PURE GOLDER Why Fringe Is Playing A Dangerous Game

The weekly sfx.co.uk editorial turns its sights on Fringe , Merlin and Medium

Instead the show has gone in completely the opposite direction. The “Story so far…” segments at the start of the episodes are beginning to feel like a trailer for a trailer for a highlights show; random staccato images and info bursts that threaten to make your brain overheat.

The new format seems almost a two-fingered salute to any notion of appealing to casual viewers. In case you didn’t know (mild spoilers ahoy, but it’s started in the UK now, so I feel no guilt), series three flits back an forth between two parallel universes, with the same actors playing different versions of themselves in each. It’s even more complicated than that; the Olivia from our world is stuck in the alternate world, while their Olivia is pretending to be our Olivia in our world (which basically requires her to look like a startled bunny most of the time, but Peter hasn’t noticed so that’s okay).

If that weren’t enough, the show isn’t even flitting between the universes within episodes. What we’re getting is an episode set in the alternate world one week, then in our world the next week, and so on. If you’re not religiously following the show, that’s going to be mightily confusing. For instance, say you’ve never seen the show before and you watch it one week and enjoy it, when you tune in next week, it’ll be like watching an entirely different show with the same actors.

I feel qualified to comment on this as I spent three episodes of Farscape back in the day, utterly, utterly baffled because I missed the episode in which Crichton was cloned, and each one went off with different set of crewmates. For a good stretch of the season the show alternated episodes between those two crews (you can see the similarity to Fringe ). Having missed the crucial explanatory episode “Eat Me” I was tuning in for the next couple of weeks puzzled why Crichton was in two places at once. But hey, I watch enough of this skiffy nonsense to guess that something like that must be going on; the less sci-fi literate might not be so forgiving.

So I fear that Fringe may be playing a dangerous game. On the other hand I’m glad it is. While the pragmatic side of my brain is worried for the show’s populist credentials, the fan side is doing a little Numfar dance of joy . It’s a clever, complex, intriguing, outrageous and audacious show that just keeps on managing to surprise (and disgust) in ever more ingenious ways. I love spotting the subtle differences in the alternate universe (The Red Lantern, The Red Arrow, a hit musical called Dogs ) and I love the way that the episodes set in the alternate universe have a credit sequence with a different colour scheme. It‘s geek attention to detail that appeals to, well, geeks like me.

My only hope is that there are enough viewers out there like me, to keep the show safe from cancellation.

But one thing that’s getting really annoying is that Merlin himself doesn’t seem to have any magic other than telekinesis. Worse still for poor old Colin Morgan – who has to learn the lines – is that every object seems to require a different spell (and accompanying babble of old English) to move it. Just for once, in a fight scene, it’d be nice to see Merlin use invisibility, or create some flames, or vanish something, or even produce a rabbit out of a hat or some flowers from up his sleeve. But no, as soon as you see Arthur getting in a pickle, you know Merlin’s going to levitate a stick or unbuckle a horse saddle. Invisibility is cheaper than telekinesis, so it can’t be a budget issue, so come on, Merlin writers – more imagination please.

(Talking of pickle, anyone else notice a pickled egg agenda in the show this year?)