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.


StephanieD said...

I love Fringe too! I can't decide if I like Walter or Olivia more. Olivia because she is so brave and Walter because he is so the mad scientist.

Susan said...

Oh good! I'm so thrilled! Wasn't last week's episode really good? I can't stop thinking about everything we learned, and that bell sound keeps ringing1 I'm so counting down to Thursday evening!!! I love Walter too, but Olivia makes it all reasonable - she balances everything, I think. I do wish she would laugh a little more, she is so driven right now. I think all the actors have grown into their characters. I really like Peter this season too, he's not so aimless, but much more in the front, taking charge while Olivia recovers. I'm so glad you love it too!! I'll come visit your site tomorrow (it's even later now on Monday night!...)

Kailana said...

Okay. Apparently I need to watch this... Good thing I requested the first season from the library to see what requesting from the library and DVDs was like...

Table Talk said...

I don't think Fringe has made it over here yet. What we did have last week were the first two episodes of the new Stargate. And they bothered why?????

Hazra said...

I love this show too! I've been watching the first season all through the weekend, and I love it. The show is well-written, and deals with the bizarre without becoming ridiculous. I especially love the interaction between Peter Bishop and his father, they are great actors and complement each other very well.

Molly said...

How do you do it? How do you manage to discuss a book or a movie or a TV show that I would normally not give the time of day and somehow make me feel that I absolutely have to read/see it?!

I am not a star trek fan (I am sure you are not surprised)....but I did enjoy X-files. I think I will give Fringe a try sometime soon.

Hope you are feeling better!

mariel said...

Excellent review Susan! I have seen the first 3 episodes and am already very intrigued by the show! I love the science, flawed though it sometimes is, and really like the character development. I look forward to watching more!

I too have been laid up with a horrid cold, and instead of reading, have been relying on the Tudors to get me through it! Hope you feel better soon.

Kathleen said...

You have convinced me! I missed the first season last year but it is readily available for me to watch now. I actually love LOST and loved the first season of Heroes so this one is sure to "hook" me too! I've also heard good things about a show that started this season called, Flash Forward.

brideofthebookgod said...

oh Susan, I'm so glad you loved this! I really enjoyed the first series, and series 2 has just started over here though I'm a few episodes behind because we are away on holiday. All that means is that when I get home next week there'll be a little pile of them waiting for me to watch.

3M said...

I haven't watched this show yet, but I love sci-fi and will be definitely looking into getting caught up.

Stephanie said...

I LOVE Fringe!! I was a huge fan of the X-Files. But by the end, I was a little weary of where it headed.

But Fringe. SOOOO Cool. And I just am completely in love with Joshua Jackson. His character cracks me up. And he pretty easy on the eyes too!!

Bybee said...

You've made me a Fringe fan in one fell swoop!

Lesley said...

I never really got that into the X-Files but I love Fringe! My husband enjoys it too and so it's one of the few shows we watch together. I think Walter is my favorite.

Daphne said...

What a great review. I am a total X-Files fan (used to go to X-Files viewing parties).. haven't watched this yet, but i might have to now!

Susan said...

Hi everyone: sorry I'm late with my replies! I'm really thrilled everyone is either watching it already, or now keen too (lol, my plan worked! more viewers means it stays on longer!)

Kailana: have you got it yet? I hope you enjoy it (fingers crossed you do). I'm about to rewatch it again, since I now I know there are certain clues scattered about, that you find out in season 2 are important. I love this show!

Table Talk: I couldn't get into the old Stargate (much to Deslily's disappointment I think, she loves it) so when I saw Robbie Carlyle was on it and it was on a ship, I was interested. I fell asleep during last night's episode of SGU, so I'm going to try again today. It's nothing like Fringe, though, which is far better! did you ever watch the X-Files?

Hazra: Exactly, the show doesn't become ridiculous (although very funny sometimes). I like the science aspects, and I love the characters. Great story. Have you seen any from season 2 yet?

