Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Fringe" Season One

I am always looking out for the next “X Files” type of show. It is not enough for the show to be dark, weird and scary, however. Those types of show are a dime a dozen, but most don’t last very long because the true formula for success behind “The X Files” was more than that.

This year “Fringe” entered its fourth season, and that combined with the fact that the first two seasons were available for a steal on DVD prompted me to see how the show measures up. So far, having plodded through the first season the jury is out. In its favor is the fact that most shows usually take a season or so before they find their voice.

The set-up is good. An FBI agent, an honest-to-goodness mad scientist named Walter, and his genius son team up to investigate strange mysteries of a scientific nature. It provides the basis for a “monster of the week” show with a potential, larger conspiracy lurking in the background. The problem the “Fringe” struggles with is that it is too much science and not enough (or any) supernatural.

Whereas “The X Files” ultimately was a show about faith (“I want to believe”) “Fringe” is never very mysterious. Any and every problem is easily recognized by Walter; in fact he is ultimately responsible for most of them. There is no element of our team against an unbelieving world. Reality in this show is simply weird but no one sees it as such. Also, the “science” behind the stories is both too obvious and as a result too fake. Anyone with a high school level of scientific knowledge knows this stuff is nonsense. For example, a man is wheelchair bound and then dies by losing too much spinal fluid over a period of several weeks when most people would assume (correctly) that the human body could adequately replenish it.

As the season progresses it does improve, but the build up toward the reveal of the overarching theme is tempered as we realize what that reveal will be. The idea of the multiverse is supposed to feel new and fresh, but it is one of the oldest ideas in science fiction. Hopefully, the show will use it to explore interesting ideas and not just for flashy but empty plot devices.

The show does flirt with metaphysical issues in one scene. Walter discusses the potential of more than a material universe with another scientist:

Walter: “A little memory loss is often kind to the soul.”
Nicholas: “[Is] that a figure of speech? Or do you believe there is such a thing? The soul?”
Walter: “There are days when I wish I did. There are days when I wish I didn't.”
Nicholas: “I often wake up at night, frightened, with the understanding that there are things Man shouldn't know. That the scientific trespasses I've committed...”
Walter: “...will one day be judged… If indeed there is a soul, we must consider then that there is still time for redemption. We're not being hauled off to be judged yet, Nicholas.”

Time will tell is the show itself will finally “get a soul.” Season one is a bit lifeless.

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