We live in such an instant gratification and instant judgment culture, it's any wonder that a new TV show (save for dumb reality spectacle, or by the book procedurals -- which don't get me wrong, I watch a great deal of) actually gets a chance to find its "sea legs." As a network, you want big ratings, which generally translates into accessible, not too challenging and not too serialized. (As a fan, for the safety of the show, you also want big ratings, but typically not at the expense of the material and characterizations). But if you repeat the same formula over and over, particularly on a genre show, the core audience gets bored and wants more movement in the big picture. So it's a very difficult tightrope to walk, especially when a show is just starting out and trying to get the right tone and balance.
Fringe is one of those shows, which introduced some fantastical elements, and hints of the bigger picture (Massive Dynamics, John Scott, William Bell, The Observer, mind-blowing technology, Peter's past, and of course, crazy Walter Bishop), while still trying to have a "freak of the week" resolution. The show thus far has been hit and miss (mostly hit), but last night, "Ability" beamed in a whole coffee cake full of awesome.
We had the case of the week, which had some resolution (everyone in Boston didn't wind up with all their orifices grown over, which would have been....inconvenient) and some mind-rattling plot twists and revelations that set up the show for much more to come.
Some shows do this mixture of short term and long term exceedingly well (the Whedon shows, BSG, Lost) and some flail around incoherently (I'm looking at you, Heroes), but the obvious antecedent for Fringe is The X-Files. It's funny, during the initial run of that show, I was always entertained by the MOTW eps, but i was impatient and eager to see where the big picture was taking us. However, in hindsight, the overall "mythology" turned out to be so convoluted and so indecipherable, I rarely find myself watching those in reruns or on DVD. However, I still love watching the MOTW episodes ("Clyde Bruckman," "Bad Blood," "Home," "Ice," "Jose Chung," "Coprophages," "Unnatural," Squeeze," "Hollywood AD," "Beyond the Sea," among many others) over and over again.
Fringe is settling into its MOTW format, with things we love: Olivia solving cases and kicking ass, Peter being snarky, Walter being brilliant and socially awkward and some gruesome or technologically challenging threat. We've only seen pieces of the bigger picture, but last night laid out the stakes and the questions in a thrilling and entertaining hour:
- The overall threat may not come from aliens or evil humans, but from another dimension.
- Olivia was one of a few children tested with an experimental chemical, Cortexiphan, which enables potential psychic abilities.
- There is a group that understands the threat our growing technology, and the possible window to the other dimensional multiverse, may pose to our world.
- Reluctant "warriors" need to be drafted into service to combat this.
- Walter, and Massive Dynamic, are both responsible for more than we know.
- The "fringe" group responsible for understanding these interdimensional threats have published a "manifesto," entitled ZFT, and developed an organization and some tests to uncover and train the reluctant warriors.
- Walter...DUN DUN DUN...may have written the manifesto without recalling it (before his crazy days. At the very least, his typewriter seems to have been responsible for writing the ZFT, perhaps authored by Bell. Who may or may not be Walter???)
- Teleportation has some adverse side effects, which don't result in death, but do result in the ability to blow the fuck out of a hospital room.
How can you not love a show that features a main character commenting on a recently discovered treatise on the forthcoming technological and interdimensional apocalypse thusly: “I was just reading it while sitting on the crapper.”
Embrace the Fringe, y'all. This is good stuff.