The Fringe (2008)

My rating **

This series is no better and no worse than a dozen other American television series that are being churned out at present and the critical comments I am making here apply to a number of other series as well.

I first wrote this review after seeing about 3 episodes and I am now updating it after seeing a few more. It has definitely improved but is still not overly involving and one happily forgets it soon after viewing. From a review and comments posted on Jace’s Televisionary blog, it would seem that I am by no means alone in my dissatisfaction with this series. It plays as a kind of updated X files but without the style, the conviction, or the character interest. Two of the three leads are a bland young male and female played by actors indistinguishable from any number of other actors who populate the other American series which blur into a seamless and tedious landscape across the channels on evening television. There is also an irritating older character who is set up as the father of the young male character. Fortunately he seems to be becoming a bit less irritating as the series progresses. A former Harvard professor who has had some kind of breakdown, he is apparently meant to provide ‘comic relief’ as an eccentric, possibly psychic, idiot savant. This kind of ‘quirkiness’ seems to have become a substitute for characters who might actually be of real interest in a lot of current mainstream American television. (See for example the truly ghastly Eli Stone and the unpleasant main character in Psych and of course the series that set the trend – Monk).

There are also attempts to make the female lead more three-dimensional by providing her with a traumatic past, but there is not enough conviction in the acting, the characterisation or the story, to allow the viewer to feel any real connection.

The stories are vaguely X files-esque with rogue doctors performing unethical experiments, possible ghosts, people who could possibly be aliens, bosses who could possibly have links with some unspecified organization. Unlike The X files, however, for all its unsatisfactorily resolved set ups, there is no sense that the writers actually have anything to say beyond ticking the boxes of what has been designated as ‘cult’ in certified and standardised writing courses.

The series also shares a feature in common with other innumerable American forensic, crime and medical ensemble dramas, namely an impression of clutter. People and equipment litter the screen in an indistinguishable and equivalent mass. The obligatory moral posturing that comes with the formula is ultimately empty as all the elements, both human and non human are equivalent – the degree zero of a certain kind of postmodernism if you like.

To try and end on a more positive note however, sometimes series improve as they get into their stride and this one seems to be improving. Also worthy of note is the excellent fan blog for the series run by a Kentucky based software engineer Dennis Acevedo who also runs a fan blog on Cloverfield.*

2 thoughts on “The Fringe (2008)

  1. I think you did very well just to start watching a series like that.

    Did you notice any of the the very common emphasis on heroic youth? It would be fair to say that most real people don’t have their s**t together in their twenties. Where are the learned older characters who guide and support? Unless you watch Hallmark,possibly, American television does not honour wisdom and the serene spirit.

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  2. It’s funny, I was thinking about precisely this issue this morning and the contrast between British and American series. Even in American series which do include older people, the formula always seems to require the inclusion of bright and beautiful young things. Last night I watched an episode of the British crime series Frost and noticed that no guilded youth were anywhere in evidence. The youth that were present were all pretty hopeless. David Jason plays an older experienced detective and the stories centre around him. The stories and characters feel real. The older person in The Fringe even if he is technically competent is incompetent on just about every other front.

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