Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fringe - Season 3

I realized during this season that Fringe is actually the best drama currently on a network, at least as far as ones I watch. It's actually gotten to a point where it might be the only one I watch at all when this Fall comes around, unless something new looks enticing. How pathetic is that? Not to be insulting towards Fringe, but it's just not consistently good enough to be the best hour-long show airing on one of the five most watched channels. Still, season three was their best job yet, and while it got into some really oddball material as it wore on, is still featured a compelling central story and some of the best acting by a whole cast on TV. And though I doubt the show will make it past its fourth season, I'm definitely going to be sticking with it until it does end up getting axed in favor of something starring a sassy doctor or whatever.

When the show came back last year, it began with what was probably the best single stretch of episodes it has had yet, bouncing back and forth between the two universes at the core of its plot, exploring regular Fringe-style mysteries with the bonus of fleshing out an interesting alternate view of how the world could be and an exciting running story featuring a couple of mismatched Olivias. After that resolved the show slowed down a bit, and had a couple of clunkers here and there, but also some really outstanding stuff as well. You can make a comparison between Fringe and another show produced by JJ Abrams, Lost, when you look at what it does well and what it sometimes doesn't. I really liked the weird sci-fi stuff on Lost, but a true resolution of a lot of it was ignored in favor of really wrapping up the characters well, and Fringe also succeeds when it puts the burden of its stories on the strong central figures at its core. Olivia, Peter, and especially Walter are all heavily damaged people with unbreakable links between them, and when that's the focus, it's often a much better series than when it's just some weird pseudo-science thing going on.

Even worse is when the show goes quasi-mystical on top of that, as it did with a somewhat misguided arc near the season's end, and in a few places they may have taken it too far. But I guess when a show gets bumped to a bad time slot and its ratings continue to dwindle - the writers forget about pleasing everyone and just try anything that comes to mind that seems like it could be cool. Not everything is, but enough works out that the experimentation is always interesting. It hasn't yet produced the kind of fevered genius that say, Dollhouse's imminent cancellation brought about, but it's clear from the season finale that they're not afraid to try things. In some ways it was a bad episode, using a cop-out to explain a season-long riddle and resorting to a couple tired pulp sci-fi cliches. But it also showed what works about the show on a very basic level, reestablished their skill at creating whole new settings out of nothing, had some more great character work, and had a great final moment that hints at a potentially mind-bending season four. I've always wished that Fringe could have more fun with itself, and they definitely showed signs of that here. If they combine that with a less wishy-washy stance on science versus fantasy and more consistent writing, it could really earn that best network drama title.

Also, here are my recaps for the episodes when I was filling in this season:

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