BLOGGERS’ WEEK: Will Walter Bishop curb his enthusiasm? asks John Cooper (some minor spoilers)
I was pleased as punch at the news Fringe got renewed for a fourth season, as I’m sure were its stars after having the show was moved/dumped to a slot in the US schedules on Friday night which had a particular reputation for killing off any show which was put there.
The quality of the show isn’t in question. Walter Bishop is easily one of my favourite characters since the Doctor, but I will play Devil’s advocate and say it’s not hard to see why the show was moved. After the introduction of a parallel universe and dual roles for most of the cast, then setting alternate episodes in each universe – “over here” and “over there” – with differently-coloured opening credits, it’s not hard to see the potential problem: what is exciting and fresh to fans could be a tad confusing to the casual viewer.
The alternating universe episodes are a great ideas tool. For the cast it’s clearly a bonus playing more than one version of the same character, a rare opportunity in a long running series. Shows usually go into “evil twin” territory when they’ve run out of ideas and need to resort to shark-jumping gimmicks. Fringe has embraced the idea and – as I’m sure the show runners are aware – it’s a great way to keep your top talent motivated and invested. The great John Noble gets to play polar the opposite of himself, while Anna Torv’s “Bolivia” alternate is superb – a rewarding watch for the fans to observe the subtle differences in personality and character.
From the outside Fringe does look like a safe bet for appealing to general audiences. On the surface, it’s a bit like the X-Files with an attractive leading lady and that guy from Dawson’s Creek , with a new case almost every week like a procedural show. During season one missing a few episodes was fine, but around the tail end of season two onwards not so much. After the introduction of the B-universe stories, missing few episodes could mean tuning back in to see a smart calculating Walter Bishop, or that Olivia had dyed her hair red, wears combat pants and has let herself go a bit. Oh, and that guy who was killed in the first series alive again and full of worms.
Keeping audiences guessing is a staple of any fictional drama show – sci-fi even more so – and the cases for the Fringe team are always inventive. But from its apparently “safe format” Fringe is actually challenging the casual and new viewers with inconsistencies between the characters and situations on a week-to-week basis, which is what makes it so unpredictably great, but also a mental stumbling block for prospective newcomers.
Again, I’m glad Fringe will grow a bit more, but after this near death experience, it’ll be interesting to see just how uncompromising it will be on its return. If they opt to expand on the parallel universe, or resolve it and move on. Or better still, have an episode with a cameo from Quinn Mallory and the Sliders team, eh? Popping through a portal to help out? No. Maybe not.
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