I hate writing columns such as this because it means a show I adore is possibly in danger of cancellation.
In this case, it’s “Fringe,” which FOX recently announced is moving to Friday in the wake of a Wednesday-Thursday shift for the annual ratings juggernaut “American Idol” this January.
FOX is intending to crush every other competing network with this move (including NBC’s impressive and expansive comedy lineup), but the network may end up crushing forever one of the most complex and interesting shows on network television.
If you tuned in for “Fringe” at the start of its run nearly three years ago, I’ll forgive you for giving up on it.
In its first season, the show barely knew what to do with itself and did a poor job of establishing its characters in favor of an episodic monster-of-the-week procedural structure that did the show no favors.
Sure, we met the members of Fringe Division, a special unit of the FBI investigating crimes of weird science and other paranormal oddities — Olivia Dunham, stoic lead investigator; Walter Bishop, possibly crazy but a genius scientist; Peter Bishop, Walter’s jack-of-all-trades rebellious son — but we didn’t really get to know them.
But in the wake of a jaw-dropping twist in the final episode of that first season, the revelation that there is an alternate universe in which, for example, 9/11 never happened, the show found its footing.
While the opening episodes of season two were a little ungainly, the producers discovered that the core relationships between Olivia and Peter and between Peter and Walter were the most compelling storylines, and soon, the weird science cases intersected with these relationships in startling ways until the truth came out.
Now we know that Peter in our universe is dead, that Walter went to the alternate universe to kidnap and raise the son of alternate-universe Walter (known as Walternate) as his own and that this act is, in part, responsible for a war between the universes.
If that all sounds rather high-concept and ridiculous — well, it is. But the nuanced performances of the actors ground the series in ways that no critic could have guessed from the opening episodes.
It’s not just the actors who are carrying the show; creatively, the producers are firing on all cylinders. The decision to split the storytelling between our universe and the alternate universe has been a great move for the show, amplifying dramatic tension at an almost constant pace while allowing the actors a chance to show multiple sides of their characters and giving the entire show a certain emotional darkness that it was lacking previously.
In season three, the war isn’t abstracted — more than it has ever been, it’s personal.
And now FOX seems to be sending the show to its death in the ratings wasteland of Friday nights.
To be fair, “Fringe” has never been a blockbuster ratings performer, but in a competitive Thursday time slot, it does hold its own. Execs claim that the show does mammoth DVR ratings, which they think will help staunch the inevitable wound the ratings will take.
I sincerely hope viewers prove to FOX execs that they’ll follow “Fringe” wherever it goes because it is truly one of the most exciting shows currently airing on network television. If you haven’t already, give “Fringe” a shot.
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