Molly: did you try it yet? I'm so glad I can convince you to sometimes try something! lol at least I'm returning the favour since my son has the same affect on me! but honestly, this show is good. Just don't start with episode 4 the Arrival, which was the one I tried first. It's easier to start either with this season or the beginning of season one. I hope you like it!

mariel: we have the Tudors on here too! The only thing i watch on Wednesday nights. I wasn't sure they could continue it once Anne Boleyn was dead,but now I see they're looking at the dynasty - already laying plotlines for Mary after Henry dies - so very interesting and intriguing again. I'm really enjoying this series.

I'm so happy you like Fringe too! Are they showing season one over there now? Have you seen episode 4 yet? It's very important overall, just a hint! What's your favourite part of the show?

I hope you feel better by now, too....

Kathleen: I've been hearing good things about Flash Forward too, but I missed all the first episodes, and my friend says they have to be seen in sequence. I'll have to wait for reruns to start....

Fringe is continuing good the past two weeks, so I hope you are enjoying catching up on dvd! that's how i saw Fringe last weekend!

I didn't like Season 4 of Lost, Season 5 got me back again, but I have to admit I'm almost completely hopelessly confused about the plot now. And I hate, I loathe, Ben. I still can't believe what happened to Juliet (even though I don't really like her either, I want Sawyer with Kate....)Heroes is terrible this season, where is the plot?

bride: oh yaay! I'm so happy you watch it too. I told my husband (he knows all about you!) and now he thinks I'm not such a freak! he's trying to watch Fringe too, but I have to start him at the beginning. Let me know when you see the episodes from this season so we can catch up (email me) there's so much that happens in ep 4!!!

3M: Hi Michele! I hope you like it. It's funny the shows we miss even though we like the genre, isn't it?

Stephanie: you and me both, Joshua Jackson has me fanning myself! Love that half-day beard and now he's wearing jeans and that leather jacket, yep, hot! I'm hoping(praying) he and Olivia get together. I love his wisecracks too, and how Peter Bishop became more invested in the show by deciding to be proactive instead of reacting all the time. He needs a gun,though! Not because I like guns, but because he's back up now for Olivia, and he's in too much danger without one. I want to see what he can do with that high IQ of his! And Joshua is Canadian too, like another cool sci fi hero, Nathan Fillion....

I hated where X files went in the end too. Do here's hoping Fringe stays with it's story arc for 5 good seasons (that would be fabulous, are you listening, tv gods????). Nope, I'm not obsessed at all! lol I'm glad to know you are too! Yaay!

Susan said...

bybee: can you see it over there? Or get the dvd of the first season? oh, that would be so great if you could, or get it already. :-D I had no idea I could sway anyone! lol it's good tv, and if you like it too, I'll be so thrilled. Another thing we'll share! There was a character on one of the episodes named Susan too....but you don't want to know what happened to her....

Lesley: My husband wants to like it too, so I get to watch it all over again with him! He's never seen me like this about a tv show. I think it's so cool that so many of us book-lovers are watching Fringe! I think Walter is a great character, and the actor has had me in tears a few times with some of his scenes. It's great that you love it too!

Daphne: that's a phrase I haven't heard in a long time, X-Files viewing parties! wow, that brings back time......I never went to one, I didn't know of any here in Ottawa, but I sure heard about them. My son grew up afraid of the theme song - he knew he wasn't allowed to watch the show - and I find it funny that a few years back he bought me a couple of seasons of X-Files and now he watches it! So, my dear blog-friend, if you like X-files, give Fringe a try. I think you might like it!

Didn't the alien story line bother you just a teensy bit on X-Files? I have to admit I wanted to believe in alien space craft/ufos after watching some X-File episodes, but there was alot of dark government conspiracy stuff that now i work in the government, I know isn't so far-fetched! I might have to watch some X-Files soon too! lol

Clover said...

Oh I adore this post. And Fringe. I look forward to it every week, but haven't yet seen last week's episode. They show it on a Sunday night here. Very good stuff.

Susan said...

Clover: thank you so much! It's several weeks later and I'm enjoying the second season as much. I so love this show! I've actually gone onto forums to talk about it, which I've never done before! It's lovely to see so many of us are enjoying Fringe too :-) thanks!