Television

'Fringe': It's a No Brainer

At first I thought there were just too many episodes of Fringe that began with someone turning into a pile of slime.

I am currently making an effort to watch Fringe, which is streaming on Amazon Prime (and probably Netflix). By currently, I mean at this moment -- it's on in the background as I write this.

I began my interaction with Fringe when it premiered five years ago; as a Lost fanatic, I was drawn to the JJ-Abram-ness of the enterprise. I dutifully watched through the middle of the first season, then just never came back.

As a viewer of serials, I find myself incredibly impatient with procedurals, and while even in those early episodes I could sense elements of The X-Files in Fringe’s blend of procedural and serial, it just didn’t take. There were just too many episodes that began with someone turning into a pile of slime.

Ironically, Fringe has gone on to develop one of the most complex and rewarding diegetic worlds on television today... or so I understand. Again, I'm mired a little over one-tenth the way through the series.

As television series become increasingly easy to possess -- via streaming, torrenting, recordable marathons on obscure cable channels, DVD sets from distant relatives with links to my out-of-date Amazon Wish List -- I find it harder and harder to get drawn into them. Partially this is a result of a change in my personality; the more interesting part of the explanation, though, deals with social media.

Instead of watching “The No-Brainer”, the episode of Fringe (1.12) on which I am currently stuck, I inevitably wander all over the place: Twitter’s immediacy makes watching a five-year-old TV episode seems ridiculous, Wikipedia lets me know exactly how many episodes remain (there are 100? cable shows are so much easier to marathon) and how many people watched this one (I forgot how strongly the show rated during its first season, as this episode had more than ten million viewers), and IMDB lets me see how viewers have rated each episode.

Within seconds, I have discovered the key episodes of the season, the ordinariness of the episode currently streaming, and the ties between this and the larger narrative arc (hint: there aren’t many). Moments after wondering “could someone just tell me which Fringe episodes I need to watch,” a search for “key Fringe episodes” provides dozens of sites doing just that.

The point to be made here is that, with the incredible proliferation of quality television spread across an ever-expanding number of channels, it becomes increasingly difficult to just shut up and watch. But we should.

We all have series lingering on our to-do lists; each week Sons of Anarchy feels a little more overwhelming to tackle, and don’t get me started on Once upon a Time, which is sprinting out of my reach. Our smartphones make it so easy to use the time during these shows to do so many other things. Here - I literally just paid a bill during that dash.

But as this episode on my computer draws to its slimy close, my takeaway is to remember that the main reason to watch television is to be entertained. So, for the next episode at least, I will put the phone out of reach and charge my laptop. I won’t care that this show feels so incredibly derivative of the X-Files, or that neither Joshua Jackson nor Anna Torv are particularly good actors (neither are any of the other actors except the guy from The Wire), or that I basically know every major twist and development that’s coming... no, I’ll just enjoy. Because IMDB tells me that this is going to be a good one.

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