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Fringe: Staring into the Abyss of Bad Science, Writing & Acting

Complete Score: 16.5 / 42 = 39%

Fringe, the latest J.J. Abrams project, is inspired by the X-Files, Twilight Zone and other similar science fiction shows. Normally an Abrams production incites a cloud of hype and blogosphere activity, but I did not hear about Fringe until a few days before the premiere. Once I read that it’s a science fiction show about odd, weird, and generally on the fringe sciences (hence, the name), including but not limited to re-animation, mind control, genetic tampering and other freaky topics I became interested. As a big fan of quality science fiction drama (ergo, Battlestar Galactica is the greatest show ever) this one seemed to be unique enough to warrant a look.

a show that is not authentic, immersive, or otherwise good.

The show features Anna Torv as FBI Agent Oliva Dunham, John Noble as mad scientist Dr. Walter Bishop, Joshua Jackson as the good doctor’s rebellious son Peter Bishop, and Lance Reddick as Olivia’s boss, Homeland Security agent Phillip Broyles. The show was co-created by J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman. Fringe airs on Fox every Tuesday night at 9 PM.

Hey...it's the gahden...Celtics start up soon!
Hey...it's the Gahden...Celtics start up soon!

Value

Fringe airs on Fox and streams via hulu so it’s relatively free. The 2 hour premiere for Fringe apparently cost $10,000,000 to produce and though there were a few nifty special effects, it’s tough to say the $10,000,000 was well spent as the show itself was lackluster. The storyline is a cool idea but its execution is average. The acting and writing are simply just not very good. For $10,000,000 Abrams and crew would have been much better off hiring someone to direct the cast well. Even Lance Reddick, who was awesome in The Wire comes across flat and stale here, a boring over generalization of every other secret government agent we’ve seen in shows like the X-Files.

On the plus side, the show is part of a movement by Fox to keep viewers focused on the channel by lowering the commercial count for Fringe and Joss Whedon’s new show, Dollhouse. It makes sense for all parties involved to have fewer commercials for shows, as we as a populace have lowered attention spans and with the internet increasingly growing as an alternative to television, TV channels must adapt. By having fewer commercials, the experience and immersion in the show is increased for the viewer, while also increasing the chances the viewer will stick to the channel and watch the commercials, thus increasing value for advertisers.

Score: 2.5 / 5

Lance longs for the days of The Wire
Lance longs for the days of The Wire

Quality

Though immersion in this show might increase due to the lower rate of commercials, we’re immediately ripped out of that immersion by the writing, which at times beats us over the head with stupidity and then kicks us while we’re down too.

Though I’ve enjoyed Lost, most of the other J.J. Abrams productions struck me as entertaining though shallow. A week ago I caught a few minutes of a Lost episode and with the recent viewings of Fringe fresh in my mind even the writing on Lost was now apparently bad. I always knew the writing was not spectacular, but it was good enough to allow the viewer to buy into the story for long enough. Not so with Fringe, where you are constantly reminded that you’re watching a TV show, where logic and real science get tossed out.

As a Bostonian born and raised, anytime I see my city on the little or big screen I immediately like that show or film at least a little bit. Too bad for Fringe that they did not bother to make the show seem authentically Bostonian, rather the city in this show could be any city in the world. There’s numerous gaffes that immediately strike any Bostonian, for instance at one point agent Olivia Dunham calls from South Boston and states that she’s going south on Fenway. There is no road in South Boston called Fenway and the Fenway area in general is on the other side of the city.

Dammit people, we will find a way for me to get off this show...we'll stay all night if we must!
Dammit people, we will find a way for me to get off this show...we'll stay all night if we must!

At another point the FBI agents must go to Back Bay, MA, which to any Bostonian would imply they’re going downtown to the South End – Newbury Street area. Nope, they’re out in the boonies at some storage facility that simply is the exact opposite of the Back Bay. The producers took the time to realize there’s a section of Boston called Back Bay and then just turned it into some little town setting. These are relatively small errors but they are numerous and as they add up over time it turns real Bostonians away from the show. If you’re going to base a show or film in Boston, take the time to realize that locals are very, very proud of their city and will rip apart your setting unless it is near perfect. So far, there’s no need for this show to be based in Boston and it seems to be an afterthought. If you’re going to do such a poor job of portraying the city realistically just base the show somewhere else.

For a $10,000,000 million dollar pilot, the show entertained me but I wasn’t hooked in to the point of wanting to see the next episode already. Also, for that cost the show should at least be authentic to its settings. It is not. Though I’m not a scientist, much of the fringe science on the show seems to be completely made up and not based on any actual knowledge. Obviously this show has to take creative liberties due to the subject matter, but at least try and make it seem reasonable.

Having now watched the first fours episodes of Fringe, I can come to a fairly accurate conclusion. The acting and writing for this show is awful. It’s insulting how bad it is. For instance, in one scene in the third episode, the FBI agent and Pacey are sent to a home in Cambridge to extract a device hidden in one of its walls. Upon knocking on the door, no one answers. Pacey then makes the remark, “well the lights are off” to imply that no one is home. It would be a viable conclusion except its bright enough outside to be the middle of the day. Over and over errors pop up in the script that make it apparent that these scripts were written in one pass and never looked upon again until read and recorded. The acting, while obviously hampered by the terrible writing, is also awful. FBI agents are made to look dumb, completely avoiding the fact that they’d have to be reasonably aware of science to become an FBI agent.

In another scene, we’re shown an image that looks like either a duck or a rabbit depending on how you look at. The mad scientist explains that it’s all a matter of perception, which the FBI agents just don’t get. I really like the plot line but the execution fails in uber-epic fashion.

Score: 1 / 5

Hey, the lights are off in the middle of the day, ergo no one is home!
Hey, the lights are off in the middle of the day, ergo no one is home!

Innovation

Abrams lists the show’s inspirations as The X-Files, Twilight Zone, Altered States and Michael Crichton. No wonder then that the show has a heavy dose of deja vu. A scientist gets locked away for an deadly accident, his son abandons him, two FBI agents fall in love and have to hide their relationship, all while a crazy hidden group is slowly discovered behind odd world events. Derpity derpity doo Fringe, I know you. Seriously, have I seen this show before? When I watch it sparks of creativity flutter out but in the end I’m just left with a very strong gut feeling of deja vu.

The show does get one point for the opening scene, a new level of gruesome for prime time TV.

Score: 1 / 5

Social Benefit

Well, if the show leads to more children being inspired to pursue scientific endeavors it could be viewed as a positive for society but if it inspires even more terror and fear into an already tense American public, it might just be a wash. The one plus is fewer commercials, which in the marketing laden environment of the current USA can only be viewed as a good thing. Plus it’s on hulu which means you don’t need to get a television to watch the show.

Still though, it’s just a television show and not a very good one at that. It’s not educational or in any significant way beneficial to society. It’s not the worst thing for society either but it certainly does not move the human race forward by any means.

Score: 1 / 5

Freestyle!

It’s not terrible, the acting is OK but the believability of the show is just plain awful. There were multiple occasions where I was forced to laugh at the ludicrous plot points in the show. In the end, the premise of the show is cool but my brain hurts too much watching the show and blocking out the constant pattern of points that remind me it’s a show, a show that is not authentic, immersive, or otherwise good.

Score: 11 / 22

Complete Score: 16.5 / 42 = 39%