So, you’ve finished The Wire, Breaking Bad and The Killing and you’re still hungry for more boxsets. Fear not, Standard Issue writers are on the case with some hidden gems you might not yet have seen. This week, Debra-Jane Appelby gets all shadowy and mysterious about Fringe.
When Standard Issue asked me to recommend a boxset, I didn’t hesitate to shout, “Fringe!”. If you haven’t heard of it – and you probably haven’t – it’s not a premier hairdressing reality show or an in-depth fly on the wall about the Edinburgh Festival. It’s a natural successor to the The X-Files, which ran from 2008 to 2013, following an FBI agent and her team as they hunt down “The Pattern”, a string of seemingly related extra-normal phenomena in the realm of ‘Fringe Sciences’. (What are “fringe sciences” you ask? A number of them flash past in each title sequence, e.g. hypnosis, hive mind, ESP, clairaudience, cryonics, parallel universes, and many others.)
So, what is it about Fringe that should tempt you to sit down with 100 episodes across five seasons? How about JJ Abrams, Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the creative team behind Lost? A solid average of 8.6/10 on IMDB? Or just that it’s plain fantastic.
The big draw for me, outside of the The X-Files comparison and the pedigree of the creative team, was that it had a strong female lead. A real female with full agency who didn’t come across like a male character they just did a cut and paste of ‘him’ to ‘her’ in the script.
FBI agent Olivia Dunham, played with prefect gravitas by Anna Torv, leads us through this insane murky world of weirdness; always cool, always in control of herself, even when she can’t be in control of events. The women in Fringe get perfect scores on the Bechdel test every time, be they hero, villain or lab assistant.
Fringe is a show that’s very spoiler sensitive so I won’t go into too much detail of storylines because there is just surprise after surprise, but, if you’ll indulge me, I can set up a couple of things from the pilot around the cast and premise.
FBI Agent Olivia Dunham and her partner (and lover) John Scott are assigned to investigate a potential bio-terrorism threat when a plane lands with all the passengers dead or dying, their skin and bones turned to transparent jelly. An explosion in a makeshift lab while chasing a suspect leaves Agent Scott comatose and similarly transparent. In order to solve the case and save her lover, Agent Dunham must recruit a maverick scientist, the father of Fringe science, Dr Walter Bishop. Unfortunately, he’s been in an insane asylum for 17 years. Getting to the brilliant but erratic Dr Bishop via his intriguing globetrotting (and not all together enthusiastic) son, Peter, Olivia gets the team together to start investigating this and similar incidents in what has become known as “The Pattern”.
Over the next few episodes you will be introduced to recurring characters; Nina Sharp, shadowy and mysterious CEO of Massive Dynamic, the shadowy and mysterious global fringe science super corporation founded by Dr Bishop’s ex lab partner, the shadowy and mysterious William Bell. The shadowy and mysterious stranger who likes very hot pepperoni sandwiches not to mention the shadowy and mysterious… well that would really spoil things.
What else would you expect from the writers of Lost? But, unlike that show, everything feels planned and plotted from the beginning and is mostly satisfyingly resolved. Even if it may take a whole season for something to be called back to. It’s what makes it such compelling viewing. After a while, you suspect every little aside or background action to be a hint or clue of something to come and an early revelation will send you back to rewatch the first few episodes wondering how you missed the clues.
Fringe even has it’s own alphabet. The Glyph Codes, each one of which appears around the commercial break points and, when deciphered, spell a single word which sums up the episode.
If one word sums up Fringe it is layers. There are layers to the plots, the seasons, and especially the characters, who are beautifully drawn and well acted. And if that’s not enticing enough, then some of the episodes are genuinely frightening, some quite sickening and others just plain bizarre. Once you get sucked into “The Pattern” there’s no escape. For 100 episodes at least.
• Fringe is available to watch on Netflix
Loud, Yorkshire, opinionated, techno-geek, trans-woman comedian with a fondness for excessive culinary pleasures and too little exercise.