat on my couch, gazing at the tv breathlessly, or jumping and saying "Oh!" out loud, which quite a few of the episodes of Fringe had me doing. So did X-Files.
What Fringe has that X-files doesn't (because you still want to know why I think it's better, right?) is a stronger and larger cast to relate to, with very funny dialogue, and stories that while creepy or push the bounds of science, are usually the result of genetic and bio-chemical experiments. No alien science, in other words. It's a clever series. Best of all, no space ships! I have to admit the alien part of X-files really bothered (I hated it!) me sometimes. But that's not to say Fringe doesn't have its own otherworldliness. Walter has experimented on the fringe of science for his working life, which gives the show both a science background, as well as a fun look at what experimenting with say, teleportation devices, could really mean. It's a clever series. And it's witty, and it's smart, but it's also about trust, and loss, and finding a way back to having a place in the world again.
The very best part of Fringe are the various relationships. This is not a show just about the paranormal and freaky events and biochemical warfare. This is a show about people who are brought together - they are all strangers to each other when they are first introduced - Peter has not seen his father for 17 years, so while they had a childhood together, they have no idea how to relate to each other as adults. As well they have to deal with MotW, some of which are really frightening. There are also normal people being experimented on, which is right on for today's fears/hopes for the science and drug companies, for my money. That is a horrific topic right there. We're about the release the H1N1 vaccine without it being tested on live people yet! Side-effects, anyone?
The main characters are Walter Bishop, a hilarious mad scientist father, Peter Bishop, his sarcastic, cynical living on the edge son, and Olivia Dunham, a heroine who is beautiful, gutsy, smart, strong, the FBI Special Agent who has gathered this tiny team together to investigate unusual deaths. They are overseen by Colonel Boyle, who is cryptic and tells things only as the need arises.
Walter and Peter's relationship in particular has become central to the story, and it is so good to see an estranged father and son learn how to talk to one another again. There is also Walter and Olivia, and what he did to her and how she is dealing with that. And Peter and Olivia, who are realizing they care about eachother - but not yet a couple, more two people who are strangers who are learning to work together, who are learning they have feelings for eachother. It's fascinating to watch. Because sometimes it's not in the dialogue, it's in the acting. And isn't that a lovely thing to be able to say about a tv show, that the acting in many episodes is excellent?
The best news is, it's still on air!! We have it here on Thursday nights at 9 pm.
So if Supernatural is too scary, dark (and has stupid storylines, like the one with hell) for you, give Fringe a try.
If you miss the X-files, definitely give Fringe a try.
If you like science - and Fringe is heavy on the science part, although perhaps not always accurate - and science fiction, Fringe is worth looking at.
And if you just want something new to see, go on. Try it.
My husband, who has lost me to the dvd machine this weekend, pointed yesterday, "You didn't read any books this weekend!" I laughed and said," no, no I haven't. I was too sick to read. Fringe was just what I needed to get over my cold." We then chatted on whether Fringe was my favourite tv show. I said not yet; but it's in my top shelf of favourite tv shows. It's kind of like books. I can't name just one favourite book or author. I can't name just one tv show, either.
If you look at the posters to the right, each character has a phrase that is closely linked to the role they play. I love this!
For the curious, here are two links to Fringe:
Fringe Television (fan site, lots of clips)
Official Fox site (lots of info, episodes to watch, chatter about the show, episodes, great banner...)
Susan' reasons to watch Fringe:
1. I like the intersection of the unusual, the bizarre, with the normal. Olivia and Peter are normal, or so we think. Walter is bizarre from the beginning. And then the series evolves to accepting the strangeness uncovered in each of the characters. There is a huge revelation about one of the characters, that we the audience and one other character knows. When will it happen? What will the fallout be? What does it change?
2.Really creepy effects. The jaw that falls off the pilot in the pilot episode, the bus passengers trapped in amber, the dreamscapes Olivia visits, the nightmare creature, the transformation, the diseases....since I like the dark, the macabre, offset by humour, this show is really good at this.
3. This show has a melancholy to it, partly due to the autumn colouring of the sets, partly due to the story line arc that has the past casting a huge shadow over the present. It's fascinating to see the characters grapple with the past and how this propels the plot forward, and also propels character development. I love this!
4. You know me and plot - there had better be some, and a story-line arc over many episodes is my favourite way to tell a long story. Fringe has this, in spades.
5. Since you all know what a huge Star Trek fan I am, and that Spock was my first tv crush, would it surprise you to know that the episode that aired last Thursday finally had Leonard Nimoy as William Bell? He may be getting older, but he can still act, *sigh* He gives Olivia a creepy scary look that had me shaking, and then he's all smiles and solicitous as he prepares her for what's to come next. Can we trust him? I have no idea, after this episode!! 5th spot goes to the very unusual guest spots and secondary characters. That, and the fact that not everything nor everyone is who they seem.
6. The actors themselves:
a) Anna Torv as Olivia Dunham. She is Australian, beatiful, does a fantastic Boston accent, and is completely believable whether heart-broken, angry, or fiercely independent. A curious and open character, fearless almost to the point of reckless. A huge capacity to love, which has been hidden as she recovers from the death of her partner who was her lover. As she recovers, I'm hoping she will start to recognize she can love again. Being a hopeless romantic, I hope it will be Peter! Because they are so good together. She also has some crucial revelations in the first season that show that she is the reason the Fringe division exists.
b) Joshua Jackson as Peter Bishop. Sarcastic, witty, world-weary in the beginning, and then reveals slowly, in words and action, how his father hurt him, and how he really needs his father. When was the last time that happened in television? Sinister past, knows shady characters, brilliant, which he has frittered away as he tries to escape his father's legacy, until the opening episode. His growth as a character is remarkable, and I applaud both the actor and the writers. He becomes a man, during the first season. It's all done in a quiet, understated manner by the actor. He shows he cares about Olivia even though I don't think he knows how much, yet. Under that cynicism, tender-hearted. A ''frustrated romantic'', he admitted in one episode. Also puts himself in danger, mostly backing up Olivia, who doesn't have a regular partner assigned to her.
c)Attention Lord of the Rings fans: John Noble, who played Denethor so wonderfully in Return of the King, plays Walter Bishop in Fringe! As season one progressed and Walter comes out of the brain funk he was in from being in a mental asylum for 17 years, Noble begins to show Walter coming to terms with what he's done. Heart-breaking in moments, and wild laughter as he rambles on in his side-tangents (often heard: "Walter! Focus!") or talks about food while looking at gruesome bodies on the autopsy table. A brilliant scientist with very questionable practices, considered insane and yet, the time in the mental institution has left him with a child-like enthusasiam and openness. The experiments he did before he was institutionalized, with his then partner William Bell, were at the cutting edge of science back then, working secretly with the government on experiments that have effects on the present day. Possibly seeking redemption for his past actions.
It sure is good to be able to say, sometimes, tv is worth watching.