Fringe: Sometimes Television Can Be Worthwhile

Serenity, the star of Firefly.

I tend to stay away from television. I’ve got probably, 300 channels. You probably to do. Or more. And let’s face it, there’s usually very little worth watching. Though the bandwidth is packed to the gills How It’s Made is usually the best thing on. I watch some soccer on TV, but have no regular programs. And when I do, they’ve already been either cancelled or run their course and I buy the DVDs and watch them at my own pace. Firefly is a good example of that and proof that great writing doesn’t have to be in a book. I didn’t discover Firefly until five years after it had aired. Magnificent writing that my entire family enjoyed. Too bad there were only 14 episodes. It should have run for five years, like the show I discovered a few weeks ago. Of course, the final episode of that aired earlier this month so once again, I’ll be buying the DVDs or watching on Apple TV.

The television show I’m talking about is Fringe that wrapped up it’s five-year story arc two weeks ago. I had seen a part of the pilot at some point but wasn’t in a situation where I could sit down and get sucked in. Maybe that was a mistake because they’ve been running them on the Science Channel in order. At any rate, I caught my first full episode about a month ago and was literally blown away by the writing. It was an episode from Season 2* that brilliantly used one of my favorite literary devices: having somebody make horrible decisions for all the right reasons and then having those decisions proceed to destroy everyone and everything around them. Except in this case, the entire universe is at stake. Other episodes I’ve seen since then have also been strong with well-developed characters, outstanding dialog, tight plots, and ample lines of tension running throughout.

John Noble as Dr. Walter Bishop.

As a writer myself I’m always looking for great writing wherever I find it. And since I tend to write thrillers that lean towards science fiction I felt it worthwhile to catch up on the series. So I sat down with my wife and a friend last night to begin our Fringe journey by watching the pilot. Were my history of never watching a TV series when it airs so solid, I’d say it’s surprising that I didn’t discover this sooner. Like all the other episodes I’ve seen it was very strong, well acted, well written, and well produced. And the acting is sublime, led by John Noble who most of us will recognize as Denethor from Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King. It was amusing seeing Denethor say with a big smile, “Let’s make some LSD!” in a way that makes sense, isn’t about getting high, and doesn’t offend a conservative like me. That’s the kind of writing I’m talking about! Surprising, creative, clever. The stuff we all try to get into our own writing. Too bad Fox did such a lousy job with advertising, then again, there’s some history there too.

Crude and stupid. A bestseller in Nazi Germany.

I’m looking forward to seeing all 100 episodes in order, though it is going to take me a while. Even though I like the show, I’m still not a big TV watcher. And, of course, I have my own writing to do, books to read, and life’s other activities. I looked over the list of episodes on Wikipedia and am encouraged. The number of viewers goes down steadily as the show progresses, starting at a high of over 13 million in 2008 and ending in January of 2013 with less than three-and-a-half million. This is good news for me because it means the writing either stays strong, or improves. So why do falling numbers mean better writing? I think Hitler said it best: “To reach the broadest masses you must tell people the crudest and most stupid things.” Fringe is neither stupid, nor crude, and demands that you pay attention. Good writing is where you find it, and it is always a joy to discover. Now if we could just get Joss Whedon and the crew of Serenity back together for four more seasons…

*Season 2, Episode 16: Peter

Until next time,
John C. Brewer

About John

American, husband, father, writer, rocket scientist, soccer player, motorcycle rider, Christian, and proud of it.
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