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Friday, January 18, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Five Years of FRINGE


After five seasons and 100 episodes, it's time to finish up your last strawberry milkshake.

On September 9, 2008, 9.13 million viewers and fans of executive producer J.J. Abrams' previous television series Alias and Lost tuned in to see Fringe, his major debut into the world of science fiction.  This latest series would focus on the members of a special division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation as they involve themselves in mysteries of the strange, disturbing and unexplainable.

Sound familiar?  It should, considering the Fox network aired nine seasons of a little show called The X-Files that ended just six years earlier.  Fringe's first season was essentially an updated version of The X-Files that struggled to distinguish itself apart from introducing its own mythological elements such as rogue scientist David Robert Jones, Olivia Dunham's Cortexiphan treatments as a child test subject, and ultimately, the big revelation that Dr. Walter Bishop's son Peter actually died as a child.

About one-third through Season 2, Fringe finally found its voice in the game-changing episode "August."  The show's mythos expanded beyond X-Files mysteries with the introduction of the Observers, mysterious time-travelers that play a huge role on Season 5, and the concept of parallel universes.  In addition, Peter learned that Walter brought him over the parallel Earth and kept him as a replacement for his deceased son.

Season 3 fully embraced the parallel Earth concept, with Walter's dark doppelgänger "The Walternate" and a more energetic and less serious version of Olivia nicknamed "Fauxlivia." The season jumps back and forth between the two Earths, even having special opening credits for the episodes set on the alternate Earth.  As part of Walternate's schemes, Fauxlivia swaps places with Olivia and engages in a relationship with Peter, ultimately having his son Henry.  Peter ends up becoming part of a huge, intricate machine that creates a bridge between the two universes but erases Peter from reality in the process.

As a result, the show's fourth season began with an alternate timeline where Peter did not exist.  This creates opportunities to explore past stories differently until Peter finally is brought back and he and Olivia rekindle their romance.  Late in the season, another game-changing episode "Letters of Transit" introduces the dystopian world of 2036 and Peter and Olivia's daughter Henrietta (Etta).

That episode becomes the basis of Fringe's final season, with the series and characters jumping ahead to 2036 with Walter, Peter, Olivia and Astrid Farnsworth emerging from being sealed in amber in 2015 shortly after the Observers take over Earth in an event known as "The Purge."  Etta is killed by the Observers, Peter almost becomes an Observer in a quest for vengeance, and a young Observer child named Michael is key to Walter's plan to defeat the Observers once and for all.

Over the course of the entire series, the show becomes increasingly experimental with its format.  Glyph codes are featured in images during cuts to commercial breaks.  Some episodes are set during events in the 1980s with their own '80s-style opening credits and new wave theme music.  One episode is set in a noirish detective story from the 1940s, while another features CGI animated versions of the characters, and a third has an homage to Monty Python.  One standout moment even linked the show to the world of Twin Peaks

Fringe became one of the most innovative and hard science fiction series ever to air on television, but gradually declined in the ratings until being being consigned to Fox's dreaded Friday night "Death Slot."  However, the series persevered and managed to survive just long enough to reach the magic number of 100 episodes for syndication, debuting in rerun goodness last fall on the Science Channel.

My wife Lori and I greatly enjoyed our time together watching Fringe and I take some small pride in being able to convert my 70+-year-old parents into regular viewers as well.  We've shared a number of conversations about the series about Saturday breakfasts together and that's something I'll always cherish as time goes on. 

So thanks for five great years, Fringe.  Here's hoping tonight's final two episodes give you the sendoff you so definitely deserve...although, I wouldn't say no to a movie...

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