Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Don't touch the two dollar bill (if you value your orifices)

Good news and bad news. Bad news first: last night's Fringe was the last we'll see until April. Dammit. Good news: we had a spectacular eppy that was creepy, funny, and opened up a whole can of whoopass on the show's mythology.

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.
I just loved everything about "Ability." The deepening of the mysteries. The way that Peter and Olivia's "cheat" on the blinky-light test came back to haunt them at the bomb site (didn't see that one coming, honestly). More of Peter's shady underground contacts and connections, that allow him to do more than just "handle" his dad. Walter, as always. Mr. Jones. Olivia smiling and show more shades of her personality. (I know StraHOTski is kicking Torv's ass in my little weekly pool, and god knows I love Sarah Walker, but I really like that Fringe's writer's have given Torv something more to do the last couple of episodes other than "determined" and "dour." She just floats my boat). The snippets of the ZFT manifesto we heard. More Nina Sharp. Just about everything, except for the continued presence of obligatory supervisory asshat Agent Harris, who adds nothing save for the cliched roadblock (wouldn't it be better to have a more fleshed out foil here?)

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.


  1. Yep, that was pretty much awesome. Hopefully, Fox will give this thing time to breathe.

    But Sarah Walker vs. Olivia Dunham? Sorry, that one's not even close. :-)

  2. I'm not that worried about Fringe, ratings wise. It still appears in the Top 20, seems to have some "crossover" (not just geek) appeal, and does well in the 18-49 demo. However, a huge ass break until April won't do it any favors. Hopefully, the mind blowing eppy on Tuesday, along with a little promotion during Idol, will keep it top of mind until then.

    Don't get me wrong. I love Agent Walker, but there's just something about Agent Dunham. Perhaps Fringe needs a Weinerlicious costume, or excuse to go undercover as Princess Leia. At any rate, it's not like choosing between broccholi and asparagus.

  3. Yeah, I'm certainly more worried about the ratings issue when it comes to tonight's shows.

    I am a late arrival to the Whedonverse, and this will be the first of his series that I have watched from the beginning. I watched a little bit of Buffy when it was on, but not a regular viewer, and my kids watch Angel in syndication.

    Believe it or not, what drew me in was Dr. Horrible. After I watched that, I went back and watched Firefly on Hulu. My summer viewing project is going to be to go back and watch Buffy on DVD.

  4. I've had problems with Olivia Dunham since the premiere, but I thought it was an actress issue rather than a character issue. I got the distinct impression that Torv was so worried about letting her accent slip that she couldn't concentrate on the acting. (And no, I didn't know she wasn't from the U.S. until after I'd watched the first couple of episodes. As soon as I found out, her monotone and blah delivery made more sense, although not from a character standpoint.) So either the writers finally gave Dunham something to do other than look "determined and dour," or Torv finally got comfortable with the accent; I think it's a bit of both, actually.

    This was definitely the best episode we've had so far, and I was pleasantly surprised with Dunham's version of "my sister was abducted by aliens." I love fake science! I'm a bit disgruntled about having to wait until April for more, though.

  5. The accent thing is tough. On one end of the spectrum, you have Hugh Laurie, who can convey so much with his face and voice while still holding the accent. On the other end was Michelle Ryan, who was awful as the Bionic Woman (except for that one ep when she had to play an English exchange student).

    Personally, I think it was how they have been writing Olivia. It was all doom and gloom and sourpuss characterization until the last few eppys. Adding the sister and kid helped, as we got to see her in a different element (and smile), plus they seem to be finding the characterization for her where she CAN be playful on occasion (like when she was coquettishly asking Peter for a favor).

    And w00t for "fake science!"