31 December 2010

Fringe Screens Well, with a Demographic of One

Fringe, currently surging along in its third season, is one of the best shows I have seen, ever, and certainly the best on US television in ages. Its dominance is not universal; indeed, I enjoy it so much because it provokes within me the same warm fuzzies that I get from some of the better anime series...but don't let that sell anything short. Fringe is a series that rewards my particular brand of obsession with ever-increasing levels of conspiracy, science-fiction-ish-ness, and drama.

My comparison to anime is well-advised. The great downfall of the serious American drama series has been, to my lights, an utter failure at long-term story arcs. Star Trek never managed more than a half-hearted effort, even given DS-9's workmanlike writing, and X-Files (Fringe's closest relative) muddled itself so badly that it was worth watching for the one-off Monster Of The Week episodes alone. Anime, however, has served as a refuge for those who like their melodrama serious and long-form, not dependent on making each week a self-contained triumph. Fringe looks to this method, building slowly in the first season what later is utilized in the second and third, and hardly ever resorting to a pure MOTW episode.

Anime conventions don't overwhelm the show; in fact, they don't manifest much at all outside of the use of serious drama and a story arc. The relationship drama, as a matter of fact, is all-american, and surprisingly subtle in places, avoiding Unresolved Sexual Tension and mostly steering clear of feeling forced. Ultimately, as many conventions are avoided as embraced. Character-building is consistent, with only a few minor derailments here and there, and interfaces well with the story.

Ah--the story. Classic SF themes, with genetic monsters, space things, time travel, and, most importantly, alternate universes. It's complex and usually subtle, and even the laughably conventional parts are handled with aplomb, concentrated as they are in MOTW sequences. A little consistency goes a long ways, though, and here is the strength of the series, iron at the core of a story that could suffer immesurably without proper attention. The logic is consistent, the handwaves consistent, the characters consistent--all combine to make a series that I consider to be a new pinnacle.

All that said, though--the series isn't over with. It could end poorly, it could be canceled and THEN end poorly, it could be canceled and end well, or, worst of all, it could be canceled and just stop with an unresolved cliffhanger. I've almost caught up to this season, and it lose track would be terrible.

As an aside, post script, whatever...this ain't Lost. It's not a single season of action spread out over as many as could possibly be justified, it's not a show that depends on obfuscation to seem mysterious, and it certainly isn't an extended analogy for death and purgatory.