I finally finished up Fringe the other day. Five seasons of a TV show, all watched after the last episode aired. I’ve found that I prefer to watch shows post-airing — not only am I usually a season or so behind on all of the current shows, but I just like picking and choosing from what people already know is good, rather than going through the gauntlet myself. Plus, I like to know when something is heading towards a satisfying conclusion. I’ve never been great at writing fiction, so I like to watch and pick apart shows I know have a closed end on them. Buffy is a show that I didn’t pick up until after it was all over with (and Firefly, too, come to think of it), and though I wasn’t sure if I’d love that one, I definitely did.

So I started up on Fringe earlier this year, and went through it season by season until the finale the other night. Despite waiting on most shows these days, I had actually seen most of the first season when it originally aired. And back then, I had the same issues with that everyone else did, really. The first season by itself is boring, with too many mysteries and not enough answers, and too much disconnect between the show’s main players. The premise of the show is a good one — it’s basically that a mad scientist (played by John Noble) gets flipped and is meant to be working for good via his son (Peter Jackson, the biggest star on the show when it aired) and FBI agent Anna Torv. The three are assigned to “Fringe division,” an X-Files style government agency chasing monsters, and the first season is generally (and derisively labeled) all about monster-of-the-week episodes, where the team faces off against something strange every single week.

When the show first started, I didn’t care much for it — the early shows were just too disconnected to grab my interest, and I didn’t really care much about the characters themselves. But I did stay, this time, because I knew things would get better. In the second and third seasons, either because the writers started being too sure of themselves or just because the show got some solid contracts rolling, the show starts to trust its own mystique, and this is when things really get good. I won’t spoil it too much in case you want to watch it, but the show dives into “multiple universe” territory and even adds a little time travel into the mix. And while the show’s relationships don’t really solidify until the second season, they almost have to just because the show itself gets so strange. When the world is (literally) flipped over in the second season, the show’s three main characters (four, if you count the lovely Astrid) kind of have to carve their own identities out just to keep everything straight.

Which, of course, makes the acting really impressive after a while. Just by way of the story, Jackson doesn’t get to play around too much with his own character, which is just as well: John Noble and Anna Torv get to jump into lots of different versions of themselves, and this sort of split screen shenanigans is, as far as I’m concerned, the best part of Fringe to watch. Even into the fourth season, the combination of time travel and universe jumping allows us to see all of these characters from quite a few different angles, and that made me a big fan, of both the show, and Noble and Torv (who, by the way, I saw on a late date at a Hollywood bar a few months ago, but decided not to bother).

Unfortunately, the show’s fifth season, as far as I’m concerned, jumps off of the deep end, and moves a little too far away from that core that made the show’s setting so strong there in the middle. It’s worth finishing off the series just to see what happens (and I thought the whole thing wrapped up well), but the writers let the show’s wackiness take a few too many steps away from that great triangle, in my opinion. The last season also wanders off a bit from the show’s pulpy center and, in dealing with bigger themes like “individuality” and “freedom,” loses a bit of the world-bending joy that marks the middle seasons.

As I said, though, the ending is worth it, and the show’s writers smartly steer the plot back around (somewhat implausibly, I’ll admit) for sort of a greatest hits wrapup. I enjoyed Fringe, in general — some episodes were better than others (I enjoyed “Entrada” and “White Tulip” a lot, though the second one is pretty obvious, and I could have done without episodes like “The No Brainer” and “The Equation”), but the series definitely found its way and the producers knew, or at least learned, when to follow that direction.

Next up: I’m going to work through some Netflix titles, I think, starting with House of Cards (I watched the first episode already, and I thought it was terrific). I also hear Orange is the New Black is worth watching, too, so I’ll put that on the list as well.

Posted on Friday, July 26th, 2013 at 10:14 pm. Filed under general.
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