The bonds of family, the ecstasy of romance, the exhilaration of intellectual inquiry, and a secret government agency working to protect you from all kinds of crazy, weird stuff. If I told you there was a TV series featuring all of that, plus great acting and superb action sequences, wouldn’t you want to watch that?
Sure you would. And people who are watching Fringe now know it’s doing something rare: It’s a TV show working on all levels, characters with which anyone can identify, imaginative scripts, crackling dialogue, and a positive message (boiled-down: All you need is love). It’s the kind of show that, every time you finish watching the latest installment, you want to see its next episode right now.
A new episode of Fringe, titled “Os,” airs tonight, and as I explain and exhort in the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on sale today, you’re making a mistake if you miss it.
But if you’re not watching Fringe – and in case you haven’t figured it out yet, this is a passionate please-save-Fringe plea to you and to the dear, intelligent, how-much-flattery-do-you-need folks at Fox — here’s what I suggest: Forget everything you’ve heard about Fringe. Banish the notion that you’ll be confused by the serialized nature of its storytelling, that it’s too deep into its mythology for you to catch up. It’s not.
Because like the best TV, Fringe works on a number of levels, and one level is, it’s highly entertaining, accessible stuff. All you really need to know about Anna Torv’s Olivia Dunham and Josh Jackson’s Peter Bishop is that they’re brave investigators for the FBI’s Fringe Division, seeking to solve the mysteries of our world, which may be in jeopardy from another, alternate version of our world. And, by the way, Peter and Olivia are in love in a manner that’s so glowing with passion yet so challenged by emotional roadblocks thrown in their way, they make Romeo and Juliet look like Phil and Claire Dunphy.
And all you really need to know about John Noble’s Walter Bishop is that he’s a brilliant scientists who’s also emotionally fragile, playfully eccentric, and a junk-food junkie (it’s unlikely any other genius has referred to Pop Tarts as “delicious strawberry-flavored death”). Oh, and by the way, Noble deserves an Emmy for his extraordinarily delicate, wide-ranging performances.
At its big, red, throbbing heart, the show tells the story of a love so powerful, it crosses universes: When Peter was seven, he died. His brilliant-scientist father, Walter, having discovered that there was a parallel universe containing doubles of everyone here, transported himself to that Other Side and brought back that universe’s Peter, to love and to cherish. In doing so, he created not just a rift in the universes (which are now dangerously, explosively out of balance), but also a rift between father and son (when Peter discovered who he really was, and grappled with the idea that he belonged to another Walter, a “Walternate”).
This is the bare-bones version of Fringe, which is creatively capacious enough to also take in the dual nature that resides in every one of us; arcane conspiracy theories that end up as eerie realities; and the over-arching idea held by every regular reader of Entertainment Weekly that we can experience everything – politics, art, philosophy, and cures for loneliness — through the culture around us.
From The Twilight Zone to Battlestar Galactica, the sci-fi/fantasy genre has been downbeat, dystopian, pessimistic, and bleak. In that context, who can blame viewers leery of Fringe, after seeing all those Fox promos in which the heroes yelp variations on “Our whole universe may end!”? We get enough of that kind of message on other channels, like Fox News and MSNBC. Successful, hit TV shows, all hits of any pop-culture kind, have one thing in common: Reassurance. They make you feel that, when you get up off the sofa, you’ve not only been entertained and, at best, mentally stimulated, but you’ve also been assured that life goes on and the future is sustainable.
This positive, utopian, optimistic message is the one Fringe delivers; it’s just that it comes wrapped in a package that some people have too quickly pigeonholed as “dark,” “gritty,” “complicated,” and “it might make my head hurt.”
I’m not going to guilt-trip you and say that if you don’t watch Fringe, you’re helping to create an atmosphere in which daring new shows won’t make it onto future network schedules. Instead, I’ll be sad that you’re not sharing in what could be the best puzzle-pieced epic since Lost, and the best portrait of a fractious family since Frasier, or M*A*S*H. Because right now, Fringe is promising you nothing less than the world – two of ’em, in fact.
Why do you think Fringe isn’t more popular? Will you be watching it?