[WARNING: SPOILERS FOR PRETTY MUCH ALL OF THIS FANTASTIC SHOW. READ AT YOUR PERIL]
Ah Fringe. For most people, it’s the follow-up show from that guy who did Lost. For the faithful fans that have followed it through to the end, it’s probably the most satisfying sci-fi saga on our screens since that series about X-Files. The thing is Fringe deserves even more praise than just being a very good sci-fi show. It deserves the status of one of TV’s greatest shows.
That’s a very hyperbolic intro, one that deserves considered analysis and passionate argument. I’ll – hopefully – be providing the latter, but there’s a reason for the enthusiasm. I can’t say that I’ve been there since the very first broadcast, in fact, I only “discovered” the show in September. I already had plans on getting around to it, so when I saw that Asda had the first series for only £10, that fast became the literal definition of a no-brainer.
For the uninitiated, Fringe follows a group of FBI agents as they investigate cases that fall under the spectrum of ‘weird shit’. And the first few episodes are pleasantly distracting. It has a fun premise, it’s characters roughly fitted into the roles you would expect them to; – the tough lead, her wise-cracking partner with a past and the TV genius that pretty much solves everything by being ruddy clever – and there was enough of a mystery running in the background to keep the DVD’s on rotation.
The team may be considered tropes, but there’s enough distinction to their personalities that throughout five series, it’s rare for any action to be considered out of character. Walter Bishop is certainly a mad scientist – but he’s one plagued by the consequences of his hubris and arrogance. He’s also regularly the funniest character on the show. His son, Peter Bishop, starts out as the guy who’s there to point out how absurd everything is – hello, audience surrogate – but ends up being far more integral to the plot than you could ever dream of. Olivia Dunham is – and will forever be – a proper badass.
While Walter Bishop is by far one of the best characters of the new millennium, each one of the main team feels more than the sum of their part and that’s down to the fantastic cast who became one of the strongest ensembles on TV. John Noble, Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, Lance Reddik, Jasika Nicole, Blair Brown and Seth Gable not only had to sell the emotions of one character, but two or three different versions of the same character.
Yes, different versions of the same character. Fringe deserves its place in the pantheon of the greats because its central theme is not only engaging, but thoughtfully explored week after week. In a time where technology has evolved to the point where we have an infinite database of knowledge accessed via swipes on a device the size of a credit card, Fringe had a variety of episodes that really dug to the nature of what makes each person on the earth unique. And it pushes that theme as far as it can stretch, sometimes to breaking point, but never too far.
When it wasn’t exploring that, it also had the heartfelt and tender backstory that fans will know in an instance, and to go into great deal would be a disservice to anyone who ignored the spoiler warning at the top. Seriously dude, it’s there for a reason! While some sci-fi fans baulked at the show, it has gone on well to garner love, conquering all cynicism. I’ve always felt that it grounds the show with emotional stakes that it’s worked hard to earn.
Fringe subtly morphed from being a welcome distraction with likeable characters to a show with real emotional heft and a sense of daring that you shouldn’t be finding on network TV. This is a show that had alternate universes, a doomsday machine that reset the timeline and erased a major character, human hybrids that could assume the identities of other people and “Observes”… It’s no surprise that over the course of its five seasons it was always in danger of being cancelled, but that’s part of its zany charm.
When the show ends on its own terms – a good 100 episodes and with the privilege of a Sky simulcast for lucky UK fans – it will matter. This is a sci-fi show that didn’t comprise, it’s a show that proved that big concepts like alternate universes can work within network TV and its world(s) was a joy to escape into. Quietly, Fringe became one of TV’s greatest and it’s something you should seriously consider plunging into.