Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Why Fringe Doesn't Work

And I'm truly sad it doesn't. I like many things about the set-up, and I think the performances being given by Anna Torv and John Noble are actually pretty good. That said, there are several problems, which I think all stem back to one basic issue.

JJ Abrams has clearly never played a role-playing game.

I don't just say that to be a nerd-supremacist. When you play a role-playing game, you learn what makes a character too powerful for the story he or she is in. In role-playing parlance, such a character is called "broken."

Dr. Walter Bishop is very badly broken.

He knows the answer to every mystery, and furthermore he knows these answers based on special knowledge available only to him. Why the hell am I, as a viewer, supposed to be interested in the mysterious substance-on-the-bus or hypergrowth baby or whatever if I know he's just going to look at it and say, "ah yes, I invented this in 1984 and here is how it works."

Compare this to the X-files' Scully and Mulder, who were as much in the dark (if not MORE in the dark) as the viewer was. Hence we could have some connection to them as they solved the mystery.

I also think Fringe proves once and for all that William Gibson's pronouncement on JJ Abrams, that he is not "a native science-fiction mind." The technological melange Fringe presents doesn't make any sense, share any central theme, or tap into any key anxiety about the path of our contemporary society. The anxiety that "science and technology are getting out of hand" doesn't cut it. If that were the thesis of an undergraduate essay turned in to me I would hand it back marked "too vague! revise!" Mary Shelly was concerned about "science and technology getting out of hand" so was William Gibson, but they wrote very different (and equally great) books because they had much more specific concerns based their particular historical moments, and personal interests.

All THAT said, I may well continue to watch the show. Why? I'm a mystery junkie. Show me a weird macguffin and I'm likely to just watch along to see where you are going with it, even if I think you are full of crap. In fact sometimes that will make me even more likely to watch, as I attempt to answer the question "will they really go there?"

And this, dear readers, is probably how JJ Abrams got to where his is today.

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